Exclusivity, inclusivity and visibility: fashion branding’s brand new look.
Over the last couple of decades brand and brand image have flown the fashion nest to become part of everyday vocabulary. Graduates of all disciplines are told to think about themselves as a brand when considering what they may offer potential employers. Back in the industry itself, the fashion faces that brands rely on to represent and embody their products have become brands in their own right.
Branding has evolved into something much bigger and more complex; marketable models, celebrities and now you and me are considered a brand. Brand is greedy, brand is needy, brand wants to have you for dinner.
Branding fashion is not just about presentation, marketing begins even before the birth of a product, creating a cycle that begins and increasingly ends with the designer. Over the past 20 years or so we’ve seen designers stepping out from behind their brands and into the spotlight. Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs are just two examples known for far more than just fashion. For these kinds of creatives -who contribute to numerous design houses of different varieties- establishing ‘brand me’is a useful way of ensuring that their identities are distinguishable from those of the labels they work for. But equally less established designers want to create a brand that others can buy into, be it customers who want their products or design houses looking to employ them. Some designers of course, whose brand bears their name, proffer their personalities associatively in an attempt to help their target market better understand what they are buying into. Take Diane Von Furstenberg’s advice column on The Cut for example, which provides her natural client a chance -albeit a carefully controlled one- to get personal with the designer.
Branding has invaded every aspect of design and it seems that where selling is concerned, nothing is sacred. However as we know, fashion trends never last long and putting yourself out there may be becoming passé. Suzy Menkes said only a few days ago that ‘Privacy is the sweetest word right now.’ Does her statement herald a return to fashion’s former unlisted address in exclusivity-ville.
With the news that both Helmut Lang and Theory’s lead designers have departed to be replaced by nobody as yet and Vanessa Friedmann commentating: “[it] signifies a move on the part of Theory’s chief executive, Andrew Rosen, away from the recent conventional wisdom that says contemporary or accessible brands need the buzz of a ‘face’and a runway to make themselves heard”interesting and important questions about brand visibility are being raised.
As street wear tightens its grip on the industry a new anonymity has shuffled in unannounced. But it still isn’t about blending in. SHOWStudio’s recent interview with graphic designer Sk8thing threw light on just how far some will go to stay out of the spotlight, while still somehow staying in it. He explained he prefers to work for brands where he isn’t the face, but when C.E, hinges around the appeal of exclusivity, is this not just another even more elaborate marketing ploy? The designer spoke of the tension between wanting to sell and be seen but also not wanting to sell (out?) or be seen “We don’t show it [the product] but we don’t not show it”. He was however pleased by seeing ordinary people wearing his designs.
This relates back to the idea of designers moving away from catwalk shows with Vogue editor in chief, Anna Wintour, advising fashion students earlier this week that she herself prefers presentations. Other brands have gone as far as to dispense with models entirely, opting instead for celebrities, clients and sometimes even staff to showcase the real world quality of their designs. Considering that before exclusivity meant expense, and that Sk8thing’s explanation of C.E’s secrecy is as “an attempt to safeguard loyal customers” is it naive to ask whether an apparent narrowing of a brand’s targeting is beneficial or even believable? For obscure brands, it may well be about creating a meaningful relationship with a highly specific client base, however for labels who have or desire a more mass market appeal, attempting to convince a wide customer base that each of them is unique sounds a little patronising. Either way it still comes down to identity and image, whether inclusive, exclusive or visibly invisible, it seems branding’s been rebranded.
Written by Aimee Grant Cumberbatch