Archive for the ‘vintage’ Category
Lately, almost without meaning to, I’ve developed a little vintage Esprit habit. I mean, I mean to, as my eye and hand are drawn to the shapes, colors and fabrics, but that lovely three parrallel line “E” is becoming a deep part of my wardrobe, and competing with my 1980s Liz Claiborne problem.
The pieces are great, but the old ads were even better.
Which was actually a part of the problem with the rise and fall of Esprit.
The whole story of Esprit is a story about the zeitgeist, in fashion, sure, but mostly about culture and that 1960s cohort and their ideals….and it’s fascinating. It seems as almost everyone and everything related to the Esprit story affected or filtered culture in someway.
Esprit was started by Jane Tise and Susie Russell in the 1960s, looking to give American young women a Mary Quant or Biba equivalent. That line was called Plain Jane.
Their third partner, Allen Schwartz, pushed the line into department stores. I think a lot of us know what happened to him.
Susie Russell picked up a young hitchhiker, Doug Tompkins, in the 1960s. They got married. Doug was working on developing his climbing store in San Francisco. That climbing store became The North Face.
Doug sold the North Face and headed down to the Patagonia region of South America to do some climbing with some friends, including his friend Yvon.
After the trip, Yvon founded Patagonia, and Doug became inspired to work on Susie’s growing business.
He encouraged her and Jane to change the name to Esprit de Corps (a hippie play on the Marine Corps). He and Susie started to aggressively move the line and company in the direction they saw for it…eventually buying out the other partners. Jane left in the early 70s. The only thing I could find out about her is that she might be a photographer now.
Susie and Doug pushed onwards. Doug was the head of image and worked on making sure the ads were eye catching, new, and elevated. Susie was the design director.
In the 1970s and early 1980s things were very good.
Here’s their home office. They had a gym, roof gardens, an environmental desk where people could learn about how they could help the environment and days off to volunteer.
Here’s a catalog with Susie and Doug from the 1980s.
But there were problems. Were the ads better than the clothes? Would the money ever run out? With so much growth, did they have a structure in place to handle tightening margins and changing tastes?
Doug and Susan had ultimately different goals for the company, and for their life, and by 1985, they were living apart.
But they were still working together. Doug had his eye on building the company into an empire (and escaping the tastes of mercurial department store buyers) by making stand alone stores. But, just like with the ads, he only wanted the best, and the most high-brow. An example is the 14 million dollar LA Esprit store that’s now a CVS in West Hollywood (more on that location here).
The stores looked amazing, images below from Doug’s book about Esprit.
Remember how we were talking Esprit=Zeitgeist? The Esprit store in LA was where Sarah Jessica Parker’s character worked in LA Story.
By 1986, Esprit grew to be a 800 Million dollar business. However, sales started to decline.
Customers were maybe over big, blocky pastels and primary colored pieces, department stores were asking for lower prices, and Doug’s stores were visionary, but not in the right locations. All the attention had been paid to the front of the house, while the back end was in disarray, and couldn’t cover the deficit in sales.
In 1988, Doug and Susie divorced.
Then things got weird. Doug and Susie appointed an interim board to pick which of them got to lead Esprit. The board picked Doug. Susie left, and Doug kept being ahead of the tide as far as culture goes.
In 1989, Doug took out an ad in Utne Reader, asking for a decline in conspicuous consumption. People were shocked, and the LA times asked, “Did Esprit define the New Spirit?”
He totally had, but the new execs at Esprit weren’t really happy about it.
They wanted Susie, and her on trend pieces, and the sales to match, back.
The way the couple had split meant that Doug was supposed to buy out Susie’s shares. But he didn’t. Perhaps, maybe this anti-consumer move was supposed to lessen the value of Esprit, and Susie’s buyout? Was he being sneaky and trying to ruin the company? So Susie rallied people to take over Esprit. Other companies tried to buy it. It got tense.
Susie came out on top with Esprit.
Doug took his buyout and ended up being a big environmentalist. He owns a huge environmental foundation in Chile, which he runs with his wife since 1993, Kris, the former CEO of Patagonia.
Susie, meanwhile, was at work in 1992: making new lines (Susie Tompkins signature collection bombed…can’t find any pictures)
and new ad campaigns that attracted attention…but not sales.
Maybe you remember this one?
Esprit tried to figure out what to fix. They eliminated all the hippie + forward-thinking perks, and the progressive ads, but the company still ended up being bandied about to several buyers and CEOs.
Susie is now mostly known for being a Democratic fundraiser, and maybe Hilary Clinton’s best friend. She’s currently not funding Obama as of 2012, because she’s disappointed in his environmental leadership.
“The brand has gradually lost its soul over the past few years. The heritage of the brand has been neglected and the company lost its customer focus,” Group CEO Ronald Van Der Vis said in a statement [in 2011].
They planned on dealing with that by spending $6.8 billion Hong Kong ($872.9 million) over four years to reshape its brand. The company will create a trend unit based in Paris and a design center in China so that hot fashion trends can be brought to market faster.
Oy. They posted their first annual loss since the IPO in 1993, in 2012.
A variety of missteps, lawsuits, changing tastes, and maybe just bad taste led to the current state of Esprit. Or, if Esprit is a metaphor about American culture and ethics, and maybe the decline of the company from idealistic brand to being destroyed by it’s own greed and then sold to Hong Kong where it now focuses on fast fashion products for nations other than the US is indicative of the decline of American culture and civilization as a whole?
Nah. It’s just about clothes, right?
Here’s a huge, awesome, exhausting article about Esprit from 1997, which goes more in depth on the legal battle.
Everyone who’s ever lived in NYC, and everyone who’s ever visited Brooklyn, or even read about Brooklyn, has some varied opinion about what Brooklyn means, how it’s changing, what that says, and where you can buy kombucha these days. The other conversation to have in NYC, especially if you live in LA, is some friendly or unfriendly version of LA vs. NYC.
These conversations can literally fill a visit to NYC, even after you swear off having that conversation only minutes before. They aren’t fun, but they are endless.
Regardless, walkable cities rule and walkable cities with tons of boutiques rule harder. LA, I love you, you are the city of the future, but NYC is the greatest for shopping and spending a day walking around (as long as we are only talking domestic cities): and maybe always will be. Conversation over, moving on.
After brunch with the happy couple and this view, I headed out to shopwalk Wburg.
So! I finally got to check out Pilgrim Surf Company, a really well designed store with really well designed (mostly mens) clothing and accessories. They carry Norse Projects and cozy lovely cabrales from Industry of All Nations, which unfortunately don’t come in my size.
I checked out the Brooklyn Flea (which I found disappointing coming from the land of the Rose Bowl and the Fairfax Melrose market….see?! the conversation is NEVER over). And then headed to some of my vintage favorites, Amarcord, 10ft single, and Horizons. I hadn’t been to the Brooklyn Narnia until this trip but it was fantastic: so many perfect dream pieces.
I stopped by my friend Lauren Manoogian’s studio. It was cool that day and being surrounded by her yarn was almost as cozy as being in some of her amazing pieces like these ones.
I got cold at one point and almost convinced my brother that we should get matching old north face jackets, but it really wasnt a good look for us at all.
finished up the evening with good eats and good friends.
(ps. nyc wins on (actual, authentic) loft living, too).
The stars were aligned last week for us at the thrift store.
I found a Dior suit, YSL shoes, and a Gianni Versace Couture Blazer which I will, somehow, somewhere, manage to wear in some look other than this:
and Isaac found a black and white photo that ended up being a Becher. But, a lithograph Becher, so we’ll be keeping it.
good friend Emily Spivack’s Sentimental Value show got a great write up in the NYtimes T magazine blog today.
Rolling Stone Magazine
August 6, 1981
Anya Phillips dies of cancer
Anya Phillips, the definitive personality of New York’s No Wave music
scene, died in Valhalla, NY, on June 19 after a two year battle with
cancer. She was 26. Born in Taiwan, Phillips arrived in NY in the
early Seventies and worked as a photojournalist (for New York Rocker
and Punk magazine) and clothes designer (Deborah Harry wore a Phillips
dress on the cover of the second Blondie album Plastic Letters).
Phillips was most noted, however, as the manager of the influential
punk-funk band known alternately as the Contortions and James White
and the Blacks. Phillips lived with the group’s leader, James Chance,
for the last several years.