I began writing this article in late January, in the midst of a fashion-charged stupor from which there seemed to be no relief. The menswear and haute couture collections had just finished in Paris, and New York was about to kick off another month of fashion shows. As my mind drifted off to the long, long list of designers who were finalising their collections, I started thinking about the clothes hanging in my own closet. Then I thought about my upcoming deadline and how I was going to approach the theme of synergy.
It suddenly hit me. The theme of synergy—as broad and cryptic as it seemed when I read the editor’s first email—was perfect for a discussion about fashion. Synergy describes the close, cooperative interaction between two or more moving parts. Money and creativity are the two primary gears that turn the fashion wheel. But what is it that compels people to spend so much money on clothes? The answer is something even more basic: what we need versus what we want. If this industry were based on products that people truly needed, marketing departments that spend millions of dollars a year on advertising would be nearly obsolete. Luxury would be undermined by necessity. Designer names would lose their allure. In other words, the fashion industry would look completely different.
To understand the current culture of desire we must take a step back in time. In the glory days of haute couture, some designers would sell their patterns to American department stores for limited reproduction rights. These designers understood that Americans wanted to wear their clothes, but very few could travel to Paris, let alone afford the high prices. Christian Dior, precocious on every level, went a step further and explored the potential of licensing. It was the perfect way for Dior to widen his luxury business without incurring any major costs or management responsibilities, and soon “Dior” appeared on everything from scarves to sunglasses. To this day, a licensing program is necessary when a designer wishes to diversify their product range, but lacks the expertise or resources to make those products. Italy’s Luxottica, for example, manufactures high-quality sunglasses for almost all the major designer labels.