After putting DKNY up for a $650 millions sale to Ivanka Trump's manufacturer G-III in 2016, Bernard Arnault is rushing to rescue the deep in red Marc Jacobs, which just consolidated its diffusion line and revamped its pricing. Stefan Larsson is leaving Ralph Lauren for good; Calvin Klein pins hope on Raf Simons. BCBG Max Azria goes bankrupt; Kate Spade is up for sale, Phillip Lim, Jason Wu on the fade-out. When is the last time Alexander Wang hit fashion headline after his departure from Balenciaga? Tory Burch and Michael Kors are afloat but finding it difficult to shake off their "mall designer" identity. And worse comes to worst, Suno just shut down and liquidated all of its products.
What is happening to American fashion designers? A dreamland of creativity and innovation does not seem to be a promising breeding ground for iconic designers. Oscar de la Renta is the only name qualifies for an icon, and maybe Tom Ford.
When you think about the legends - Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Lanvin, Balenciaga, they all thrived in the 1920s, an era of dramatic social, political, and economic changes; Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Chloé rode on another progressive wave in the 1970s - fashion has always been intertwined with history - social changes, scientific development, economic upheavals, and political movements. Fashion is larger than a business. It is a facet of humanity. There are stories behind your oversized bomber jackets and ripped jeans.
Going back to the three pillar American designers - Michael Kors, Tory Burch, and Kate Spade, they are the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Applebee's of fashion, ubiquitous, accessible, and mediocre. An iconic designer is fundamentally a persona - as sophisticatedly alluring as Tom Ford, or as outside-of-the-box and offbeat as Comme des Garçons. An iconic designer also does not need a lot of celebrity endorsements. Who would remember the blogger who has 2 million Instagram followers 100 years later, but a piece of classic garment can be passed down generation to generation, with a circa of 2017 (vintage). An icon is also not automatically justified by arbitrarily jacked up price tags.
To be an icon, you have to be bigger than a business and perhaps as crazy as Steve Jobs. Iconic designers does not care about what customers want because they create demand that do not exist in the first place. Can you name an iconic product that is the brain child of market research?