Branding an Overnight Sensation

We were at the Soho House Fashion Salon last night in New York, sitting in on a 90-minute presentation entitled Brand Creation for the next Generation and the presenters – who normally speak at Harvard, MIT and NYU Stern School of Business were going on about how well-respected luxury brands have heritage. Heritage that took decades to build and to “brand”.

Brands like Hermes which started as a bespoke house for royalty over 100 years ago, has had quite some time to create a consistent collection of quality fashion products and brand trust with their customers.  Burberry, the iconic British luxury brand established in 1856, was another design house sited for doing one thing and doing it very well, and built a loyal following with some major ups and downs along the way, continually reinventing their name while staying true to their DNA.

Brands that have established strong international customer relationships also have a much easier time moving without interruption into the online space. That’s because customers have been trying and buying their apparel and accessories for years. Their aspiring promise is delivered to their customers in the real world first.

Now the question came up – can a new emerging company or fresh new fashion design talent out of FIT or Parsons build a brand in less time? And even more challenging, can they do it online, without launching in stores beforehand?  And the answer is – probably not.

Branding takes years of respect and it always starts with a consistently great fashion “product”.  It takes years to build the cult -like following that makes a brand a household name.

Now they’re exceptions to the rule. Celebrity status is one of the exceptions. Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Simpson have done surprisingly well with their  collections that didn’t take decades to build, but they had the status and following built into the brand and the resources to risk.

The other exception is building a brand with a super strategic branding plan, like the one behind the brand of Michael Kors. Which also took some deep pocket investors to make it all happen.

In 1981, Kors launched his Michael Kors women’s wear line at department stores Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. From there, Kors went to work at French fashion house Celine as designer and creative director.

Today, Kors has three collections and collectively, they include everything from handbags and accessories to shoes and ready-to-wear sportswear. On top of designing, Kors contributed to Harper’s Bazaar magazine and has been a celebrity judge on the hit TV show Project Runway.

For those on the brink of launching a new design label online and dreaming of becoming an overnight sensation,  experts recommend launching in retail stores at first and having patience while creating great fashion collections, season after season. Look to partner with stores that will help you share your brand story and philosophy. A Facebook and Twitter following is not going to cut it. Fashion is a product first. And a very personal product at that. Customers need to slip it on, feel the fabric of your brand’s DNA and wear it well and believe in the magic of your product before you can launch online.

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