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Highsnobiety Op-Ed June, 18 2014

What the Fashion Industry Could Learn from ‘Game of Thrones’

*Spoiler Alert*

With another season of Game of Thrones in the books, it’s hard to deny that George R.R. Martin’s masterful collaboration with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss has produced a body of work that has overarching themes that apply outside of a realm where guilt and innocent smacks with the ferocity of a fist instead of a gavel, and has relevance in another equally cruel world: fashion. Where as rabid fans approach the mysticism and fantasy elements in the show/book as if the characters really have a heartbeat and leave some questioning how people can have so much invested in fiction, the other side of the coin is the fashion industry where business and ego gets in the way of championing a movement.

 

It’s cutthroat.

No one who has ever seen mere moments of an episode of Game of Thrones would ever classify it as a slow-burn. While the acquisition of power can be a long and drawn-out process, those that tune in weekly are keenly aware that bloodshed is the hour-long drama’s calling card. Those wanting a career in the fashion business would be wise to understand that colleagues, admirers, mentors and perhaps even you yourself are gonna get slaughtered along the way. Consider the story of Tommy Hilfiger. “I was 25 when my accountant came to me and said, ‘You have some financial trouble.’ I told him we should just take out a bank loan, and he said, ‘No, you’ve already done that. You either have to come up with the money for a bailout or you have to file for Chapter 11.’ We went bankrupt. I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I had started with nothing and worked so hard, and we were so close to making it really big, but I had taken my eye off the ball. I believed that the business would just continue to do well. But it didn’t, because I wasn’t paying attention to the ‘business’ part of the business.”

In a study conducted by Yale, they contend that “Companies compete on the following key points: timeliness of fashions, trendiness, breadth of merchandise, brand recognition, pricing, quality, and overall shopping experience and environment. Despite some potential for companies to create competitive advantages, the industry has relatively low barriers to entry and is highly competitive.” They continue, “This fierce competition, with little brand loyalty, low barriers to entry, constant pricing pressure from competitors and a critical need to be fashion-right turn to be one of the main investment negatives for the US branded apparel industry.” Simply put, it’s easy to join the party, but it’s hard to avoid someone coming to chop your head off.

 

Sometimes it’s okay to kill off things you love.

Viewers are so mesmerized at the willingness of George R.R. Martin to kill off beloved characters that they are actually willing to pay $20,000 USD to be immortalized in one of his books – only to be killed off as part of a charitable endeavor the author engineered as a means for raising money for a wolf sanctuary in New Mexico. “Despite my sinister repute, I actually find it hard to kill off characters that I’ve been writing about for some time,” Martin told The Hollywood Reporter. “Good guys or bad guys, they’re all my children. But this time the slaughter should be easy, since the victims will be laying down their lives in a good cause. I will do my best to make their ends memorable.”

From a fashion standpoint, those dictating the trends, or those adhering to the often regimented uniformity that is presented as originality, would be wise to understand that falling in love with figments of one’s imagination is the first sign of artistic defeat. Much like with television, we have an understanding of what we’re consuming, but we trust that the narrative will feature just as many subtractions as there are additions.

Whether it’s believing that monochromatic ensembles will always be in style or that the cozy boy movement will continue, the only thing that keeps menswear interesting is when trends die.

 

We like underdogs.

Conventional storytelling wisdom tells us that the antagonist believes himself/herself to be the hero of their own story. Their motives aren’t merely the actions of sociopaths, but rather “viable” options for a muddled and confusing world. In Game of Thrones everyone seemingly has a legitimate claim to reign, but we can’t help rooting for those who are pure of heart despite what they have been forced to do. Whether it’s revenge in a fictional world or a backstory related to a brand, consumers want to feel something even if it’s indirectly.

Consider the “mall craze” that was prominent starting in 2013 and carried into 2014. PacSun’s reinvention as a retailer directly coincided with consumers’ feelings as it related to prominent streetwear labels like Been Trill, Odd Future, Crooks & Castles and Diamond. People like to feel like they’re keeping the lights on for a brand, not feeding the machine. In a piece of editorial exploring direct to retailer models, The New York Times notes, “What the department stores used to be able to deliver was credibility to your brand. But what a lot of these new brands have discovered is that the price that they have to pay is draconian.”

 

Mystery is a powerful tool.

While there is always the original source material for those unwilling to view Martin’s fantasy series at a pace dictated by production schedules and HBO’s slate of other shows, those that can temper their enthusiasm are gifted with the exhilaration that comes along with the layered effect that the epic provides. On a week-to-week basis, the cast and creators have managed to use the mere threat of violence as a means to whet an appetite for mystery that we lust for.

Look no further than Supreme as a brand that best embodies a counterculture mystique in contemporary fashion. As Business of Fashion puts it, “Being sovereign – the supreme ruler of culture – is the brand’s unofficial mission statement.” Notoriously shy when it comes to press and with a retail model that relies on limited quantities released without forewarning, it’s almost as if they are following a prewritten script that no one can get their hands on, but that they are fiercely confident in. Year after year fashion mavens and consumers have asked themselves and each other, “How long can Supreme keep this up?” Tune in next week, I suppose.

 

Pay your dues and debts.

As it’s often mentioned, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” In a world where betrayal is commonplace and integrity falls somewhere between incest and intolerance, it’s one ethos that has been a staple of the most powerful family in Game of Thrones.

Many aspiring brand owners would be wise to heed those words of advice. Before one should set off trying to blaze a trail in the fashion world, you should broach an inner monologue that asks “am I really ready?” Whether it’s merely asking someone for help or sending in the final design specs for a line of tees, there’s no going back once it’s out there and inevitably you’re on the hook – whether it be professionally or financially. If you want something for somebody else, expect they want something in return. That’s the world we live in.

 

Pick the right collaborations.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, George R.R. Martin recalled how it is that Game of Thrones creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff came on board. “Fortunately, the books were best sellers, I didn’t need the money, you know, so I could just say no. Other people wanted to take the approach of, there are so many characters, so many stories, we have to settle on one. Let’s make it all about Jon Snow. Or Dany. Or Tyrion. Or Bran. But that didn’t work, either, because the stories are all inter-related. They separate but they come together again. But it did get me thinking about it, and it got me thinking about how this could be done, and the answer I came up with is – it can be done for television.” He continued, “And I was also very impressed by the fact that both of them were novelists, and I think they liked the idea that I’d worked in television, so I wasn’t going to be one of these prima donna novelists. ‘How could you change that thing?’ I understood the process from the other side. But they understood what the process was like from the other side, too, because both of them had written novels, and in the case of David, he’d seen his novels adapted to films. So we had mirror-image backgrounds and we hit it off pretty well.”

It seems in today’s fashion landscape, hype dictates collaborations rather than allowing for things to happen organically or with partners who share a similar outlook. In fact, collaborations are to fashion as to what a twist is for a television program. Unless it feels earned and the people behind the scenes have cultivated a path that feels natural, everyone feels cheated when that huge moment arrives.

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