Designer diluted

As well-known brands collapse, a new breed of brand is appearing, proving there’s more to a designer label than a logo and distinctive print.

Written by Kaia Vincent
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Orla Kiely has become the latest retail catastrophe. In fact, the press is reporting that her signature prints were her undoing. Why?

As reported by the Daily Mail.

“You know the feeling of turning up to a party and someone’s wearing the same dress as you? For a while you didn’t need to be at a party to find an Orla Kiely print — you’d match your friend’s kettle, or the car in their driveway. Because Orla licensed her print too far and it started to appear on everything – from £30 blinds to £7.49 coasters to £2 hand towels. Those graphic prints were everywhere on everything, and women simply didn’t want the same print on their biscuit tins and their blouse – it appeared on the back of buses and even a Citroen DS3.

The pity is that her clothes were beautiful, mainly thoughtfully cut dresses and shirts in pretty, feminine prints. But they were too expensive for what they were — £300 for a black smock dress was typical — when you know you could buy a cushion bearing the same print for a fraction of that.”

[Designer] brands fill the high street (I loosely use the term designer) and I do think there’s something wrong with that. There should be an air about something that’s meant to be superior – exclusive, cutting-edge fashion, offering sophistication over high street clobber.

When designer outlets like Bicester Village and TK Maxx first opened their doors, they were delivering proper designer fashion (straight off the cat walk or from their London stores) at rock bottom prices.  Now, you can pick-up Ralph Lauren shirts and polos for £40 a pop, but I’m certain they’re manufactured for the outlet audience – a cheaper quality shirt, but still adorning the all-important logo. Do these designers have dual brands – one for the affluent and the other for the high street?   If so, the danger is that their entire brand identify gets diluted.

It may be streets apart from the Orla Kiely brand, but one designer label that seems to have stood the test of time is the Stone Island brand – with its distinctive sleeve badge. Synonymous with the late 80s and 90s hardcore football culture, the label has managed to gain the interest of the current street and rap scenes – and continues to be in high demand and carry a premium price tag. Is this their secret that they’ve never lowered their prices?

Do consumers put too much trust in so called designer clothing brands?  An emblem of authenticity – that delivers a sense of confidence and establishes a feeling of status for the wearer.

So when, like the extract from the Daily Mail, a clothing brand licences their print far and wide – the feeling of status and worth is diluted. You no longer feel special walking round in your Orla Kiely print, when you match your best friend’s oven gloves!

The value of anything in fashion comes from its uniqueness. No matter how beautiful something is, if everyone got one, it becomes a uniform and we don’t want it (unless we want to identify our belonging to a subculture like the Stone Island/ football/rap/street scene) — and Orla Kiely has learned this lesson the hard way.

[Duchess of Cambridge wearing Orla Kiely]

Looking wider than the label…

If brands want to move with the times, they should look wider than their name, logo and celebrity endorsement, and ensure their label will connect with the next generation.

Is it time brands set themselves apart, for example, by the types of materials or manufacturing process they use – environmentally friendly, sustainable and traceable.

Here’s a few examples of brands doing just that:

  • VIVOBAREFOOT – using recycled PET to manufacture shoes, Vivobarefoot use 17 throw away plastic bottles to create high performance durable shoes.
  • – many of us want to know where our food has come from and PiC founders have developed a clothing brand with the same ethics – locally sourced fabrics, organic materials and no mass production.
  • – Mud Jeans make their garments out of recycled ones from its collection. The brand also offers a leasing scheme so when your jeans wear out you return and get a new pair. The whole process minimises waste water and chemicals – they also make sure workers get a fair deal.

It’s imperative that brands move with the times. Orla Kiely didn’t capture the hearts of the new generation of shoppers, many associating the designs with their mums, aunts and grandmothers.

Perhaps the Kitsch trend has had its day? (all eyes on Cath Kidson). After all the proper meaning of kitsch is:

art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

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