Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Brand implosion?

Photo courtesy of Liberty
A few weeks ago I was left feeling discombobulated about something. I can pinpoint it back to the moment when I heard that Liberty had teamed up with Nike to give the world Liberty print running shoes. Apparently this had already happened several months earlier (Updated: Katy tells me it was several years earlier. I don't miss a thing!), but I'd missed that and so this release of shoes was the first I'd seen or heard of it.

Photo courtesy of Nike

The idea sounded like a curious one: a mismatched partnership that could only have its root in profit. When I saw the actual shoe, the visual reality made me think there may well be some truth in that idea.
Photo courtesy of Nike

Liberty have previously taken part in several carefully chosen and successful collaborations that have seemed entirely appropriate. Their beautiful prints have adorned Hermes silk scarves, which seemed like a marriage of refinement and quality. They allowed the creative director of super-cool Parisian charity boutique, Merci, to design a range of products to be adorned with their prints - a match which seemed entirely fitting when, as shops, both Liberty and Merci share a fabulously refined eccentric and quirky feel. They also lent their patterns to Bensimon, makers of understated tennis pumps, which have a charm and loyal following all of their own, with or without Liberty prints.
Photo courtesy of Bensimon

But their collaboration with Nike feels to me to be an odd venture. Previous collaborations have appeared to be the fleeting partnership of two niche companies to produce one beautiful product: something that makes sense, looks and feels right, and is a natural extension of each company's commercial direction. When it comes to Nike, it seems as though it is a union of two high-profile brands coming together to watch sales sky-rocket, without a thought for whether the ethos and products of the individual companies compliment one another.

I would have previously said that it's almost impossible to make liberty prints look ugly. They seem unique, in that just like nature, you can put Liberty colours and prints next to one another that in theory should clash and yet somehow they don't. I thought that their floral prints had the strange ability to transcend their synthetic roots and behave just like real flowers. This illusion has been shattered. To my eyes, there's something horribly jarring about seeing the delicate floral prints on clompy Nike trainers. But why am I bothered? Why not decide that it's just a collaboration that didn't appeal to me and forget about it? I've thought about that and I think it's because of what it represents. When Liberty slap their prints over any product that passes them by, rather than enriching the brand, it cheapens it. With collaborations such as this their prints become a moment in time, in fashion. And when the moment passes you know that a fallow period must follow when they will inevitably fall from grace. In tainting their brand with blatant commercialism, I worry that they may be unwittingly deconstructing the indefinable quality that makes Liberty feel so quintessentially English - something which I think is a huge part of their appeal both here and overseas. I feel sad that the treasured quilt made by a grandmother full of faded Liberty prints, that might otherwise have remained timelessly beautiful, will come to look outdated, over-done and tasteless.

Photo courtesy of Merci

Apparently these Liberty print trainers have been a runaway best seller, selling out completely online in a very short time and flying off the shelves instore. Which has left me feeling as though I may be very much alone in my horror over these shoes. Is this the seamstress in me greedily wanting to preserve Liberty prints solely for the sanctity of needlework. What do you think?

Florence x

32 comments:

  1. I love nike trainers, and liberty prints, but like you, I don't think the two marry together well at all... I don't like the shoes one bit. I don't have a problem with it, although I feel it could be a slippery slope towards over commercialising the brand, but that remains to be seen.

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  2. I understand your perspective from a selling out point of view and I agree that the Nike style doesn't seem a good fit. If, however, there were a collaboration with Converse for example, I would totally wear them.

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  3. I completely and totally agree! Liberty holds a place to me that few fabrics do...my first dresses my mum made for me ....I can see my beautiful mother in a liberty shirt...I can hear mum say " that's a liberty print dear...." somehow on Nike shoes it just does not fit......

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  4. I have to admit, I did go a little gaga over Liberty at Target and bought almost everything I could get my hands on. But something about this shoe is just wrong. Maybe I just have lower standards than you which are only now showing up at such a severe degradation? I also must admit to having severe double standards as I read the comment by Lina and agreed whole heartedly. Nikes seem atrocious, but I would be all over a Liberty print Converse.
    Hm. Nice thought provoking post, Florence!

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  5. I think there are a lot of designers selling out to the fast commercial win - and it'll end in tears. Mark my words Kath Kidston and Orla Kiely.

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  6. The Converse thing is something I have an internal battle over too - and something that Kat questioned me about on Twitter a few weeks ago...because really, I don't think it would have even occured to me to object if it was Converse as they'd just look more 'right' in the same way that the Bensimon pumps do and so although I think I may have harboured worries about how 'everywhere' Liberty prints were becoming, it wouldn't have seemed like such a commercial sell-out.

    I agree, Miss Holly - once the need to point it out in hallowed tones is dispensed with, the magic is lost.

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  7. I agree, this seems like a strange idea. I love liberty and I would never wear a nike like that as a fashion statement - the tennis pumps I can totally see, those Nikes just seem in the wrong vein - like hip hop liberty. odd!

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  8. Ali - my thoughts led naturally on to those two, but I had to stop myself as I thought that may be opening up a rather large can of worms...but I completely agree. I still need to do my full book review of Orla Kiely's book, but I've been putting it off as I feel like my thoughts on it might not be what the publisher was hoping for...

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  9. Perhaps that's partly it, Courtney - I think if you're not wearing a Nike for exercise purposes, then the feel of it as a fashion shoe has always been a bit hip hop...

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  10. Converse is a subsidiary of Nike so technically owned by them.I think its quite an interesting relationship and its certainly not new.From a style point of view, and as the mother of two boys whom I can rarely get Liberty on, I actually thought Thank God.As soon as those Spitfire Toms high tops hit the store I will be trying to grab some. I was appalled when Liberty pumped a range through Target but if they have decided to market themselves to those outside their usual radar I hope it works.

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  11. Reminds me of Orla Kiely on a Citroen that I blogged about a while back.
    A few carefully selected collaborations is fine, but go to far and it cheapens the brand...

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  12. I too was a bit surprised by this. I love Liberty prints - I don't think I've managed to publish a blogpost in which I don't mention Liberty at least once!

    I do think this slightly cheapens the brand - though not anywhere as much as the collaboration with Target in the US last year (that was the first time I saw Liberty prints look cheap). The collaboration with Merci somehow fit, but with Nike and Target, it just doesnt seem right to me.

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  13. From a sewist point of view I understand your angst. Especially because Liberty prints are too beautiful to be slapped on a trainer--maybe some sassy pumps or flats? I would totally buy ballet flats.
    BUT--perhaps their market is the non-sewist who wants some Liberty in their life in a way they can use it, as fabric would be meaningless to them...

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  14. Those shoes are just... bizarre... regardless of any names or brands. I don't understand. Are they supposed to be ironic? A statement piece, blending delicacy with trompy athletic wear? Are you supposed to be running through a field of flowers? I just... don't understand...

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  15. I love liberty print (particularly Tana Lawn) and I don't like trainers. As far as I am concerned they belong in one place only, the gym (I will allow others the use of them for various outdoor sporting activity too).

    I don't really like the prints on anything except fabric by the metre or made into clothes. But then I am in training to be a curmudgeon

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  16. Oh, I am so glad that there's someone else out there who feels the same about the Liberty Nikes as I do! Wish I'd thought to blog about it too.

    This won't in any way dampen my deep love of Liberty print, but I can see how one too many of these collaborations might begin to take the edge off it a bit.

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  17. Yuk, although those bensimon shoes are to die for!

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  18. Hmmm - I don't like those trainers. But on the other hand, I think perhaps they've just made more obvious something that's been true for a long time (perhaps since the beginning of Liberty?): it's a business whose aim is to sell as much stuff as possible for as much money as possible. I think they've been influenced aesthetically by arts and crafts (William Morris etc) but they don't truly share the political ideals that were a significant part of that movement. Liberty is a huge global company obsessed with the fallacy of constant growth, not some small artistic enterprise that's happy to stay small because it's keeping to certain principles. As for the "Englishness" of Liberty, I see that as a branding ploy more than anything else nowadays. It's not an ethos, it's just a selling point. Of course their stuff is manufactured all over the world anyway (wherever's cheapest, I should think) - I seem to remember they refused to stop importing from Burma/Myanmar despite the human rights situation there.

    Oops, that was long. I'm basically saying I think whatever's been shattered by those trainers was probably more illusion than anything else! At the same time, I don't think you should have any fears, Florence, about a lovingly made Liberty quilt ever looking less than beautiful. The trainer fad will fade and be forgotten, and the quilt will still be loved.

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  19. What I think is that you have an amazing way with words.

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  20. I agree - how can someone take something so lovely and manage to make it so garish?!

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  21. I'm sorry to cause more pain but recently I spotted this garment in Primark:
    http://i45.photobucket.com/albums/f85/dichohecho/IMG_0947.jpg
    It's a pair of shorts, but what made me notice it is that the pattern is a different colourway of one that my Mum has shirts made of, and she definitely bought the fabric as a Liberty print so I wondered what on earth it was doing a) in Primark and b) on shorts!

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  22. I couldn't agree more. What a strange partnership. I smiled in disbelief when I first began reading... now I frown!!! I agree with Kate regarding the Orla Keily Citroen too!!!

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  23. Can you imagine what they'll look like when they get muddy?

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  24. I can't see the charm in them at all but those bensimon sneakers are perfect.

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  25. I agree that it "cheapens" Liberty to me...I would NEVER wear those shoes, although usually I love Liberty of London everything. I got some nice bags and silk scarves that belonged to my grandmother, so I have a sentimental value and I bet my grandmother wouldn't have thought much of those Nike shoes either...

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  26. I very much want to believe this is a late April fool. Horrific

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  27. oh you are so not alone, those trainers are GROSS!!

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  28. Personally I find they work quite well as they seem to meet in the middle. Libery prints are in the main very ugly and are extremely over-priced. They used to be very soft but not any longer; there is much snobbery attached to this horrible unpleasing fabric - most of its appeal I think is that its price makes it unavailable to most people. On the other hand nike trainers are also tasteless, ugly and undesirable but are deemed as being for the 'lower classes' while Libery is for those with 'taste'. I think they are both quite vile and make happy companions and bedfellows. Mostly I think people are offended because they like to identify with what Liberty stands for but I do not like the look of either. I can't get away from the fact that in the main, they are so ugly. I do like florals just not Liberty. Business ALWAYS sells out too, so no surprise there.

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  29. You could have not said it better, I completely agree!...A merger of two high powered companies, seemingly in pursuit of profit (and possibly made in China)...it all feels very wrong...

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  30. I thought the same when Liberty partnered with Target stores here in the U.S. to produce a clothing and home-goods line. While the prints were quite nice, as I would expect, the goods were shoddily produced and very evidently cheap. I would expect that a producer of such a luxury product would limit its partnerships to organizations whose quality standards are equally high, and I believe the Nike partnership (especially given Nike's dismal humanitarian record) is just another signal that the craft world cannot forever remain isolated from capitalist, profit-driven motives.

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  31. That swoosh just makes what might have been passable look garish.

    From a business perspective, it's hard to work out who the target market would be, as those that like petite florals probably do not tend to wear high tops.

    I would say that they are risking their brand image of quality and exclusiveness, certainly, but I am guessing that they are finding that their old customer base has shrunk, there are fewer people about willing to pay that little more, so they have decided to go more mainstream in the hopes of a higher profit margin. Given the economy lately, they might not have had much choice.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x