Fashion as Big Business: the democratization of luxury or the begging of the luxurious handbag age

Haute couture has been in decline since the end of World War II. Parisian couture houses were unable to withstand the strong competition from young London- and New York-based designers, so they started looking into new ways to stay in the market, remain competitive and make money. There were several options to do that. One of them was creating ready-to-wear lines and many companies ventured into that. Other was franchising and licensing, which Pierre Cardin took on to expand his portfolio of goods such a watches, luggage, and jewelry. By the beginning of the 1980s Cardin held more than 500 licenses for all manner of goods. Another possible route for the high-fashion houses was branching into beauty products and perfume. The brand democratization model was not yet mastered or fully explored up to this point and so haute couture continued to have a mediocre existence and luxury goods labels in general remained unknown.

Once market leader and innovator, Chanel was becoming a tired old brand associated with chick middle-aged french women walking their poodles. What saved the brand was the appointment of Karl Lagerfeld in the 1980s. He was not only producing sexy and outlandish clothes, but also beginning the democratization of luxury. Do you know the mid-1980s "  perfume principle"  ? If you can't afford the dress, you can at least buy the fragrance! Well he most certainly knew it and took it even further. Lagerfeld produced bags, sunglasses, and even jewelry that people who could not afford the clothes could buy in order to be a part of Chanel's heritage, glamour, and fashion hierarchy. 

As the 1990s continued to be financially prosperous, other elite brands inspired by the revolution at Chanel began to remarket and rebrand themselves. The sales were increasing and the desire for lower-priced luxuty goods was growing so designers such s Giogio Armani created diffusion lines specially for those who could not afford the main line collections. Donna Karan, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, and others followed the suit putting their names to sunglasses, shoes, bags, jeans and underwear. 
While the traditional European luxury houses such as LVMH could not accept offering diffusion or lower-priced second lines, they were inspired by the media hype, iconic status, and design values of the Prada handbag. LVMH began to increase their luggage range and appointed Marc Jacobs as a creative director at Louis Vuitton in 1997. He oversaw the the LV firs women ready-to-wear range and gave a new direction to the Louis Vuitton handbag. Meanwhile, Galliano at Christian Dior also began to offer contemporary shapes at slightly more contemporary prices, while Gucci refocused on their handbags and shoes. The age of the handbag as a luxury item was born.

"People want to belong to certain aspirational worlds. Now, you do it at different price points - somebody buys into this world with a handbag for $500 or $800. And somebody else buys herself a dress for $20,000. Both allow people to be part of the world they are aspiring to." 
~ Robert Polet, Gucci Group CEO

Have a great Friday! The weekend is just behind the corner! :)



La Mode En Rose said…
nice post!!

kisses from La Mode En Rose = )
Tea For Two said…
Great article, thank you for giving me some food for thought and for inspiring me to write. I've been a bit slow on the writing side of things lately and this has been a real pick-me-up.