Gill Linton is a writer, creative strategist and CEO/EIC of Byronesque. In this op-ed, she discusses the seemingly endless struggle between how a brand designs and how it behaves in the world.
Fashion hasn’t always been in fashion. It used to be just product. Just trousers, skirts, tops, and belts.
Then one day, designers became rock stars (if you’ve watched Halston, you get the idea), and product took on a new meaning. Clothing became fashion brands to aspire to, and the amount of product grew and grew to the point that it was out of control. Brands cashed in or sold out, depending on your view of the world, with licensing deals that had little regard for brand narrative or integrity. From mass produced jeans to cigarettes, brands sold themselves to anyone who would make them bigger and bigger. Success was measured by commercial domination, more than a designer’s ability to make people dream and belong to something emotionally and culturally lasting.
The “wrong” people started buying sub brands that were disguised as luxury, and consequently, sales from people with luxury money and taste took a hit, because brands over-extended themselves. Fashion literally ate itself.
That was the ‘80s, but it could be today. Like everything in fashion, we’ve been here before. We were here in the ‘00s, too. What makes a leather Helmut Lang cigarette case from 2002 okay and highly collectable by today’s standards and not an overpriced designer logo T-shirt that, historically, was the beginning of the end for designer brands?
It’s because there’s a big difference between a brand’s designs — what it sells, and how it behaves in culture — and its opinion in the world.
When a brand's style identity is singular at its core, it can behave in various ways without chipping away at what it means to people to the point it becomes meaningless. Comme des Garçons and Rick Owens are examples of brands that create a diverse world around them but remain honest with design. In today’s politically correct world, fashion, broadly speaking, has abandoned creative integrity and design leadership for the sake of being “inclusive.” So much so that “fashion” is back where it started; just trousers, skirts, and tops etc. — this time with fashion films.
If I throw 10 tennis balls at you, you’re unlikely to catch one. If I throw one at you, you’ll catch it. Fashion is throwing as many balls as it possibly can, stripping itself of originality and a singular point of view that is unique but isn’t immediately easy to figure out, either — thanks for wearing a (insert brand logo here) T-shirt so that I know you’re not my people.
I know all the arguments for postmodern merchandising, the need to make money and be part of a society that has access to “luxury,” but if history tells us anything, it’s that, eventually, fashion will eat so much of itself that it will have to go on a low merchandise diet to find itself again.
A visual timeline of luxury branding, as far back as the ‘20s, shows the steady and authentic climb towards logo mania as we know it today. This includes the bootleg era that some brands are rightly entitled to embrace, because it’s an honest reflection of the house’s history. Unfortunately, fashion merch has become the rule, and some brands have inauthentically jumped on it as a shortcut to sales, even if it doesn’t make sense to.
And that’s the real problem. Brands following other brands' merchandising successes for the fastest route to revenue. It’s fast, but it dilutes what made them special in the first place; a distraction from the future vintage pieces that we’ll look back on and wish we’d bought and kept.