Does a Brand Name Really Matter?

Does a Brand Name Really Matter?

Living in Paris these past few months has been interesting for me sartorially. I haven't shopped much, save for a few pairs of vintage jeans, a couple of vintage pieces from the Marche Noir, and a few things from Morocco, including of course, my beloved vintage kaftan. Instead, I've spent hours on end perusing fabrics and photos of old clothing and dreaming up things I'd like to have custom made. In this process, which has been tremendously liberating, I've done a lot of thinking about what constitutes value in fashion.

The labels in our clothes matter- both to us and in terms of how others perceive us. Brand names, at least historically, were not only indicators of status, but of quality. A Louis Vuitton trunk or Cristóbal Balenciaga dress were expensive and exclusive and alluring precisely because of their craftsmanship.

 
Craftsmen at Louis Vuitton circa the mid 1800s. Photographer unknown.

Craftsmen at Louis Vuitton circa the mid 1800s. Photographer unknown.

 
Team Louis Vuitton pictured at the company's first store in London in 1888. Photographer unknown. 

Team Louis Vuitton pictured at the company's first store in London in 1888. Photographer unknown. 

 
Cristóbal Balenciaga in his atelier in 1958. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson. 

Cristóbal Balenciaga in his atelier in 1958. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson. 

 
 
The Balenciaga store at 10 Avenue George V. Photographer unknown. 

The Balenciaga store at 10 Avenue George V. Photographer unknown. 

Over time, as the world's luxury brands have corporatized and scaled and sped up, they have moved towards a business model that might have at once been seen as antithetical to their raison d'etre. Doesn't an exclusivity based on craftsmanship preclude scale by definition? So to scale then, I think luxury fashion labels had to emphasize the linkages between brand name and status over the ones between brand name and quality. Some evidence? The frequency with which polyester has snuck into high fashion, or the use of the vague term "imported" by higher-end brands to avoid specifying a provenance they clearly don't see as fitting with their brand image or price point. Buying something that is "designer" or "luxury" is no longer unanimously synonymous with quality in the way it once was. This poses a challenge if, like me, you're a fashion purist who happens to be more interested in the quality, craftsmanship, and originality of a piece than you are in the status it confers. In this case, what is the actual value of a brand name? 

An x-ray of this Cristobal Balenciaga evening dress from 1954. Photo (L)via Victoria and Albert Museum, London; (R) by Nick Veasey via Tank Magazine.

An x-ray of this Cristobal Balenciaga evening dress from 1954. Photo (L)via Victoria and Albert Museum, London; (R) by Nick Veasey via Tank Magazine.

To get to the answer, we have to look past the label (and the price tag) at the clothes themselves. Brand names give us psychological cues more than factual ones, and price tags don't always equate with value (see: spot on words from fashion designer Signe Rødbro). The value of a piece of clothing comes down to the materials used, the construction of the garment, and the fit, all of which a brand name in and of itself tell us nothing about. Brand names matter then only to the extent that they indicate well-crafted clothing. To ascertain value beyond the label, looking at the materials/origin tag is a starting point. After that, we can more closely inspect how something is made—how it moves, how it drapes, the weight of the fabric, and the construction of the seams. What develops is an intuition around whether a piece of clothing merits our investment. Buying a brand name, especially if just for the sake of it, is an act, but building a wardrobe of real value, well, that's an art. 

 

 

Feature image Coco Chanel walking into her store at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris. Photographer and date unknown. 

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