Fashion - Survival of the Sharpest

Brands are made over a large period of time, probably after changing a lot of hands, where each one leaves a certain imprint on the brand. But do all manage to survive this turmoil? Not really

By: Salman Z Bukhari
Posted on: March 10, 2012
Brands are made over a large period of time, probably after changing a lot of hands, where each one leaves a certain imprint on the brand. But do all manage to survive this turmoil? Not really.
Imagine reading the same book over and over again. You might love it, but then, will it be possible to have the same level of appreciation for it as you did the first time? The same applies to the movies in your DVD collection and music on your iPod. Even to your own wardrobe for that matter. This is the curse of Art. Every passing moment, its relevance and appreciation goes down from the moment it was first brought into the world by its creator. The Economic Theory of diminishing marginal utility has never been so aptly demonstrated as it does in the field of creativity and ‘Imagineneering’.
Each passing season makes way for new colours, styles and sensibilities, which take over the last season’s ‘to-die-fors’. So from two seasons, the fashion industry has added yet another calling it ‘Cruise’. How different it would be from Spring-Summer sans the swimwear? We would just wait and watch. No other industry reinvents itself at such a fast pace, as does fashion. Madonna’s metamorphosis seems lame in comparison to what this multi-billion dollar machinery does in merely a matter of months. No sooner does one collection leaves the drawing board, another one is already being sketched out by the fatigued designers. Wasn’t fashion meant to be fun and enjoyable? It could be if you are a Hilton sister or have the key to every atelier in Paris, but for the makers of fashion, the pressure to move on with business at a dizzying pace has proved to be a bite too big to chew, but a bite they bit in the first place.
Ambitions to get more business revenues is one primary reason for introducing multiple collections, but another big reason are high street brands like Zara, H&M and Top Shop, which have the ability to turnaround fashion trends in merely a couple of weeks, from design to fabricated merchandise, in hundreds of stores worldwide. Most of their designs are inspired by high fashion, and if you get the same look for less, especially in a time where fashion changes so fast, who wants to invest in a Kenzo printed dress?
There is immense tension and pressure to outdo high-street, and at the same time, take down the closest rival in the luxe circles with jaw dropping collections. So next time anyone says fashion has a rotating shelf life of 12 years, do laugh in their face… We’d say 12 weeks is a stretch. Managing this highly volatile environment and making the business work is a full time task, and one which has its own share of casualties. Relevance is the key; does the brand resonate with the audiences? Do people lust for it? Creating a want is passé, exclaim the suits who run these once small fine craftsmanship heralding family-run businesses. 
Once a designer with a namesake brand is out of the way, this leads to a war so bloody you should have a strong stomach to witness it. Yves Saint Laurent, before he became YSL, was being groomed by Monsieur Dior himself as his successor, a role he even managed to bag but only for a couple of years before being shown the door. His replacement designer, Marc Bohan, took over the mantle and churned out wearable, elegant, conservative fashion. What did poor Yves do? He stared his own label and became a force to reckon with. Ultimately, Dior and YSL were bought over by the LVMH group and the Gucci PPR groups respectively.
A major controversy breaks out within the fashion fraternity when young-un designers are burdened with a heritage luxury brand. This can have consequence which might make their original founders/designers turn in their grave, or be so spectacular making them roll again, but this time in glee.
Now shamed John Galliano, who was asked to head the house of Dior, was made to vacate his position as the head designer at Givenchy. Not that Galliano, fashion’s own bad boy was a dangerous proposition in both his current and former positions, but his replacement was a bigger shocker, a young British upcoming designer – Alexander McQueen. Upon arrival at Givenchy, McQueen insulted the founder by calling him "irrelevant". His first couture collection with Givenchy was unsuccessful, with even McQueen telling Vogue in October 1997 that the collection was "crap". He stayed on in this job until 2001, then dropped it altogether citing creative constriction as the reason before he started his own rebellious brand.
Gucci’s story has not always been so Italian chic. After a spate of controversies, family feuds and murder of a Gucci heir, the house was sold giving way to American designer Tom Ford as its creative lead. The man is surely given enough credit for turning around a dying and damaged brand and making it what it is today. Close on the heels of its new found success, when Gucci acquired the house of Yves Saint Laurent, Ford was named the creative director of that label and as predicted by the business heads running these brands, like his work at Gucci, Tom was able to catapult the classic fashion house back into the mainstream.
Takeovers and mergers and brutal acquisitions have been the theme for luxury brands over 1980s and 90s. The old goes out, the new comes in. Money speaks, creativity is dispensable – heritage is retained, cultivated to exploit and mass produced. The latest page in this story would be Hermès, which still remains a family run business. 2010 saw an increasing share buying activity on the sly by the LVMH Group, which has been the champion of mass scale buy-outs followed by Gucci PPR. Bernard Arnault’s LVMH held 20.21 per cent of shares and 13.08 per cent of votes leading to speculation that conglomerate will launch a takeover bid for Hermès. Although LVMH denied this eventuality, René Weber, an analyst at Zürich's Bank Vontobel, claims, "Arnault is not afraid of a fight and a lot of his battles have been successful for him and his shareholders. Whether he can eventually succeed with [a takeover of] Hermès is still an open question." The French government had to step in the way to halt all hell from breaking loose. We wonder where this one will go.
In one of our previous issues, we shared the Burberry story and how the brand managed to turn itself into “the Young Old Brand”. No other luxury label has managed to garner as many admirers and aspirers as this British label which has passed many hands, finally to arrive in the lap of Christopher Bailey who has put the cool back into Trench and Checks. 
Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, like so many others including Jimmy Choo, Karl Lagerfeld and Victor & Rolf, who boarded the high street brand wagon, realized – when you can’t beat em’… join em’! With his collection for H&M, Elbaz pushed brand recognition for Lanvin and this one move made the house’s popularity soar amongst future buyers, and infused unspeakable sums of funds which further helped Lanvin to expand the brand. Until now High Street depended on High Fashion for designs, but who says both cannot co-exist and help each other out? The fashionistas who patronized Lanvin’s designs were pacified quickly by the adorable yet sharp designer – “Lanvin is not going high-street, H&M is going Luxury – we, are just sharing the Lanvin dream”. With such heavy and deep philosophy, we doubt anyone could argue.
Survival of luxury depends on multiple factors. There is certainly a demand for it, but for brands every opportunity counts, each market matters, and creating the lust for luxe is of paramount importance. Designs are no longer made on the white sheets of paper, but strategies and business’ way forward are what define brands today.   

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