The Quest for Cool

Fashion brands are forever trying to achieve the “cool factor” … but how do you actually do it? On November 29, FIT’s Menswear department, in conjunction with MR Magazine, examined this question during a panel discussion called Menswear Talk: Crystal Ball on the Future of Fashion/Retail.

Being cool gets harder every day as consumers get smarter. “They can see fakeness a mile away,” said Simon Graj, founder of brand strategy consultancy Graj + Gustavsen. Brands need to be authentic and serve a higher purpose, instead of just focusing on driving sales. “Some of the best brands today are the ones that have a clear point of view and stand for something,” said Eric Jennings, managing partner and co-founder of E2 Brand Management. And Graj agreed, emphasizing that today’s brands need to be activists and advocates.

The panel also had tactical advice, specifically about collaboration and scale. While collaborating with other businesses or creatives can raise a brand’s reputation and reach new customers, it can also be damaging if not done carefully. “Consumers can tell if you do it just to make money or ride on someone’s coattails,” said Jack Carlson, founder of Rowing Blazers. “But if there’s a real reason, a real story, then it’s great.” He also stated that when considering collaborations, he asks himself, “Would Supreme do it?”

And while collaborations and limited-edition products can create desirability, brands need to be able to scale—or else risk frustrating their customers. “Because of social media, you can only be cool for so long if not enough people can buy it,” said Durand Guion, head of fashion direction for Macy’s.

As important as it is to stay on top of trends within the industry (luxury streetwear was a main topic of discussion), fashion brands also need look at the bigger picture. “You can’t be too cool to pay attention to other brands,” Carlson said, citing Away and Casper as sources of inspiration. “Forget fashion!” Graj said. “Health, fitness, and wellness are the new landscapes that will impact the world.”