Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bikini Fashion Model Vol 10

The best-known French and Italian brands can start making a handbag or shoe in China or Turkey and bring it back home to be finished and gain the "Made in France" or "Made in Italy" tag.

But designers in Paris and Milan have the benefit of commercial networks in the luxury goods trade developed over centuries and still thriving local artisanship, that is often protected by the biggest conglomerates. PPR's Gucci Group, for example, trains the artisans making its Bottega Veneta signature woven leather bags.

By contrast, designers and luxury industry executives say Britain is jeopardizing the growth of its talent by taking the move to offshore too far.

Among Britain's most acclaimed young designers, Christopher Kane is one who is suffering from the lack of nearby manufacturing capacity.

Even with his credentials -- he was partially sponsored by Donatella Versace through his master's degree -- Kane said he has difficulty finding anyone willing to make his clothes.

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Now, with a renaissance of British luxury underway -- thanks to a crop of new talents and booming new demand for high-end goods from Chinese and Russian consumers -- this manufacturing gap is gaining attention.


Pierre Mallevays, a former LVMH executive and now managing partner of Savigny Partners LLP, a corporate finance and M&A boutique specializing in luxury goods, said British luxury's renaissance may have come just in time.

"British brands simply cannot emulate the French and Italians -- they need to reach back and find their history, but in many cases that history in no longer there," he said in an interview.

"Where the British were very good traditionally was in their own production and their own manufacturing. Once you start dismantling that by selling factories you sell your soul."

Of course, Britain is not alone in shifting manufacturing offshore.

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In the past 40 years, British factories owned by some of the oldest brand names from Burberry to Barbour have closed down and shifted some of their manufacturing to cheaper places such as China and Eastern Europe.

Burberry has kept two factories in Britain, in Yorkshire, but shut one in Wales last year because it was too expensive.

In Manchester -- once the locus of global coat making -- one of Britain's last surviving premium outerwear manufacturers offers a snapshot of British manufacturing's decline.

Cooper & Stollbrand employs 60 workers today, stitching and cutting trench coats, overcoats and bomber jackets often in signature hunting-and-shooting fabrics such as tweed and gabardine.

Their number has fallen from 200 in 1995 and 450 in 1971, a year sterling strengthened sharply against the dollar, increasing costs for British exporters and marking the start of retailers' exit to cheaper sites.

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A decades-long decline in British manufacturing is back in the limelight with the launch of government-funded research to find out if, despite acclaim, young designers like Marios Schwab are at a terminal disadvantage to French and Italian rivals because they don't have a factory on their doorstep.

So far one problem is clear: however hot the designer talent, it is impossible to get ahead if you can't get your clothes made.

"British designers are not progressing season-on-season because of the manufacturing," said Wendy Malem, director for not-for-profit Centre for Fashion Enterprise, who is leading the 100,000 pound government-sponsored project.

"They cannot overcome the manufacturing glass ceiling."

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Winstanley said she'd considered modeling in the past, and had even contacted an agency – but over 20 years ago. Now, she's a mother of three. "I don't think they even know yet!" she said about her win. "I think they're going to be pretty shocked." A friend heard about the contest, she said, and they thought it'd be fun to go to the open call in New York, but she said she never expected to get this far.

As part of the prize for being finalists, each of the ten women spent three days in New York prior to the competition undergoing a crash course in modeling, with tips on runway walking and media training, to make them as confident as models as they are in their everyday lives – from business owners to pilates instructors to pastry chefs, this was one accomplished posse.

But even with all the prep, nothing could quite prepare them for the rush of walking down the runway in front of a live, cheering audience for the first time. And what was going through the winner's head?

"I was just really excited," said Winstanley. "I was nervous right at the very beginning, just before I first stepped out, but then as I was walking down the runway, it felt absolutely brilliant."

I don't think they even know yet! I think they're going to be pretty shocked

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Wednesday night's event was the culmination of a six month search by the magazine, this year celebrating their tenth anniversary. Ten open calls across the country and 14,000 entries later (potential models sent in a DVD about themselves), More magazine whittled down the pool of contestants to ten woman from seven states, whose ages ranged from 40-51. They will all appear in the June 2008 issue of More.

But only three women took home five year modeling contracts from Wilhelmina and prizes from sponsors worth a combined amount of $90,000.

Chung Winstanley, 45, a project management consultant from Short Hills, NJ, took home the grand prize, while Elizabeth James-Lipscomb, 43, from West Bend, WI, was first runner-up. Julia Jordan, 46, of Lancaster, NY was the second runner-up.

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Amidst the soaring ceilings and marble columns of Cipriani's on 42nd Street, More magazine and Wilhelmina models held the final event for its 40-plus model search competition, a runway walk by the ten finalists in two different looks each designed by Heidi Weisel.

Dieter Esch, the owner of Wilhelmina Models, introduced the runway show along with newly appointed More editor-in-chief Lesley Jane Seymour.

"Women are no longer afraid to say their age," said Esch. "People live their age and are proud of their age."

Oscar-nominated actress Joan Allen, on the cover of this month's issue of More, hosted the affair, giving running commentary about each of the models' backgrounds and the dress designs they donned.