What’s in a name? If you asked Bond Street, plenty. If you asked Wall Street, they’d probably agree. The reason why is that Main Street, the commercial avenues of the commonfolk, places more importance on ‘names’ than almost anyone else.
Attending ‘Fashion’s Night Out’ on a crowded Bond Street, the draw of ‘names’ was all around. People gushed passionately as they passed the glittering palaces of designer goods “Oooh, can we go into Vuitton? I love Vuitton!”, “I really want to see what’s happening at Chanel now, I bet it’s amazing!” and “Whatever we do, we have to do Burberry.”
These ‘names’ are a brilliant way of encapsulating a way to make people feel. Luxury brands are built on the same uncertain sands as budget brands; that people should ‘feel’ enough to buy your product. The difference is that budget brands are sold on price, whereas luxury brands afford themselves the magnificence of being sold in spite of, and not because of, price. The brands of Vuitton, Burberry and Chanel are far more carefully constructed than anything in their inventory. They represent the triumph of feeling and emotion. They make some splendid things, but they also make a vast quantity of terrible things – and charge truly eye watering prices for them all.
‘Designer brands’ are simply successful businesses that, having accumulated a good amount of history and fame, have turned from being small-time artisans to luxury goods for one motivation alone: profit. Vuitton was a celebrated luggage maker, Burberry had patented a material that useful in the rain and Chanel was a couturier that made bespoke clothing for women. They bore no resemblance to the powerhouses of perfumed, air-kissed glamour that they are today. In fact, some stories of their origins are entirely inappropriate for the audience that they now court. The moustached, aproned craftsmen who helped forge these mighty brands would not be welcome at their ‘after show parties.’
The revelation of tailoring has, to some extent, opened people’s eyes. When chatting to a tailor recently, he indicated that the new era of ‘tailoring for the masses’ – a reaction to decades of ‘off the rack’ – is the result of a rational consideration of product value. “People are getting fed up with Reiss and the like” he said “they’re seeing things for what they are.” The more they get of tailoring, he indicated, the more they compare it to something of equivalent worth. The designer names of the off-the-rack era were the equivalent of bespoke tailoring; “The Armani suit was the Everest of suits. Nothing could touch it. But it was crap.”
Armani? A crap suit? Surely that’s an exaggeration. “The process of choosing it was crap. It was all based on the name. If you looked at a suit and were told it was an Armani, you’d think it was better than it was.” What about tailors? Aren’t they in danger of becoming the next ‘designer labels’? “Our business isn’t scalable. You can’t take an artisan and multiply him by 1000. We haven’t started cloning people – yet!”