There has always been an immediate appreciation that comes with the mention of a brand name. A silent understanding or an air of approval, when words like ‘Chanel’ or ‘Burberry’ are mentioned. It is pre-supposed that wearing or using something with a brand name allows the owner of the item to exude a particular kind of confidence, maybe in themselves or in the money they have spent on it. That maybe so, but it is necessary to dig a little deeper into the concept of brands to realise exactly why they can make you or break you in a world of socialites and elite aspirations.
The youth of today all desire to be something. So when a young girl sees the pure elegance in a woman being fawned over by male models, beautifully dressed in a silk designer gown and covering pages of Vogue, Tatler or Elle, immediately a flame of aspiration is lit. Each person has something they wish to show to others, whether it be, ‘I have money’ or ‘I have taken the time out to make myself look great in clothes of the finest quality’ is their choice. Brands are determined by their individual selling point, a lifestyle they have chosen to advertise with photographs, fashion spreads, and even particular colours or patterns, (for example Chanel’s classic black and white or Cavalli’s animal print).
However, this can all seem rather pretentious. Many question people who religiously wear designer clothing, and ask why on earth they would spend thousands of pounds on a Valentino leather jacket, when they can easily buy a similar leather jacket from Topshop or Zara for £100. These people are right, but for this article, I asked a friend of mine why she bought a trademark Alexander McQueen scarf with skulls on it, when there are fake versions everywhere.
“Alexander McQueen was a prodigy, he created that idea of the scarves and he deserves that credit. When I wear that scarf, it makes me feel like I spent money on a revelation in fashion, I invested in a genius idea. But when it comes to the root of it, it simply makes me feel good and yes, I admit I love telling people where it’s from and the feeling I get when they know I’m the kind of person to wear the real version.”
As a first year Art Historian, my seminars on ‘reproductions’ have encouraged a mode of comparison. Fashion is, after all, a form of art. As music and art makes a person feel a certain way, so does fashion, except that fashion lives on one’s skin: it is a walking expression of internal aspirations. A reproduction, or even a printed-out version of Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’, one of the most famous paintings in the world, is not the same and never will be the same as the real thing. Seeing it in the flesh, imagining the work that Munch put into it, the pain and beauty it represents, can only be shown and felt in the truth of the original.
This brings me to the concept of manufacture. The manufacturing and creation of an object will remain a part of it for as long as it exists. This concept, I feel, is reminiscent of William Morris’ craft revival. Morris felt that a design is only worth something if it is manufactured by hand with every bit of attention to minute detail, it was called ‘truth to material’. The idea of ‘haute couture’ is, according to the great Wikipedia, ‘made from high-quality, expensive fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable seamstresses, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.’…
The Hermès Birkin Bag. A symbol of wealth and exclusivity, solely with the name and the price tag. The 48 hour effort that goes in to making just one of these hand-sewn, pristinely polished handbags has been described as ‘meticulous craftsmanship and scarcity’. With a previous waiting list’s of up to 6 years, the Birkin bag shaped demand for exclusivity in the fashion industry worldwide. Every fashion lover knows that Sex and the City was always jam-packed with fashion; exclusivity was so important to the character of Samantha, that she used a famous client’s name to avoid waiting 5 years for the Birkin bag.
Perhaps more than any other, two fashion ‘mini-revolutions’ have defined the notion of a ‘brand’.
Firstly, there is the revolution of the red sole. That simple streak and flash of blood red underneath a shoe (or a masterpiece) designed by the radical Christian Louboutin, an artist in his own right. Everyone knows what it means when they see a woman walking in the artworks that are Louboutins; she doesn’t wear it because she simply happens to like having that colour under her feet, it’s what the red symbolizes for the woman, it gives her a power, a feeling of emancipation of the female sex. Whether she bought the shoes herself or it was bought for her, the red soles show the world that she means something and she is a success.
Secondly, the ‘art of the trench’, a website dedicated to the classic Burberry trench coat, and the people who have worn it over the years, has had a profound effect on the concept of a brand. The company has called it ‘a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it’. Three words simultaneously arise when the thought of that beautifully elegant coat springs to mind: Iconic British Luxury. Intellectually chic and capable of making any woman look sophisticated, the trench coat is irreplaceable.
Yes, you can take a red nail polish and paint the soles of your heels. But they will not be Louboutins, they will not be art, and they will defy fashion. You can buy fake Birkins and fake Chanel brooches from markets in Thailand. But it will never be the original artwork; it will not be the work of a genius, and this is what ‘a brand’ means. The public may not know the difference. But you will…