This is a sensible way to manage risk in a volatile marketplace…and a good idea. Most fashion houses continue to adhere to the "muse model." Great talents like Tom Ford are hired for their ability to call on their muse (or perhaps more exactly to serve as one), and anticipate where the market is going to go. In this model, marketing intelligence does not come from the focus group and other kinds of marketing research. It descends from on high, as the fashion genius divines what lies ahead.
Clearly, fashion has lots to learn from non-muse marketing, but I wonder if learning shouldn’t run both ways. While fashion houses are learning from marketers, shouldn’t marketers ask what they can learn from fashion?
Here is the problem. As the rate of change increases, lots of markets are taking on the long standing characteristic of fashion ones, specifically, that consumers often cannot tell you how they are going to react to an innovation. This is especially true in tech markets where people tell you that they have no interest in a "personal computer" or a "modem" and 6 months later can’t live without them. In these cases, it really doesn’t matter how good the research is. The consumer just doesn’t know.
Fashion has struggled with this order of dynamism, and the designer has proved an extraordinary asset. Designer listen carefully to the market, to one another, to contemporary culture. Mostly, they listen to themselves. Their intelligence is an extraordinary winnowing system. They comb the heavens for possibility and more often than note, they can see five years ahead of the rest of us.
Joan Kron is the best postioned purpose to investigate the intellectual system at work here. But she tells me that the research is almost impossible to do. When asked how they do it, designers are inclined to say they "just know" what they know. And they can’t say how they got there.
This is a pity, because the world of marketing would be well served by seers of this kind. And I guess we have them. Faith Popcorn is clearly one. I am not sure who else qualifies. And of course the whole idea makes us uncomfortable because it has the effect of black boxing the very thing, forecasting, we want so much to make manifest. But this is a real resource and, as I say, an increasingly valuable one in dynamic markets.
Muse marketing is too important to be ignored.
Galloni, Alessandra. 2005. At Gucci, Mr. Polet’s New Design Upends Rules for High Fashion. Wall Street Journal. August 9, 2005.