In today’s world, what does “luxury” even mean? Which brands have nailed the fine balance between online and physical retail? The best fashion marketing campaign so far? She’s got all the answers. Kati was born in Bangkok, raised in Hong Kong and now lives in London. As Vogue Business’ retail and marketing editor, she shares all the hot marketing trends and innovations making waves in fashion and beauty.
|| How It All Began ||
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Both of my parents are Thai and I was born in Bangkok. We moved to Hong Kong because of my mum’s career and I grew up there. At 17, I moved to London to pursue a BA in Journalism at the London College of Communication, and I’ve been here ever since.
Did you always want to go into journalism?
No. Growing up, I’ve always been obsessed with the arts, particularly painting. At the time, I thought it would be difficult to make money as an artist, so I aimed for graphic design instead.
During an interview, one of the tutors said:
“Since you don’t have any experience in graphic design, I’d have to put you through the foundation program first.
However, your English is a lot better than the other people I’ve interviewed ...
If you want, I can get you straight onto the BA Journalism program.”
Obviously, I chose the latter. [smiles]
Why write about fashion?
As a teen, I saved up to buy expensive fashion magazines on a regular basis - I’ve always been interested in fashion.
Nevertheless, I feel fashion has always been perceived as a bit shallow and unhealthy. Growing up, I was naturally slim because I played a lot of sports. Yet, people would make negative comments:
“Oh, look at her. She’s way too thin ... it’s because she wants to be in fashion. How unhealthy!”
That simply wasn’t true, but it still discouraged me from joining the fashion industry.
So, what drove you back to fashion?
I met my best friend in student halls - he’s still one of my best friends today. [smiles]
I remember hanging out in his room and all his walls were covered in fashion models, clothes and everything. He loves fashion. He’s the one who got me back into fashion and I’m really happy about that. [smiles]
|| Miranda Priestly IRL ||
What’s a typical work day for you like, pre-Covid?
It really varies. I spend most of the time writing, but I contact a lot of people too.
Relationship-building is key. It’s important to build rapport and genuinely connect with brands so they know I’m trustworthy and really invested in understanding their craft. So, I often speak to brands to get an idea of what’s happening internally.
I’m also responsible for sourcing the visuals to support my writings. Not only do I have to select them, I have to get them cleared legally too. Then, the design team will help me reformat images for the site.
Hosting events are also another part of my job. Since Covid, I’ve had to learn to host webinars too, which requires a different skill-set.
I also attend the shows at Fashion Week. It’s helpful to see what the designers are presenting, feel the mood, and hear what people are saying. If I’m analyzing a certain brand’s marketing strategy, it’s great to see which locations they use, the music they select etc. because some of those things don’t translate across online.
How have brands creatively balanced between online and physical space?
I think that brands will seamlessly blur the lines between online and offline.
E-commerce sales are growing 3 times faster than sales at bricks-and-mortar stores, according to Boston Consulting Group, and more than 25% of fashion sales in Western Europe alone will happen online by 2020, up from 20% two years ago.
There's been a shift of balance and it's now important for brands to think about a customer's purchase journey or fulfilling an order through more than one channel. For example, a customer might discover a brand in store, buy something online, but choose to return or pick-up the product in store.
I think that brands like Glossier have been forward thinking in its approach to retail because transactions aren't made to seem like the priority. Their stores are experiential and designed to further engage their community, by encouraging shoppers to create social media content while bonding with friends over beauty products.
Glossier's Flagship Store in New York and pop-up stores across Chicago and San Francisco. Photos from Indigo 9 Digital.
What's one of the best fashion marketing campaigns you've seen?
There have been so many recently - it's hard to pick one! I really love the way Loewe and J.W. Anderson have approached fashion weeks throughout the pandemic.
Jonathan and his team worked with OK-RM and M/M to produce his "show in a box" concept, which served as a window into his world and imagination, with a lot of interlocking components. The brand also offered 24 hours of streaming content on its social media and website - it was all very encompassing.
I'm also really enjoying Valentino's irreverence and humour, and brands like Balenciaga and Pangaia, which let users explore their collections in the metaverse. I think XR and co-interactivity online will be a big trend for fashion brands in 2021.
Balenciaga's Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, a video game build to showcase the Fall 2021 collection. Photos from Design Boom.
What does "luxury" mean to you?
I wrote about this actually. I think the definition of luxury in fashion is changing.
Over the years high-end brands have been producing products like sneakers and sweatshirts, which would not have been called luxurious just a few years ago. But they're able to do that today without hurting their cachet because younger consumers want something new and trendy.
Personally for me uniqueness and craftsmanship are still the markers of luxury. I want to be sold a story and it has to be aspirational, otherwise I can just get whatever it is anywhere else
How do luxury brands maintain their sense of exclusivity while staying relevant?
It’s different for different brands.
I thought it was interesting that Bottega Veneta deleted their Instagram and Weibo accounts at a time when other luxury brands are trying to appear more democratic.
Whereas LVMH brands are trying to be more human and engaging. Valentino and Gucci have worked with meme makers, which may seem quite lowbrow. Although their products aren’t getting any cheaper, through marketing, they’re making the brand seem more accessible and more inclusive.
|| Up Close & Personal ||
What advice would you like to tell your younger self?
This isn't advice that someone gave me, but they are things I learned over the past decade that I personally feel are important and I always share this with people:
Read — lots!
As a child I loved books and constant reading helped enhance my vocabulary and taught me how to better express my thoughts and ideas. Books are such a rich source of information and are so important for cognitive and emotional wellbeing in a way that scrolling on social media platforms isn’t.
Read widely, too. Read great writing that has nothing to do with fashion.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know exactly what you want to do.
I discovered who I want to be and how I want to work through lots of professional and personal experiences. But even now, my goals are still evolving. It’s a constant process. Don’t get locked into a set idea of what you need to do or where you need to go next in order to be successful.
Some things are out of your control. Timing is everything and the right opportunities might not always be there.
I’ve learned to not mull over things that I have no ability to change, but to make the most of what I am able to control. Just remember you are only a piece of the puzzle, and therefore can only manage your own actions while you try to navigate.
Keep learning and write constantly. It’s the best way to get practice.
Can you share some achievements you’re proud of?
Working at the Business of Fashion (BOF), I covered the Asian market and emerging trends. At the time, people weren’t really writing about Asia and cultural shifts, so I’m quite proud of introducing people to Asian perspectives.
In the past few years, I also helped BOF launch the Business of Beauty. This also felt like an achievement because at the time, nobody was really reporting about beauty in an intelligent and business-driven way.
Has working in fashion influenced your personal style?
Definitely. I’m really inspired by Lemaire and Margaret Howell. I love simplicity because I don’t like drawing attention to myself. As a journalist, I feel like it's not about me, it’s about telling other people’s stories.
In your own words, what is love?
Love is unconditional, generous, forgiving, complex and a commitment.
Your top 3 songs to listen to while writing?
I find it really hard to listen to upbeat or overly energetic songs when I write because it distracts my attention. At the moment I'm enjoying:
Philip Glass - Mad Rush
Julian Koussin - Arpstral
The whole Amelie soundtrack!