Couture's origins lie in the fashion capital, arguably of the world, Paris. Where the greats of before our time, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Christian Dior and Pierre Cardin were more than just a label, but were actual people designing clothing. The objective of couture was to create a garment that was high fashion, high price, with an exclusive name and sell it to an equally exclusive customer. The idea behind this method of production was to stimulate the economy. In most ways, that is how the business of fashion remains amongst the designer labels, however, the actual business side has changed drastically over the past six decades.
Teri Agins, the author of "The End of Fashion", describes how mass marketing is to blame for the decline of couture and fashion houses. In all reality, she is correct. In the early 1960's a business trend called "licensing" became a popular practice. With retail and boutique becoming a more acceptable way of shopping, led by the United States, the French needed a way to keep up without completely succumbing to designing ready-to-wear vs couture.
The idea behind licensing is to have an agreed payout of ramped royalty based on sales percentage. Often, depending on how large the name, the royalty can be larger, the more prestigious the name, regardless of sales. This is now the ideal way of conducting business, especially here in America, because you can put the high end label on a mass produced item and still achieve the status of its origins without the high end cost. This leads back to Elizabeth Cline's, who wrote "Overdressed", point of view on the risk of quality decreasing due to mass production and a lack of homage to the label being put on it. This does, however, make perfect sense for a denim company such as Seven Jeans who does not necessarily have a look to pay homage to.
This might lend you to think, who are in charge of these licenses? Well, they are business men, often with no design or background in fashion, but mere business men who are good at what they do...generating sales. This may take the glamour out of the industry for a few of you to think about a bunch of sales guys in charge of what is haute and what is not, but in all reality, as Teri Agins proves, this is how the industry has been run since Cardin coined licensing to be acceptable and highly profitable.
When it all comes down to it, we will still opt for the Jean Paul Gaultier Coca Cola can over the drab original any day.
More to come on secrets of the fashion press and runway etiquette this week!