One of the most intriguing questions to me is understanding and deciphering how the iconic fashion brands that we know and love today have been created. I have been researching fashion entrepreneurs starting with the original one, Charles Worth, who created haute couture to rising fashion stars of today. What creates an iconic fashion brand, and how can you achieve the same? Based on my analysis, there are few principles that have emerged.
1. Have a Point of View
Iconic brands have charisma, a point of view, and an unapologetic way of simply being exactly as they are. People are drawn to them because they have a point of view, and they stand behind it. Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld, Elsa Schiaparelli, and every single designer who has left a mark, and is an icon creates like an artist, with unique and inimitable style.
This point of view and unmistakable language is what also creates their competitive advantage, and allows for the brand to stand the test of time, even after the creator is gone.
We like to follow them, because they make us stop, look and listen. They have a clear, and a unique message that translates the times to us. Instead of mimicking the existing culture, or following trends, they instead invent them.
They have a unique ability to use and translate the existing cultural palette into a unique language that only they know how to speak and one that resonates with the masses. In order to become an iconic brand, you also need to create this unique voice and language. You need to stand behind it, and do so with conviction.
2. Know the communication process that fashion depends on:
Even if you are able to achieve and incorporate your unique style into your creations, you need to know how to reach the people you want to speak to.
In fashion, especially, there is a communication process that today is boosted with social media. Who are the people that you want to target in your social media? Do you know the fashion editors, and what they follow? Who are the key trendsetters that need to carry your brand?
If you think this is only happening today in the fashion industry, think again. Fashion has always depended on a communication process: from the It girls of society to the fashion editors who need to notice you.
For instance, when Charles Worth – the fashion designer, who founded the haute couture industry and fashion business, as we know it today, had noticed in the 1800s when he worked as an apprentice for the prestigious textile merchant, called Maison Gagelin. It was in Gagelin that he witnessed the power of celebrity and publicity, when Maison Gagelin increased sales and profits after fashion magazines wrote that the House was the supplier of textiles for Empress Eugenie’s wedding dress to Napoleon.
He later on would create his own dresses with the textile available at Gagelin, and put them on an intern (who would later become his wife) only to have her dresses be noticed by the prestigious clientele who would frequent the store.
What was true in the early days of fashion business stands true today. Fashion depends on a communication system, and in order to create an iconic brand, designers need to know what and how this system functions. Because fashion, after all, is business.
3. Respond to the Times:
Charles Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. It is not the strongest that survive, but those who adapt fastest to the changes.
What Charles Worth started certainly was revolutionary in creating initial steps for the fashion business industry, and his business was successful until about the 1920s.
However, there was now a new rise of fashion entrepreneurs, who just like Charles Worth, understood the new demand coming from the changing society (especially Post War). In fact, one of the main requirements and demands of the industry is constant innovation that must predict and respond to the changes of society.
If a designer fails to do so, the business has very little chance of succeeding. One of the biggest competitors that Worth faced early on was a designer who actually first interned with him. It was Paul Poiret. He can be credited for creating clothes that were considered unique and differentiated than the rest of the creative entrepreneurs at the time. He was the first known designer to free the women from the corset, and if we look at history, we can see that just like the other fashion entrepreneurs, he was effective in reading and responding to cultural shifts of the time.
4. Fashion is about the dream:
You have to make your customer dream. When they buy your dress, shoe, bag, they want to communicate and express a certain persona. They want to dream. Are you able to help them dream?