At last. A week after Russia invaded Ukraine
A current Cartier street installation, The Reflection Garden, in Tokyo’s shopping district of Omotesando. Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD
Russia attacked Ukraine last month under the guise of sending “peacekeepers” to their Western neighbour, with president Vladimir Putin announcing two hours before the first strike that he had “taken the decision to carry out a special military operation” targeted at the Donbass and eastern Ukraine. This shocking (although predicted) incursion was in the middle of Milan Fashion Week, on the third day, eight hours before the Prada show. In Italy, little was said among Italian fashion brands and cognoscenti to publicly condemn the unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The fashion week would go on. Only until Giorgio Armani’s deliberately music-less show, preceded by an unambiguous announcement, was there a vestige of denouncement. Over in Paris, no news emerged of brands taking a stand against the invasion in the northeast of Europe. Paris Fashion Week (PFW) would go on too.
Not long after the attack, some consumer brands, such as Apple, Nike, H&M, and Ikea, announced that they would suspend their business in Russia, but no such swift corresponding action was declared by any luxury brand or the conglomerates that owned them. A week after their show, Prada finally announced on Instagram that “the war in Ukraine is very worrying and a source of great concern”. It added that it had donated to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). But, nothing was said in opposition to the war or about store closures in the country of the attacker. Three days ago, Fortune reported that luxury brands Cartier and Bvlgari “(were) operating in Russia amid the country’s invasion of Ukraine”. Business was good, it was shared, as the oligarchs and their wealthy families spent on watches and jewellery to “hedge against inflation” during the dramatic and inevitable plummet of the Russian ruble (last March, ₽100 was about S$1.80, today it’s S$1.10) as a result of Western sanctions against the combat-bent country, devised to restrict its war chest and batter its economy.
Despite calls by some segments of the fashion community, including LVMH-owned Business of Fashion’s Imran Ahmed (who wrote in an editorial, “surely, the industry can’t continue as if things were normal. We have an important role to play in standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and in isolating Russia to exert pressure on Putin to end the war”), luxury brands went on with business-as-usual hum. LVMH’s Dior, opening PFW, showed their offerings—feminism, as usual, glaring, but anti-war sentiments dim. The shows by other houses went on unperturbed, on the surface, by the incursion into Ukraine. In the present century, it is hard to say that fashion and the brands that promulgate their own compelling “stories” are not tethered to the stories of the world, whether the #metoo or BLM movement, or the storming of sovereign states. Consumers want to know where luxury businesses stand.
Fashion brands run by the likes of LVMH and Kering position themselves as global businesses, and yet what they offered were not quite a global response to an inequitable invasion played out for the whole world to see. Money and profits are, of course, at stake. But if, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley, sales in Russia and to the Russians who shop abroad are “relatively immaterial” (purported to be less than 2 per cent of overall revenue at LVMH, for example), why are brand owners dragging their feet in affirmative action? Or, are statements of support and sympathy on social media (momentarily) quite enough, just as influencer apologies on the same platforms for any online/offline faux pas are also, in practice, adequate.
The SOTD anti-war message. Illustration: Just So
This morning, ten days after that fateful morning in Ukraine, news emerged that the bigwigs of French luxury fashion have finally agreed to halting sales in Russia, for now. According to the BBC, “LVMH, Hermès, Kering and Chanel have decided to temporarily shut their shops in Russia”, after Ukranian high-end department stores urged these retailers to “stand up” against their nation’s aggressor. One local fashion executive told the BBC that luxury brands must “choose humanity over monetary gain”. Two days earlier, LVMH announced on IG that they made “a first emergency donation of €5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross. A day before that, Kering announced on IG that they “will make a significant donation to the UNHCR”. For some perspective, LVMH’s main man Bernard Arnaud donated €200 million to the rebuilding of the Notre Dame Cathedral damaged by fire (no one died) in 2019, while rival Kering’s Francois-Henri Pinault contributed €100 million.
Joining the above companies are Richemont, owner of Cartier, and the Swatch Group, owner of Harry Winston. Cartier, a favourite name in Russia, has not, as far as we are aware, announced a statement about the ongoing war. Have they been too busy with their lawsuit against Tiffany & Co for “stealing trade secrets”, as reported by Reuters four days ago? Concurrently, Cartier has an on-going street installation in Tokyo’s luxury shopping district Omotesando, called The Reflection Garden (top photo). Although no message about the Russo-Ukranian war was seen on site, the call to reflect is a timely one, even when the theme of the exhibition is regrettably named “Love is Red”.