The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names

Dear readers,

In March I gave two mini-lectures to the Business School students at the London College of Fashion on the subject of international branding and talked about brand names inside and outside of Japan. Here is part of the lecture which I hope you will enjoy!


The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names

Superdry is a fashion brand with a logo that features Roman letters and the Japanese Kana und Kanji alphabets – they are two of the three alphabets commonly used in the Japanese language. If you wanted to use the logo to figure out where the brand is from, you would be faced with quite a challenge, similar to finding out whether the American Hamburger really originated in Hamburg….

But let me explain!


Bild 1: Superdry Logo. Quelle:

Image 1: Superdry Logo.

Yes, the 3 Superdry founders really have been to Japan (so this part is true) at some point in the past, but they never lived there, they are not from Japan, they do not even speak “Nihongo” (Japanese language in, erm, Japanese) let alone know how to write it. They did, however, fall in love with things like the Asahi Super Dry beer and many other products which claim to be “super”-something. This led the founders to start a fashion label based in the small British town of Cheltenham which is not very exotic I would say.


Bild 2: Asahi Super Dry Bier. Quelle: 2: Asahi Super Dry Beer.

Now the famous Superdry logo is based on graphics also inspired by Japan and it is very popular in many countries around the world. It is also an important USP (unique selling proposition) for a fashion brand. But what exactly does this Japanese combination of letters mean? When you read Superdry’s famous graphics 極度乾燥(しなさい) you hear “Kyokudo Kanso (shinasai)” which can be translated to something like “Extremely dry (do it now)” – and it is not a polite request at all but rather an order which parents might give to children. In 2011, the Superdry founders admitted that this is pure gibberish which they like to print on their merchandise, but that did not deter the fans.

They are pretenders!

Bild 3: Superdry Werbung. Quelle: 3: Superdry advertisement.

Ok, so the founders are pretending that their brand is from Japan. Fair enough. But why are people ready to wear gibberish on their clothes, so much so that Superdry, which was founded in 1985, was able to offer an IPO about 6 years ago? For those who might not be familiar with the financial market, an IPO is an Initial Public Offering on the stock exchange and means that a company or brand is thriving and can promise investors further growth in the future.

Did the founders think that everything that looks Japanese is so cool that it will always sell? And do Japanese think the same way? Interestingly, or perhaps logically, there is not one Superdry store in Japan.
This is however, a strategic step by the brand, as Japanese people would not know what on earth they are supposed to think of the phrase of “Jinglish” – a mix of Japanese and Englisch. In fact, in Japan the popular items are T-Shirts with English or French Prints and fashion brands which sound Western – the exact opposite of Superdry’s appeal in the West.

Bild 4: Shibuya 109, Tokyo. Quelle: 4: Department store Shibuya 109, Tokyo.

They sound almost authentic, these Western brands which are called Dainy by JURIANOJURRIE or YUMMY MART by PEACH JOHN, Delyle NOIR as well as Ober Tashe. These are just some of the labels which are on offer in one of the most famous department stores in Tokyo, the Shibuya 109 – or “Ichi-Maru-Kyu” as the locals call it by spelling out the number. This is a fashion mecca for lovers of J-Fashion where young and fashion-conscious people flock to in the search for fashion styles like „Kawaii“ (= super cute), „Gyaru“ (super girly) or „oshare“ (highly fashionable).


Bild 5: Liz Lisa. Quelle: 5: Liz Lisa.

And just like the exotic names of the aforementioned fashion brands, customers also love T-Shirt with prints in „Jinglish”: „World Difference Execute“ or „Trusting To Luck. Everything is in your hand“ or „Much Like Hold“ they read. (More trends of Japanese T-Shirts are here:

Bild 6: T-Shirt mit „Jinglish“ Print. Quelle:  6: T-Shirt with „Jinglish“ print.

In Japan, the English-inspired prints are not limited to shirts nor to Tokyo, but you can find thm on all sorts of products (chocolate, cosmetics, bath essences etc.) and all over the country.


Bild 7: Fancl Japan

Image 7: Fancl Japan


One wonders why Japanese people might find foreign language gibberish so cool and one speculates what a customer values in such a product which is pretending to be foreign.

Afterall, Peach John or Fancl are also pretenders as they are local Japanese brands!

In the case of Superdry it is probably the attraction of a foreign alphabet which is impossible to decipher, and costs around €100 if printed on to an “extremely dry” sweatshirt which paradoxically does not absorb moisture nor shield you from the rain. The printed letters convey the poular image of Japanese products being high-tech and superior in quality. The customer transfers these characteristics onto the brand – irrespectable of its true qualities.

The Branding Journal reasons: “Research has shown that European consumers aspire and exhibit inclination towards Japanese brands and this is reflected in their purchase decisions. Moreover, packaging/products scripted in Japanese tend to exude a certain degree of quality and “wow” factor in the customer’s perception.” (

Superdry has thus managed to turn this perception into a print and logo and then into its brand value. This same psychological mechanism can probably be applied to the Western brand names in Japan. Pretending to be a foreign brand seems to pay off quite well!

And how did Superdry admit its brand origin? Watch this video and see if you can spot the “truth”!


Image sources:














The creator of Totoro is not done yet!

What happy news for a Japanophile and Ghibli-lover like me: There are rumours that Hayao Miyazaki, genious and Sensei of all things “kawaii” and anime will be coming out of retirement to produce another full-length film!

I have just read about the happy news on Oyster Mag and am re-posting their article below. Enjoy!



Studio Ghibli co-founder and legendary animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is planning to return to the movie biz after a three-year hiatus. Turns out you just can’t keep a good man/certified genius down. During a recent NHK television special titled Owaranai Hito Miyazaki Hayao (The Man Who Is Not Done), Hayao announced that he’s planning to come out of retirement to make a new feature film.

The movie is based on a story he’s been working on for 20 years called Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar) which he’s currently developing into a 12-minute short for the Ghibli Museum. According to Hayao, the story follows “a tiny, hairy caterpillar, so tiny that it may be easily squished between your fingers.” Cuteness factor is already so high. Unhappy with what he’s been able to accomplish in just 12 minutes, Hayao is planning to extend the story into a full-length film. Legend!

The project hasn’t been given the green light yet, but with Hayao’s track record — Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, etc., etc. — there’s no way this isn’t happening.

Welcome back, Hayao!


Hoshinoya Hotel Tokyo – a brand new old-style Ryokan

The Hoshinoya opened in 2016

Today’s post is once again influenced by my love for Japan, Tokyo and the amazing buildings that you can find there.

Riddle me this: You do construction work in a multi-million people city and find a natural hot spring. What do you do with it?

Answer: You do some more construction work and put a multi-million-yen building on top of it, call it a traditional-yet-modern Japanese Inn and connect the hot-spring up to the 17th floor.

This is very close to what really happened in downtown Tokyo very recently. The result is the magnificent Hoshinoya Hotel right smack in the middle of Tokyo’s business district Otemachi – a 5-star treat with a real Japanese flair.

The Telegraph describes the interiors:

“A clever addition to Tokyo’s hotel scene, the city’s first luxury ryokan fuses contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship with high-tech touches. The tower is encased in a black metal grid repeating a traditional Japanese kimono motif.

Inside, there is a dramatic double-height genkan entrance with a seasonal flower display, indigo walls, sliding paper screens, expanses of aromatic Japanese wood and modern-style cotton jersey kimono outfits for guests.

The 84 guestrooms are split into groups of six on 14 floors – with each floor resembling a self-contained ryokan inn, with its own Ochanoma lounge. Here, at a communal wooden table or on low sofas, staff serve o nigiri rice balls, coffee, tea or seasonal sakes.”



Hoshinoya is good at hospitality and excellent service, because that is what Japan is good at. In the style of a tradition al Ryokan (Guesthouse or Inn) the staff takes care of the guest and makes sure that he or she longs for nothing. This concept is known as “omotenashi” in Japanese and it is truly lived to its fullest potential.

Omotenashi - long-for-nothing at the Hoshinoya.

Omotenashi – long-for-nothing at the Hoshinoya.


What does it cost to whatch your dreams on a fluffy futon, after soaking in the Onsen, enjoying a dinner delight of the most delicious traditional Japanese cuisine and staff bringing you tea and slippers before bed time? It will be in the region of $590 to $1000, depending on season and room options. But remember: When you are there, you must take off your shoes at the entrance and show your best manners.

Sliding washi screens and tatami mats with soft futon beds make up the standard room at the Hoshinoya Hotel.

Sliding washi screens and tatami mats with soft futon beds make up the standard room at the Hoshinoya Hotel.


Shoe x Floor competition

Good evening guys and dolls!

This post is going to be about foot-candy: SHOES! I’ve been following an amazing guy on Instagram who photographs incredibly beautiful Parisian floors and his two feet in funky shoes standing just at the edge of them.

This week he is doing a competition to win some Net-a-Porter shoes where you have to do a similar shot of shoes and an interesting floor. So here is my go at it. Let me know what you think! I will try to post some more in the following days, just because this is great fun.

I have already spotted a few interesting textures whilst strolling through Munich today….

Olga xx


1) Prada sparkly mules


2) My beloved golden Coccinelle Roman sandals which I bought in Milano a long time ago.


3) These are my brand-new Repetto ballet flats, the famous “Cendrillon” model in patent “Flamingo” pink!


Sad news: Sonia Rykiel has passed away


What sad news! Sonia Rykiel has passed away today in Paris at the age of 86.

Her daughter Nathalie Rykiel stated to the press:

«Ma mère est décédée cette nuit à Paris, chez elle, à 5 heures du matin, des suites de la maladie de Parkinson». This means that she has passed on at her home, at 5 am, from the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Although 86 is a ripe age that anyone can wish to see, it is terribly sad to see a huge talent, innovator and inspiring person leave. Sonia Rykiel catered to – as Vogue just wrote – Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Audrey Hepburn. Her influence on fashion was so immense that in 2009, she was awarded The Order of Légion d’Honneur in recognition of her 40 years of service in the French fashion industry.

The milestones of her career included the Poor Boy Sweater, which was conceived during her pregnancy (pun intended!). In 1962, unable to find soft sweaters to wear during her pregnancy, she began to design her own sweaters. Rykiel then created her first maternity dresses and a tiny sweater, called the Poor Boy Sweater which made the cover of ELLE fashion magazine, and brought Rykiel fame.

She was also one of the first fashionistas who put seams on the outside of a garment, and to print words on them. Her designs featured long clinging sweaters or small cropped pullovers along with long scarves.

Sonia Rykiel is also one of the most famous Jewish designers of high fashion, as Haaretz has reported. She was responsible for the colourful stripes and colour-blocking in her quirky yet romantic and typically French designs. She is also forever remembered for her flaming red coif which she wore until her old age.

In 2010, she collaborated with H&M and brought out a youthful and funk collection.


Although I was struck down with flu, my friend dragged me along to Bahnhofstrasse in downtown Zurich, insisting I should buy a few pieces of the collection before it is completely sold out. Below is a memory of that day, with me wearing the sweater and beret, whilst sitting in the kitchen. Thank you Sonia for your hard work all these years! May you rest in peace.



rs_634x821-160107082145-634.Crawford-Campbell-Schiffer-Balmain-Kf.1716Image source here.


After a shockwave of “fashion in the wake of Brexit” articles were posted by practically all fashion news sites, I am happy to pick up on some good news, on the European mainland mind you.

Balmain oh so French, is now Balmain-bin-Nasser. On 22nd of June, my favourite Arab business woman and former queen, or as her full title goes Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, has purchased 100% of Balmain.

This comes after a very successful takeover of Valentino a few years ago, through her investment firm Mayhoola.

Mr Valentino Garavani

Mr Valentino Garavani – image source here.

Now for the case of Valentino, Sheikha Mozah saved the company from huge losses, because private equity firm Permira didn’t seem to know the difference between some chiffon and a chignon.


Permira was – just as any private equity money shark – in it for a quick fix, a profit after taking a company over for a few years and then selling it on. Although highly successful with other business endeavours, they became the laughing stock of the fashion industry.




The royal Quatari however, brought Valentino back to life, because she understood the importance of the creative vision and the intricacies of a luxury fashion house. It was under her supervision that superstar designer duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.

Damon Buffini, Social Business Trust

Damon Buffini, founder of Permira private equity firm, taking a guess. Image source here.

Take a guess: Which one is the chiffon and which one the chignon?

Which one is the chiffon and which one the chignon?In this context I am really excited to see what the royal style queen will do with Balmain and how the company might grow and thrive under her supervision. I am also curious to see if she will wear Balmain as much as she wears Valentino!

Sheikha bint Nasser in a Velentino dress.

The stunning Sheikha bint Nasser in a Velentino dress. Image source and more images of her amazing style here.


If you are keen to read some more about this, please sse below an article which appeared on Fashion United:

Mayhoola, the Qatar’s sovereign fun has just acquired the French fashion house Balmain, The group already own Italian luxury powerhouse Valentino.

“After completing this transaction Mayhoola for Investments will hold 100 percent of Balmain’s capital,” said the merger and acquisitions company Bucephale Finance, reported Reuters.

As published by ‘Les Echos’, the Qatari fund would have reportedly offered 485 million euros for Balmain, which to date was mostly (70 percent) in the hands of the heirs of the former CEO, Alain Hivelin, who died in December 2014. The remaining 30 percent of the company’s capital is held by management.

Market sources have explained that the reported Qatari offer was higher than sale estimates of 300 to 400 million euros. Under the terms of the agreement, Mayhoola agreed to finance Balmain’s international expansion as well as the development of an accessories line, add sources close to the matter.

Qatari fund Mayhoola buys Balmain from former CEO’s heirs

The transactions puts an end to months of negotiation between the Qatari sovereign fund –supported by the emir of Qatar – and the fashion label current investors, who include Sanofi co-founder Jean-Francois Dehecq and the family of former chief executive and controlling shareholder Alain Hivelin, who passed away in 2014.

Founded in 1945 by designer Pierre Balmain, his namesake brand has gone through various creative and financial crisis, lately enjoying added momentum following the leadership of Pierre Decarnin, a former stylist at Paco Rabanne, came on board in 2006 and relaunched the brand, catching the attention of several Hollywood stars.

Hivelin revived Balmain, which was near bankruptcy in 2004. It’s noteworthy that Balmain remains one of the very few remaining major independent fashion labels In France, along with Lanvin and Hermès.

Sources quoted by Reuters estimate that Balmain generated around 130 million euros in sales in 2015, with sales growing by 25 percent.

The final price, which is unlikely to be disclosed, will depend on how much cash the existing shareholders will take out of the company, highlights ‘The Guardian’.

Market sources have pointed out that, being the final price tag 460 million euros, the Qataris would be valuing Balmain at around 14 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (Ebitda)

Mayhoola is an investment vehicle supported by Sheikha Mozah, the second wife of the former emir, which already owns Valentino and holds controlling stakes in Italian tailor Pal Zileri and British fashion brand Anya Hindmarch.

Original source:




Who is at Jean-Paul Gaultier’s fashion show?


I have not written in a while and my excuse is the mountain of work which accompanies my academic life at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do, but it is very time comsuming so that bloggig needs its own time window. Which is NOW!


In January, I got to visit the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition “From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” in the Kunsthalle Munich which incidentally was its last stop during a long journey accross the world. There are many amazing creations which I took pictures of and will share with you. But let me begin with the front row. It was recreated in a room that featured a life-size catwalk. Jean-Paul Gaultier’s first row of course, consists of the most important names of the fashion world – and they are all dressed in his designs. The famous first row guests were spectacular because they had a blank face without any features and were still recognizable by their hairstyle, dress and posture. So who IS at JPG’s fashion?

Can you guess from looking at the image? The answer is just below each picture!


Emmanuelle Alt

Emmanuelle Alt


Grace Coddington

Grace Coddington


Catherine Deneuve

Catherine Deneuve


Carine Roitfeld

Carine Roitfeld


Christiane Arp

Christiane Arp


Anna Wintour

Anna Wintour


Babeth Djian

Babeth Djian


Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian and dress detail



Kim Kardashian's dress - pocket detail



Nana Mouskouri

Nana Mouskouri


Franca Sozzani

Franca Sozzani


Suzy Menkes

Suzy Menkes