Because you’re worth it!
Brands. They're all around us… their names, their motifs... big and small, bold & subtle. They’re on our backs & on our fronts... they adorn us. They are in our line of view, they talk to us, they talk for us.
Some speak of quality and style, others of belonging to a certain tribe. Some serve as badges - denoting taste and style, and of course, price. Others simply go with the territory of a certain garment that has with it a wealth of heritage, and value.
Some stand the test of time and are with us over the years; some are fleeting dalliances that fit us perfectly at one stage or another in our sartorial journey through life.
Where has all this come from? And where do you fit in this? Is there any right or wrong in the wearing of a brand, or more to the point, the displaying of a brand?
Here, we tell all..
Yes, we’re worth it! Because Worth was..
That is, Charles Frederick Worth (1825 –1895). Worth was an Englishman who founded one of the most prestigious fashion houses of the 19thcentury... in Paris. He is considered to be the first man of ‘haute couture’ and possibly acts as a pointer towards why there is such a rich legacy of fashion coming from France.
Established in 1858, Worth’s fashion house dressed royalty and the very well off. His designs were stunning and glamorous. His fashion house was visited by everyone who was anyone at that time, to be fitted and to generally just hang out; as such his place became a hotspot for society and he became as big a name as his clothing. And here is why Charles Worth is so fundamental to the story of brands and a cool fact to boot: he is recognized as the first clothes designer to start sewing his name into his garments for them to be identified.
Now of course not everyone dressed like they were a courtier, or moved in such esteemed social circles, but it is from these origins that essentially Paris for a long time led the way in luxury fashion, and is essentially from where the branding of clothing has evolved.
Splitting the hairs between ‘fashion‘ and ‘clothing’ Paris of course wasn’t the only location for sartorial craft. Around the same time as Worth in Paris was the emergence of Savile Row in London. Home to military officers at first, and then to those suit-makers who dressed them; fitting them in uniform and their social attire. It is here in Savile Row we can find the origins of the word ‘bespoke’ – ‘to speak for something’ - being used in terms of clothing. And when it comes to ‘names’ you might wear for a lifetime, Saville Row, and equally Jermyn Street, a stone’s throw away, house many of them, still outfitting today and who’s heritage date back over a hundred years. Not to be outdone by the legacy of Paris, London too has its own cool little fact: it was in Savile Row that the first dinner suit was created in around the mid-1800’s. It was later to be coined the ‘Tuxedo’ after being adopted in the US, traced to a members club at Tuxedo Park in New York State, where clearly there was a lot of dinner going on..
Now (this only being a coffee time read) if we take a leap forward in time from our starting point of Paris & London we can chart any number of social and economic factors that have played their part in how clothes have been designed, made, and worn. From work and play, booms and busts (depressions), and wars to revolutions each has played their part; but we can probably narrow down on two fundamentals that have been key in shaping the foundations and direction of clothing and brands to date.
Firstly, industrialization. As with other industries where mass production was a critical factor in development, industrialization enabled textiles and then clothes to be made in much bigger quantities and in turn reach a much wider populace. Fashion became widespread, and so did makers and trends.
Secondly, and with a more profound and hugely significant influence to the modern day development of brands and the wearing of them, a big movement that started in the late 1950’s and shook the foundations of clothing, culture and pretty much everything else in its sight.. ‘Youth’!
All the young dudes.
Without sidestepping industrialisation and the obvious impact this had on pretty much.. everything, to really grasp the evolution of brands and how we wear and display them today, youth culture is really where the story begins.
When we talk about heritage in clothing, a brand might be recognized by a certain garment, a look, a color, or a signature style, with the makers label discreetly placed inside the garment. Those with a big heritage and a certain type of wearer retain these values, and might otherwise be know as ‘clothes-makers’; serving a more discerning type of clientele and shying away from a perceived vulgarity of being a brand. With the rise of what we recognize as youth and youth culture the brand ‘label’ became as big a signifier of the maker as the look of the garment, with the label effectively becoming a ‘badge’. And with youth culture being about younger wearers with perhaps not as much money to spend, more affordable brands were looked for (and consequently more affordable ways to produce them).
Having earlier cast a historical eye over Paris and London (Italy comes later in this story) it is perhaps to the US where the best example of brand ‘badge’ development, adoption & display can first be found.
Once a hard-wearing and durable staple piece of trouser wear for miners, loggers and cowboys and one that had already trademarked itself with garment features such as rivets and stitching, one brand can easily be identified as an early and major player in badging itself. So much so that even here and now it probably needs no further introduction. Levi.
Ironically for such a brand embedded in the fabric of the US, Levi Strauss was from Germany, and had travelled to the US in the mid 1800's to open a hardware store in San Fransisco. Intuitively, what Levi managed to do was take and already existing product and by adding his own (originally practical) spin essentially invented an entirely new one. No longer a hardwearing and durable piece of work wear, but the denim trouser, or, THE ‘jean’ as we know it!
Founded in the late 1800's it was in the 1950's that Levi jeans were at first adopted by youth cultures before going on to become the staple blue jean the world over. And so it was, from James Dean to the T Birds, Mods & Rockers to Skinheads, and Casuals to.. Nick Kamen that the soundtrack of Levi’s little red tab has been seen on the rear of a million cheeks and so has its place in brand legacy firmly cemented.
With Levi, there is uniqueness to the brand that goes to the heart of how we choose to wear and display a badge. While the Levi little rad tab is at once a signifier of product authenticity, it also acts a badge for everyone to see. Fundamental in this is: I take these jeans as seriously as I take my identity, and I want to show that off.
At this time, the advent of youth culture, it was not de-rigueur for brands to be labeling themselves like this. Throughout the 50’s & 60’s and with the rise at this time also of the Italian fashion houses, designers created a bigger fanfare around their collections not by waving a brand flag on the garments, but by continuing to dress the cream of society. At this time, society extended itself to the film stars and musicians of the day, think of Gucci & Grace Kelly, or Givenchy & Audrey Hepburn, but it wasn’t long before many of these started getting in on the badge act and there is, in this, a couple of key drivers.
Driver number one: Sporting your brands!
Sports brands … for these the badge was a prominent marker and something that denoted quality and performance. And ‘sporting’ your sports brand was very much out there before fashion brands got in on the act, even as far back as Fred Perry tennis shirts in the 1940’s. The message was clear: if you wanted to perform the best you can, you need to wear ‘this’ brand! So in the 60’s, as styles of fashion and dressing became more relaxed and casual styles entered everyday wear so too did the label play a more visible role by way of inheritance from the sports labels; for if a fashion brand was once recognized by the cut of a jacket, the tapering of a trouser, or the style of a collar, how could it now distinguish itself from another brand when producing a basic polo or t-shirt? Well, its label moves from the inside to the out, and becomes a badge.
One huge brand that so neatly straddled this path from day one in the late 60’s and sums up this sentiment is ‘Polo’ by Ralph Lauren. Essentially Polo was a menswear brand based on sport, rather than - at its time of launch - a brand made for sport, or more specifically made for the sport of polo. Polo (the brand) hadn’t crossed over from sport to fashion, it always was fashion, and its Polo shirt with that now classic Polo motif gives you in a single instance an understanding of the sport meets fashion evolution in brand wear and display.
Today we have a big collision of brands and their badges. On one hand the fashion world having entered the sports & fitness world, and of course on the other, sports brands that are now well and truly established in our everyday wear, from casual to even semi-formal, and with a hefty price tag too. Crucially for all, the badge, or motif, is the brand signifier.
Driver number 2: Going large!
The other critical driver in all this brand badge development is essentially something that builds on the foundations of industrialization, and inhabits an obvious additional link in the chain – franchising.
In order for a brand to brand-build, at first it needed an industrial level of production to reach a critical mass; to then build on this popularity and in order to get even bigger and have more and more people wearing, it needed to widen this even further, and so outsourcing production away from the in-house workshops was the next step.
By doing so it enabled brands to have more of their products made, in different global locations, more cost effectively, and then more easily distributed to more locations. With more people wearing, and importantly for any brand – more of the right people wearing – a brand could extend its reach the world over.
Having a global following enables brands to expand their collections, not just across their core fashion or sport origins, but way beyond and into our lifestyles; think luggage, eye-wear, fragrance and so on; big players once hailing from a clothing heritage now stretched across any number of categories, even wrist-watches, which for many remains the only acceptable display of a brand for a true gentleman to display.. and that would be, not an Apple one!
In terms of modern day branding, all this is where we, the ‘wearers’ come in really, as it gets right to the heart of our social, economic, and cultural sensibilities.
In all this ‘going large’, the crux is capital in the brand, and so the brand is served by having its badge visible. On such terms, fashion branding (and branding as a whole) has become the language of consumer culture, and to a large extent commoditization, where ownership and display of ownership often drives demand (and not always the value a product might possess).
For example: it’s the owning of a branded t-shirt that costs hundreds of bucks that drives its demand; rather than the value of that t-shirt and everything that’s gone into its creation really being worth hundreds of bucks. Of course this can be debated. Over and above the cost of production how do we really put a price tag on anything these days? Ultimately it comes down to the value someone is prepared to pay and then what they get out of it; whether a feeling or worth, or exclusivity, or just feeling good. For some this can only be achieved by the brands they display, or the higher price they’ve paid.
Of course it remains the case that for the vast majority brands their heritage is known and valued, and the craftsmanship that goes into the making of their product is a fundamental part of this. If we look back to Worth, this is probably closer to the origin of what ‘brand’ and brand integrity is about.
The opposite to the branded t-shirt example is a garment made artisanally and without a brand badge, leaving it solely down to the wearer to know what they are vested in. The reality of this in high fashion terms is you can buy both from the same maker, probably wear them at the same time, together with their sneakers and scent, while sipping a tipple from a drinks brand that neatly complements your 'look' all the while promoting yourself.. ‘brand me’ to all your followers.
And thus, perhaps, we have come full circle. Around the fanfare of the maker in some fashion or another, does everyone gather, to see and be seen, and to show and tell; with the story of brands wrapped up and promoted in our own little story.
So, whether it’s our outfit of the day or our outfit of the night, every day wear, or special occasion; occasional and subtle brand adoption, or full blown badge wearing; guaranteed, somewhere in your collection there will be at least one piece of apparel in our wardrobe that says with a label, inside or out... yes, I’m worth it!