Being from the fashion industry and a bibliophile, I recently tugged into my book shelf to read “The End of Fashion- How marketing changed the clothing business forever” by Teri Agnis. It is a good read for a range of people starting from a novice in the fashion industry to an aficionado in fashion.
The book takes us back to the time when fashion was defined by French designers whose clothes were worn only by elite class – a term known as Haute Couture. It tells us why brands are famous today and how the industry has evolved over the past few decades. Initially, fashion was dictated by old French fashion houses, like Dior, or YSL, or Chanel, and fashion trends were birthed from the runway and from fancy seasonal collections. This is the kind of runway fashion that I think of if someone asks me where fashion comes from; thin Europeans wearing crazy clothes designed by trendsetting designers (like Zoolander and Mugatu).
Later due to changing consumer tastes for cheaper and more affordable clothes and accessories, it forced the designers to focus on marketing the brands and thereby killing the Haute Couture forever and changing its meaning for lifetime. Fashion houses were no longer able to dictate the trends of fashion and to retain their loyal consumers as well as to make profit; they had to resort to marketing strategies like licensing, bridge brands, boutiques and endorsements through movie stars.
Previously fashion houses were too haughty to endorse movie stars believing it will stoop down the stature of their royal and aristocratic clients. However, Armani – Fashion marketing master, made its way by marketing movie stars. He brought fashion on the sizzling red carpet.
The book also talks about the evolution of department stores to the collection of boutiques that we see now. Also, it enlightened us with how department stores were homogenized because of safer products that consumers thought they were selling. How a bad clothing line or a bad season could make the houses lose millions of their business in jiffy ripping the underbelly of the world where marketing is the king and often the emperor has no clothes! There are fascinating insider vignettes that show Donna Karan fighting with financiers, the rivalry between Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, and the commitment to haute couture that sent Isaac Mizrahi’s business spiraling where he was hyped up by the fashion press but his clothes never sold well on racks.
My original conception of fashion giants and entrenched emperors, the fashion industry seems more like one gigantic wild game of capture the flag, with all these companies running around frantically to keep their brand afloat amongst a sea of fickle consumers. It is an interesting story of a shifting balance of power, and how these fashion companies have struggled to adapt and perished in the last few decades. Many brands now sell similar clothes to a public with increasingly homogenized tastes, differentiated only by their marketing, brand name and reputation. Indeed, it’s all about MARKETING!!