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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Who The Fuck Is Justin O'Shea? Has Brioni Been Hijacked By The Donald Trump Of The Fashion World?

The other week I was standing outside my Studio when the Australian film director George Miller just happened to be walking past. I encouraged him to shop at the bakery located next to the Studio and winked at the baker, Nina. I suggested he stop past after at the Studio if he was free and to my delight he dropped in. To be fair, I sometimes lack the appropriate boundaries with celebrities. I often just assume we have a like minded appreciation for the same things, or perhaps I am more familiar with their lives than they are with mine. Whatever it is, I often have to be careful around famous people because they can become quite cagey and quite quickly.

Whilst George was in the shop (you see, there I go being too familiar), I suggested to him that he ought to own one of my bow ties but he didn't seem too interested. He said "I have a beautiful bespoke tuxedo that was recently made for me by Brioni for the Cannes film festival. Do you know the new creative director is an Australian called Justin O'Shea ?" .

I had absolutely no idea who he was talking about. I adore Brioni but I don't really follow it closely in terms of management. I was just getting used to the idea that they had a creative director, and that his name was Brendan Mullane. I did not say as much, I felt that George was very aware he had his finger more on the pulse than the man in front of him, and through his signature round frame black spectacles and without the slightest derision in his face I felt him say this to himself "no wonder you are here in Vaucluse and I've never heard of you". Of course, this could have just been my own insecurity playing out. Regardless, I knew from that point on I did not have a new brand ambassador in George!

Let's fast forward to Justin O'Shea because once my famous film director left I made a small note to myself to follow that up. Firstly I found an interview with O'Shea by Luke Leitch which I found really fascinating. To whittle it down, O'Shea comes out of the left field. He has had some big success as the buyer for a German web retailer MyTheresa which sky rocketed from a bricks and mortar store to turning over 130M a year in web sales. This contact with high brow fashion brought this otherwise rough and tumble looking Australian male into contact with suits and fashion which he then used as a spring board for a life of gritty luxury on social media. Bottles of vodka, hotel rooms, parties, suits, cars, travel etc. It looks cool, it sells and his own hype has worked because it's caught the eye of Kering, the owner of Brioni, and they've given him the keys to the castle.

The easiest thing to do would be to want to tear Justin O'Shea apart. From the outset he has no experience as a fashion designer (at best he was a buyer) , he looks like he runs off hype and lacks any real depth of genuine menswear knowledge. He looks like he is no more than a social media shooting star, somebody that will burn out before he will add anything serious to the Brioni story. For those of us that love Brioni for it's craft, the respect the 'institution' holds for materials, the understated and inimitable details they offer - handing the reins to someone like O'Shea seems to be like handing a hand-gun to a monkey and expecting there to be no casualties. His first move, to re-design the logo, seemingly was the first affront. Taking the logo and re-configuring it to look like a hip hop record label that might have otherwise said "Gangsta" was the first slap in the face for many of us. But, precisely it was at that moment that I stopped to think - maybe this guy has a point.

In the interview with Leitch, many of the things that O'Shea says seem caustic and uneducated but after sitting on the article I have come to the conclusion that he is indeed correct. The brand of Brioni has been synonymous with quality for decades now but for many of us you have to pick and choose from a tiny amount of their products which you can actually wear. The rest of it seems to be for men aged between 50 and 80 who want the highest quality products and who don't mind Brioni's Italian look. And whilst most of the suits have stayed conservative, there has always been something not quite right about the majority of the products they offered. If you consider that most of the patrons of Brioni are exceptionally wealthy but most likely going to die within the next decade, the only way that you might be able to salvage the brand is to hit the old customers on the head and find new ones.

It was never going to be possible to form a nice and easy bridge between the customers of the Old Brioni and the customers of the New Brioni. They would be diametrically opposed to one another, like seeing a face off between the 'Greasers' and the 'Socs' in S.E Hinton's classic novel 'The Outsiders'. You can literally imagine O'Shea and a band of tattooed circus freaks standing on one side with the band Metallica playing the backing music (something George Miller would be able to set up well on camera), whilst on the other you can see the greying Italian aristocrat and his cronies.

What O'Shea is roughly saying to the world is this: "the world is rapidly changing, I represent the new wave, we need to make stuff cool or else it won't sell, and we need to change the way we appear so we can find a brand new audience long after the old guard of Brioni have been placed in nursing homes". And to do this will be difficult, challenging, and to some degree violent. It was explained to me recently that when a snake sheds it's skin the first thing it does is smack it's head against a rock in order to split the skin. It is an incredibly violent image, and it seems to me that Kering has accepted that in order for Brioni to survive, it must shed a skin, and O'Shea has certainly begun that journey by cracking it's head against a rock. Whilst my main concern remains that O'Shea knows nothing about quality of production, the fine details, patterns, cuts, materials and the amount of knowledge and labour it takes to make a great garment, I do believe he might be the right guy to make Brioni appealing to the next generation. The question is, at the end is it still Brioni, or just another hyped up fashion brand ?

New look for Brioni under the new creative director, Australian Justin O'Shea




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