When Does a Label Become Fashion Heritage?
From Burberry to Harris Tweed, the UK isn't short of a fashion heritage label or two. In fact, it's what makes the British fashion industry so great. A label with history has earned it's metaphorical stripes. It's been through good fads and bad fads, fleshed out the market and defined it's signature style. But with so many talented newcomers on the design scene, how can we spot future style royalty and at what point does a label become fashion heritage? For many brands, obtaining heritage status is the ultimate goal - it's more than just good business, it's a very loud signal that the quality of garments produced by the label is successful in winning the loyalty of fashion fanatics. Labels that enjoy heritage status must strike the balance between brand identity and staying en vogue - the trends draw in new consumers, keen to try their first slice of luxury, whilst the signature pieces by the brand delight those with a thirst for societal status.
And the hunger for heritage is growing - with more and more consumers moving away from the questionable ethics of fast fashion, and pursuing quality over quantity.
Perhaps one of the most interesting markers of a heritage brand is the emotional relationship between the label and consumers themselves. Taking a look back at the 67 year old tailoring master, GANT, as an example, the foundations of the company are still very much true to the original vision. GANT continues to pave a path championing it's core values - with products boasting tailored form, colour, fabric and attention to detail.
In the modern day, GANT is known for it's iconic hero pieces, but what the brand undoubtedly owes its success to is the button down shirt, - a product crafted and adapted from the 1920's Brooks Brothers creation for English polo players circa late 1940's. More than just talented tailoring business, but rather pioneers within the fashion industry, GANT sharply recognised the trend of women "borrowing from the boys" and began to tailor "shirts, not blouses," meeting the new demand, and in turn set in motion what could be arguably be the start of the current "boyfriend shirt" trend.
Relying solely on a flagship product is never a wise move for any sustainable brand, and GANT follows the success formula that so many heritage brands have down to a fine art - mixing the classics with the trends. In fact this exact recipe for success has been replicated across countless brands: Mulberry with the coveted "Birkin" bag, supported by a cast of inspired "It" girl bags - such as the "Alexa", named appropriately after Alexa Chung herself. A more extreme example looks to the unexpected success of Hunter Boots.
Designed for the rural-loving, outdoorsy consumer, Hunter acquired a massive trend-driven following after Kate Moss paraded the label's trademark Wellington boots at the Glastonbury music festival in 2005. Met with sudden demand, the brand capitilised on the popularity, whilst remaining true to the original, loyal fan base, curating a brand new collection - Hunter Field - to meet the needs of the consumer that had so loyally supported the brand for its quality products for well over a century.
In the instance of a sudden rise in popularity, it would have been all too easy for Hunter to alienate their target market, but like GANT with their approach towards womenswear, the brand stayed true to its core values - and instead of shifting focus, built upon the solid groundwork laid out by the founders.
Fashion Heritage - A Brand That's More
The Oxford Dictionary quotes the definition of heritage as "property that is or may be inherited" and brands like GANT are just that - an inheritance. The loyalty of a brand to its target market and a superior product may be the necessary mechanics to run a fashion heritage brand, but the soul of a brand comes from it's emotional and personal value. Every family has it's creature comforts - for some, it's an extravagant food shop at Marks and Spencers, for other's, it's the right of passage to be taken to buy a Tiffany's necklace on their 21st birthday.
A brand that weigh so heavily on a family, or even group of friends ceases to simply be a company providing a product - they integrate with the customer's identity.
GANT is a label my family have worn for generations - and it will continue to be for many years to come. It's a way for us to remember, reflect and belong. It's not just fashion heritage, but my own heritage too.
What are your thoughts on fashion heritage brands? What brands are important to your identity? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!