Today is the first day of New York Fashion Week, when the world’s fashion industry
descends on Bryant Park for a sleepless round of shows, parties and gossip.
The magazine industry loves it, of course, with the September issue of Vogue
setting a record for the largest monthly consumer magazine ever. (It has 648
ad pages, and 832 pages altogether.)
This week, however, the New Yorker has decided not to do a fashion issue –
maybe ad buyers have worked out that fashionistas don’t read. But two years
ago it did, with a 8,900-word profile
of Puff Daddy by Michael Specter. Hard-hitting journalism this was not:
Sean John, the clothing company he started three years ago, has emerged as
one of the best-selling–and most highly regarded–men’s lines in America.
Combs’s runway show in New York last fall met with praise from even the most
skeptical fashion professionals. "It was better than anything in Europe,"
Kim Hastreiter, the editor of Paper, the downtown fashion magazine, told me.
"It was perfectly presented, perfectly original American fashion."
One day while I was in Paris, I ran into Richard Buckley, who is the editor
of Vogue Hommes International. "I just got an e-mail from this writer
who asked me who I thought mattered in men’s clothes these days," Buckley
told me. "I said the only man who is doing anything important is Puff
Daddy. Right now, he is all we got."
The idea behind Sean John was great. As any visitor to the USA knows, men here
are not well dressed. Most of the time they’re in jeans and t-shirts, or maybe
short-sleeved polo shirts; menswear is chosen for comfort and value, and is
often bought at Wal-Mart. When men do dress up, in a suit and shirt and tie,
the suit is likely to be a nasty $199 thing, and the tie polyester. With Sean
John, the idea, as his designer said in the Specter article, was to target "a
man who aspires to wear Gucci one day and Prada one day and to be able to afford
the custom Zegna suits" – and give him quality clothes at a price
within the bounds of possibility.
The entire fashion industry seemed to be on board: Sean John suits, when they
got sent down the catwalk, had a kind of Dolce & Gabbana edge to them, a
stylishness which has long been absent from US menswear. Frankly, I wanted one.
But the two New York Sean John shops which were meant to materialise in 2003
never happened, and, as far as I could work out, there wasn’t a single retail
outlet on planet earth where these things were actually available for sale.
(Trust me: I looked quite hard.)
Finally, this week, a Sean John store finally opened in New York – right
on Bryant Park, actually – just in time for Fashion Week. I popped in
there yesterday, and, surprise surprise – no suits. "They’re coming
in October," a salesman told me. But I’m not holding my breath. A similar
state of affairs obtains with the long-rumoured Ozwald
Boateng store in New York: we’ve been hearing about it for years, but we
still don’t seem to be any closer to actually seeing it.
We don’t, despite appearances, actually live in a world of instant gratification.
In fact, we live in a world of advance hype, where movies are advertised more
before they come out than afterwards, where magazines are more interested in
the future than in the present, where many items, especially in the world of
technology, have an aura of obsolescence even on the day they’re released.
Techology-related products and services are often, in fact, the worst offenders:
whether it be wireless number
portability or G5 Xserves,
we’re often waiting forever for things to come along.
It’s now been well over two years, for instance, since Samsung announced its
SGH-i500, a GSM flip-phone running the Palm operating system. This was something
I was immediately attracted to – I’d love to be able to combine my phone
and Palm Pilot in one device, and be able to run my favourite Palm application,
Vindigo, on it. But no dice: it’s since transmogrified into the i505, the i530
and the i550, but not one of them has yet actually come to market. I’m probably
going to just give in and get a Treo
650 instead, even though I really don’t want all the email functionality,
full qwerty keyboard, and the rest. Although I do have to note that the Treo
600, too, took forever to come out in a GSM version: for some reason, GSM Palm
phones always seem to be horribly delayed.
It’s reached the point, now, where companies are actually telling people not
to get excited about forthcoming innovations. After Newsweek reported
that Tivo was going to team up with Netflix to offer, essentially, movies on
demand, both companies went into rapid-rebuttal
Netflix spokeswoman Lynn Brinton said there was no formal relationship between
her company and TiVo, nor was there a timeline to form one. TiVo spokeswoman
Kathryn Kelly told Bloomberg News that the company would not offer a movie
download service for at least a year.
Broadband is one of the areas where people get very
excited about what might happen in the future. Om Malik greatly understates
the reality when he says that "venture capitalists have put a value of
$867 per customer" on Vonage – he gets that figure by dividing Vonage’s
$208 million in total VC funding by its 240,000 customers. In fact, although
we have no idea what kind of valuation the VCs bought in at with their latest
$105 million investment, I can guarantee you that it’s a lot more than $208
On the broader question, however, Om is right: Vonage is overpriced –
and so are Netflix and Tivo, if investors are buying them on the basis of movie
delivery over broadband pipes. Vonage and Netflix and Tivo are all small startups
with bright ideas who do what they do better than anybody else. But put them
up against AT&T, Wal-Mart and Time Warner, respectively, and they look like
complete underdogs, their first-mover advantage notwithstanding. The barriers
to entry in all of their businesses are far too low to justify high valuations
on these companies – the best they can hope for is that they get bought
out as a strategic investment by a giant like Microsoft.
Broadband has enabled lots of great technologies, of which VoIP is only one.
I’m far from convinced, however, that anybody’s going to make any money off
it. The bandwidth itself has already been commoditised, as have wireless router
technology and digital video recorders. Once the movie industry comes up with
some kind of DRM system for downloadable films, multiple sources will offer
that, too, and Apple won’t be out in front like it is with music. (How long
Apple will keep its pole position is also unknown, now that Microsoft has entered
the fray.) While I love my broadband technologies, and wouldn’t dream of giving
up my Vonage phone (a recent 113-minute phone call to Argentina cost me just
$5.65), I equally wouldn’t dream of investing in any of these companies. The
time between now and profitability is likely to make the wait for a nice affordable
suit seem positively Lilliputian.