The other day a man who is in the process of buying a famous fashion trademark, Mainbocher, with interesting plans for reinvention that for now have to remain a secret, came to see me. It turns out he bought the marque from a man whose father had been very canny in snapping up these defunct-but-aromatic names – and still in the vault is Paul Poiret, among others. Which means that post-Worth and Vionnet and Schiaparelli, there are still a bunch of once-famous fashion houses that are potential relaunches.
But should they be? Increasingly, I think the old arguments in favour no longer hold true, largely because of the brave new world of social media.
The classic theory in favour of the new old is name recognition, especially in emerging markets; that even if a brand has been off the radar for a while, somewhere in our fashion memory it still exists, and hence whomever owns it has a head start in the consumer attraction process. Also it’s a ready-made backstory with heritage, which in emerging markets is considered a big plus.
Also, you avoid the problem of designer getting bigger than brand, always a risk if the designer’s name is also over the door.
However, it seems to me this is less and less convincing, largely because of the rise of social media and the viral web-driven education process. These days a hot young designer with a good show (see Christopher Kane, see JW Anderson) can end up with as outsized fame compared with the business as Amazon’s valuation versus profits, thanks to the buzz on the web/Twitter/Instagram etc. And that goes for emerging markets, too.
Arguably they have bigger and better buzz than an old name, which to a generation transformed by technology is a little – yawn – old hat (see struggling relaunches of Worth and Vionnet, which are in very much slow build mode). Plus they are probably cheaper, because you don’t have to search the world buying up and creating an archive from the old stuff. And personally, I think investing in the future as opposed to the past makes for pretty good company spin.
The point is that although luxury groups have finally cottoned on to the importance of the web, when it comes to reaching their consumers and selling their stuff, I’m not sure they have fully thought through its importance when it comes to its impact on the brands and designers they buy. Time to wake up and tweet the coffee.