After a long career in fashion editorial, Hal Rubenstein has found himself on the brand side, pitching the everyday need for fine jewelry. The industry won over Rubenstein, who was one of the founding editors of InStyle magazine, with its longevity.
“Every single thing you’re wearing, you will discard. But no one throws away fine jewelry,” said Rubenstein, who’s currently the global style director at the jewelry brand Gabriel & Co.
Even though he’s no longer in the media business, Rubenstein still has critical observations on the state of the store, the current definition of luxury and why department stores need to be well-edited. He also has questions, like, “Why do people want to walk around looking like they just got out of SoulCycle?”
Rubenstein joined the Glossy Podcast to discuss. Edited highlights, below.
Too much stuff
According to Rubenstein, he was drawn to Gabriel & Co. because “great stuff” — items made with care, including jewelry — still has the ability to get him excited. But for the most part, he believes retail’s biggest problem right now is that everyone is just throwing clothes at the wall to see what sticks.
“There’s just so much stuff. It’s everywhere. It’s all over the place. It’s crammed into stores. It’s not being sold right or presented properly. Why? Because people don’t edit,” he said. “My main job as fashion director at InStyle for 20 years was about editing and curating. It was: ‘Here’s all this stuff. You don’t need this, but you’d love this.’ When you look at retail stores, you ask ‘What do they believe in? If you want to be everything to everybody, you are nothing to nobody.”
The case for print
Rubenstein said that brands all want to look the same on Instagram, but it’s impossible to leave a real impression on mobile devices, where everyone is distracted. He thinks there’s still room for print media, just like there’s still room for the physical store, but they can’t sacrifice quality.
“There’s something to be said for great print. I don’t think these things should be done away with entirely, even though people say everything’s going to be online and everything is going to fold,” he said. “Crappy print and crappy stores are going to fold. The word ‘experience’ is starting to sound like the word ‘journey,’ and they’re both ridiculous. But give me a reason to walk into a store.”
That being said, Rubenstein thinks both print media and brands spend too much time running after the bloggers, even though they haven’t proven whether or not they’re actually useful when driving conversion. Awareness, sure. But not conversion.
“I’m sure Selena Gomez, with her 7 billion followers, who gets paid 500,000 bucks to say, ‘Oh I love Diet Coke’ — OK, people will buy another Diet Coke. But that’s an extraordinary exception to the rule. These people who have 150,000 followers, and we go, ‘woo woo,’ I still don’t know if they’re selling any product. They’re selling a connection to a product, they’re making you aware of the product — but is that going to get you into the store to buy something?”
The crime of casualization
Rubenstein, who has written a handful of books about modern style, takes personal offense to the trend of athleisure.
“The casualization of fashion is the worst thing to me. This idea of, ‘I can wear anything anywhere and it’s fine’? No, it’s not. And it’s this totality. There was a guy who came to a theater wearing his gym shorts and flip-flops, in the orchestra seat, sitting in the seventh row. The woman sitting next to him just wanted to gag and die. It’s not just a men’s thing, either. The Upper East Side used to be full of women walking around in Chanel jackets, and now everyone looks like they just got out of SoulCycle.”