Marketing lessons from the fashion industry


To me, the greatest marketers are fashion icons. And by fashion icons I don’t mean supermodels or the best dressed celebrities. I mean the ordinary individuals who put in captivating work that suddenly makes them seem extraordinary.

Some of my top fashion icons are André Leon Talley, former editor-at-large of Vogue magazine; Dapper Dan, the underground creative genius that bootlegged luxury fashion to pimps and gang stars; Diana Vreeland, who worked as a columnist and editor of Harper’s Bazaar and later served as the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, and finally Anna Wintour, the private and mysterious British journalist who has served as editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988, and global chief content officer for Condé Nast since 2020.

I study the work and follow the moves of these four individuals because I believe their subject matter knowledge is endless, obsessive passion is contagious, thinking is insanely divergent, product appreciation is deep, and the rebellious attitude to getting their work done is alluring to me.

These five variables are the essential ingredients that are consistent across each individual’s profile, and I believe makes them extra-ordinary. Fashion or not, they are extremely savvy marketers of concepts and products who I believe can sell anything as long as they are interested in it or care about it enough. It’s like what Jay-Z said in ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ – “I’m the realest that run it, I just happen to rap”.

So, these are incredible humans, but why are they great marketers? First factor we will explore is Vanity. As you know, the fashion world has been criticised for being unreal and vain.

People in the industry supposedly act as if fashion is the true religion (pun intended), and nothing else exists – and I wonder why that is so wrong. If you don’t believe so much in the work that you do, how do you expect to make someone else believe in it?

If Steve Jobs did not have a blinding belief in interface and experience design, would he have been able to convince others to become advocates enough to make Apple attain the status of the world’s most valuable company? I think not.

Anna Wintour is considered the most powerful woman in the global fashion industry, and I’m not even sure she’s ever sewed a stitch of fabric. Fashion designers treat her like the Queen of England and consumers are constantly trying to demystify her.

But what makes Anna so powerful, is not only the mystery that lurks behind her dark shades and wicked bobs, it is that she captains Condé Nast – the ultimate lifestyle brand conglomerate, and a melting pot of vanity – which is a guaranteed marketing machine that sells out anything and anyone.

Next factor to look at will be Personality. Everyone that was or is a leading voice in the fashion industry, is an absolute original. From physical appearances to personal idiosyncrasies, the four aforementioned people are very authentic and unapologetic about how they carry themselves and how they are perceived.

This comes across authentically in their personal branding which makes them absolute magnets to their various tribes. It makes connecting with their audiences easier, and it makes persuasion and conversion easier.

While reading Dapper Dan’s memoir aptly titled ‘Made in Harlem’ – I noted an interesting story he told about touring Africa and ending up in Senegal, where the bulk of his money was spent buying beautiful fabrics which tailors made into nice suits for him. This almost got him stranded in Africa by the way.

Dap likes to look fly, and one thing that is consistent about him and all the other fashion icons I follow, is the compulsive need to cultivate and appreciate style.

Another important factor is Showmanship. If you skim through fashion history; study roll-out plans, exhibitions, and sustaining conversations to drive sales and talkability, you’d note that fashion is highly histrionic.

Fashion designers and some fashion editors are the greatest showmen. They know how to put on a show or magazine that makes everyone stop, point and talk.

To me, Diana Vreeland still remains the only fashion editor who understood the charm of the human pose, the soul of an outfit, the personality of a typeface, and the architecture of a brilliant layout.

She was the master of detail and exaggeration – and she embodied these two elements completely. Checkout her documentary ‘Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel’ whenever you can.

Read also: Why you should care about the fashion industry

The final factor that makes fashion icons marketing geniuses is Sustenance. They understand the art of sustaining conversations long after exhibitions are over. The phrase ‘paint a picture with words’ was probably originally used to describe André Leon Talley.

His deep love for style, taste and character, merged with his vast knowledge of the fashion industry helped him connect with fashion designers on a purely artistic level. This enabled him to tell the stories of their personality and collections long after the last model had left the runway.


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