The freshly launched Istituto Marangoni Mumbai opened its doors to aspiring and potential students in one of its introductory events called Open Day. Aptly titled, Open Day proved to be instrumental in providing students with a low-down on design, art and all things sartorial. The day kick-started with an insightful presentation on the origins of Italian and French fashion by Raul D’Souza, the Indian Sub-continent and Gulf Area Manager for Marangoni. He then went on to illustrate the transition of European fashion through decades, throwing light on important phases it entailed, think boutique and café cultures which became prominent landmarks.
The event, slated on October 7 from 11:30 am to 3 pm, was quite an informative one, with the two elaborate workshops in line – one focusing on Fashion Business and Luxury Brand Management and the other, a Fashion Design workshop, centred on Creative Draping.
Mevin Murden, with an expertise in Fashion Business, Luxury Brand Management and International Fashion Communication, spearheaded the Fashion Business workshop. Having been with Marangoni London for seven years, he is now posted at Marangoni Mumbai for a year, hence bringing with him a vast spectrum of global know-how’s in multiple fraternities. Quite vividly, Mevin explained what essentially is a luxury brand and everything that goes into it. The workshop was particularly interesting, for he stressed equally on human wants and needs and how that itself, compels us to be increasingly ‘tortured by brands’, thanks to our humongous buying appetites. He weaved this with interesting theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism, the former describing the needs of a human at various stages of life and the latter potentially portraying the different facets of fashion branding, viz a viz, how a brand’s physique, its personality, its cultural origins, its relationship with the consumer, its reflection and its own self image hugely determine how impactful the brand is in its entirety. For example, Chanel portrays the liberated woman while Balmain speaks of an empowered one.
TFE engaged in a tête-à-tête with Mevin, in order to grasp more understanding on how vital business is in fashion and whether India is embracing all the new developments in the métier.
Can you briefly walk us through your career journey?
I have had about ten years of experience in the luxury industry, including fragrances, cosmetics, hotels, events, fashion and arts. My father used to make mannequins, so I have been exposed to fashion since I was a child. I moved to Australia to study business and started working in the luxury industry. Going from luxury, hotels and events, I then got into fashion and boutiques. I kept working internationally after which I moved to Europe where I started consulting and at the same time, also studying further because I wanted to get into academia. It has been nine years since I joined academia out of which seven has been with Marangoni, but I still work a lot with brands. I work with my colleagues on certain projects; I have worked with the Global Marketing Manager of Alexander McQueen; I have loved teaching so far, especially with Istituto Marangoni because it is quite niche and it is mainly focused on luxury, coupled with an excellent environment. Furthermore, it is not just an academic university. It trains students for the industry. Our industry contacts would set a task/problem to students and the best groups would have the opportunity to present their recommendations back to industry. The students who join us are also quite passionate, with different nationalities. I learn a lot from them as well, like I am learning a lot about India right now.
You have been with Istituto Marangoni London for seven years. How has your experience been different from what it is here?
First of all, the mix of students in London. In a classroom of twenty, we might have nineteen different nationalities which is, for me, amazing. Also, the London campus is situated in the creative hub, which is Shoreditch, where students can go out and shoot their campaigns to the best of their creative ability. There is a lot of exposure to art and there are many exhibitions to go to, like the V&A museum. Not that it is not happening here. I have been to a few events here which were wonderful. One of them was Design Fabric. So, I think it is happening here but it is quite niche. The London campus is bigger but the Mumbai campus is the most beautiful. In terms of curriculum, there is no difference at all. What we teach in London is taught here, even by the same tutors like myself and our ‘flying tutors’ who fly regularly to deliver lessons here in Mumbai. One positive difference is that in Mumbai, we also look at the local market, hence there is the best of both worlds!
What do you think are the key skills required to dabble into Fashion Marketing, Communication and Luxury Management?
First of all, one needs to be very analytical. It is crucial to dissect the brand and understand its DNA, personality and identity before communicating it to the audience. Understanding the market and its dynamics is another important criterion. The creative side is equally important as we talk about creative problem solving skills.
There is not enough understanding about the business of fashion in India since fashion is still seen as inaccessible and frivolous by a large segment of the society. How do you think can this be changed?
Well, this is more of a macro-environmental factor. The gap between those who understand fashion and can afford it and those who cannot, is quite large, which would explain the situation. When a large portion of the population struggles to meet their basic needs, there is not much space for fashion. That being said, the influence of Bollywood allows fashion to trickle down – if Shah Rukh Khan wears something in a certain way, we can surely expect everyone to follow suit, irrespective of the background.
On another note, I have realised that India lacks experimentalism, especially when it comes to men’s fashion. My students have conducted a research on men’s fashion in India, and the results were quite surprising. However, many stereotypes are being broken and young designers with a fresh and independent mindset are coming to the fore but there is still some time for India to be completely revived.
Just like a lot of entrepreneurial effort goes into fashion shows, buying cycles etc., what do you think are the important elements of fashion business?
Presenting a collection is not enough. It is not just about the collection or clothes, but also about how the brands or designers communicate their ideologies to the audience or the consumer. Hence, brand identity plays an important role because it has the potential to forge a strong emotional connection between its consumers as soon as they start relating to the brand. All of this is due to strong competition within the market and unless a brand can clearly differentiate itself, the chances of long-term profitability are bleak.
Do you think that consumerism is overpowering the designers’ creative ability?
Creative brands need time and space. In India, much more importance is given to the celebrities and show-stoppers wearing the brand or designer’s apparel more than the brand or designer themselves. The Indian luxury consumer seeks exclusivity, hence it naturally gives rise to consumerism where everyone wants to be the first one to possess and wear a certain piece of clothing. We have seen some designers voice out to stop the madness of seasons, which I really respect and understand.
What do you think about the ‘runway-to-retail’ concept?
I, personally, am not in favour of it. I feel that you need to wait for luxury, like you need to wait for a Birkin. The See Now, Buy Now model pioneered by Burberry may work well but that is not how luxury buying functions. It is just a trend in line with instant gratification and on-demand economy.
How do you think can the relationship between the creator and consumer be enhanced?
By building a strong connect with the consumer. A brand can improve and enhance its relationship with its audience by creating an apt brand strategy. For example, we once had to find a solution to a luxury brand’s problem, which was the increasing disconnect between the brand and its audience. After a lot of research, we finally concluded that it was the brand’s communication which was inappropriate, in the sense that they did not look like a luxury brand and also portrayed a negative association with the designer. They then revived their campaign and the results have been marvellous.
What role do conglomerates and corporate giants play in today’s fashion scene? Are they inter-dependent?
Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, business is business and you need to show the figures. Conglomerates don’t just help with financial stability and growth but they also bring a large amount of corporate sensibility to the table. One cannot survive without the other. For example, Kering, in an interview said that part of their key success is finding the right marriage of Creative Directors and CEOs. We have seen throughout history how Creatives such as Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner Pierre Bergé worked well together.
How much importance does Marangoni give to Fashion Business?
At Marangoni, we have always given special attention to Fashion Business. Be it the Executive courses, short courses or post-graduate courses, we teach the inner-workings of a brand, with respect to business. From learning about product sourcing and manufacturing processes to buying, merchandising and communications, our students are well-equipped to meet with industry standards and requirements.
Where do you see the Fashion Business scene in India a few years down the line?
I think and I hope that Indian designers will be more experimental and expressive of who they are and that the consumers will be more accepting of the same. This will only happen if influencers and brands work together to change perceptions in order to bring about acceptability of individualism.