Regular readers of this blog will by now be well aware of our fixation on Florence Arnold (‘Florrie’), a twenty-something British singer-songwriter who is relatively well-known on the London music scene but is not yet regarded as a national treasure; this has bothered us for some time now, especially given that we can’t help thinking that almost any other of the 192 UN member states would have accorded this status to her long ago. However, we have simultaneously sensed question marks over her branding: in particular, her videos have tended to lack an overarching identity that would make Florrie a corporate religion in her own right.
On 5th February 2016 the Florrie music and marketing machine crunched into a new dimension with the release of Real Love. This success of this song – which has already registered over 500,000 YouTube views in a little under five days – would appear to represent a major triumph for Florrie. And unlike her previous videos, the Real Love clip features a story, of sorts: a sleazy-but-amiable fashion photographer guides our stunning heroine through a series of unlikely assignments, and after a brief sojourn in a retro-disco both characters are seen presumed drowned in the photographer’s swimming pool.
But once again after watching a Florrie video, we feel compelled to ask the same old question: is this lively collection of Vogue spread clichés really the best clip that could have been released? Would it have been so hard to depict an actual love story with customised iconography, particularly given the proximity to Valentine’s Day? After some contemplation, the relative depth of the Real Love movie only goes to highlight just how far there is to go in constructing the Florrie brand; with an anthemic dance track as infectious and joyous as Real Love and a supremely talented and telegenic pop artist singing it, Florrie should surely be rivalling PSY – and she fully deserves that level of ubiquity.
Two apparently unconnected events recently engendered a unique synergy in the life of our Creative Director & CSO. The first was his reading of Monocle magazine’s 2015/16 Entrepreneur’s Guide, the latest edition of the increasingly-essential annual survey published in the pages of the London-headquartered über-magazine; the second was an Instagram picture of an infinity toilet taken by no less an entity than Florence Arnold (‘Florrie’), arguably the United Kingdom’s sole recognisably traditional pop-dance artist under the age of thirty.
While the first occurrence needs little explaining – Monocle’s Entrepreneur’s Guide should really occupy a bigger space in the business literature pantheon than it presently does – the second may remain mysterious even to many of those who read this entire article, who will doubtless wonder what a piece of sanitation technology has to do with the art of commerce. But the answer to this lies in the really salient question: what inspired a national pop icon to pose in the same photograph as a type of object which is associated with pure, unremarkable functionality?
After some reflection, we at Mediolana have no other answer than the simple reality of enchantment. The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) perceived that modernity is characterised by a lack of enchantment: in an overwhelmingly ‘rational’ world which prioritises implementing solutions to technical problems, the ‘irrational’ modalities of aesthetics, love and spirituality risk being consigned to the history books as ‘barbarous’ progress smothers all before it. The University of Maryland’s George Ritzer has extended this theory – wrapped in the wax paper of McDonaldisation – to the context of postmodernity.
One way out of disenchantment is a humanising post-industrialism that emphasises customisation, individuality and even a return to beauty. It is these possibilities that explain perhaps more than anything else Florrie’s perfectly human response to being confronted with something beyond the ordinary. But the same dynamic applies to much more than fashionable receptacles.
In this light of this, entrepreneurs everywhere must ask themselves hard questions: are your products and services moving and meaningful enough to provoke attachment and self-identification? If not, what can be done to make them so? And when will that new journey begin? In an era of grassroots manufacturing and extreme connectivity, it is only be a matter of time before your competitors answer these queries decisively.
We at Mediolana have more than a passing interest in the fashion industry, and when our Creative Director & CSO was made aware of the phenomenon that is London-born model Cara Delevingne, he could tell that she was destined for Really Big Things. On a technical level, her signature eyebrows and unusually curvy silhouette (at least for this particular sector) mark Delevingne out from most of her peers; in a homogenous world, distinctiveness has an increasingly large cachet, even in industries with demanding, rigidly-enforced specifications.
However, in the last year or so we have begun to wonder whether the wild success of Cara Delevingne is beginning to epitomise non-textbook market failure. Walking around the fashion retail hotspots of London, Delevingne’s visage has become so ubiquitous that the uninitiated might plausibly believe that they have stumbled into a personality cult-defined dictatorship rivalling those of West and North-East Asia. Brands quotidian and luxury are falling over themselves to present offerings – mostly in the form of lucrative contracts – to the omnipresent. All Cara, All the Time is the mantra du jour.
But does this actually make any sense? After some contemplation, we believe that this trend could be an error for (almost) everyone involved:
- Bland Brands. What links TAG Heuer, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté and Topshop? Pretty much nothing – aside from the fact that at the time of writing, Cara Delevingne is the Ace Face of all three companies. Brand differentiation – one of the most important attributes of any commercial IP portfolio – has gone out of the window. Instead, one model appears to have completely eclipsed the corporate identity of billion-dollar entities.
- Saturation Point. Cara Delevingne’s ubiquity is at best a risky strategy. Beyond a reasonable point, fatigue will set in. Pop culture is full of models, singers, bands, and actors who were the biggest thing in the world for three weeks and are then confronted with the dreary reality of planned obsolescence. Even in the context of the short careers that the fashion industry offers most of its subjects, great care must be taken to avoid burnout – and encourage selective exposure.
- What About Her? As a global media capital, London is a magnet for talent in every conceivable creative industry. However, it can only remain so if the planet’s best and brightest creatives think that they have a hope in hell of making it to the top. Employing the language of economics, for every marginal contract swallowed up by the Delevingne machine, hundreds if not thousands of wonderful models from across Europe and the world – many of whom have made huge sacrifices to try and make it in the UK’s capital – will ponder contemplating pastures fairer that little bit more intensely.