fashion//style / inspiration / wanted

American Luxury Retail: Why is It not as Relevant?


By J. A. Crane

The major labels of the American fashion industry are staples of the iconic American style that the world knows very well.  We have made denim and leather daily additions and reinvented styles that are older than our nation.  However, American luxury fashion just doesn’t have the same impact as foreign brands who market within the states.  I personally attribute a small bit of that to the American culture which has seen an enormous transition of everyday style where most men and women have so much of their time eaten up by school, work, family and friends.  Granted, some of it is also laziness and apathy.

It seems, from this simple fashion fan’s perspective, that foreign brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior and Chanel have a wider reach and stronger product pricing system than the heavy American brands such as Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Vera Wang.  Marc Jacobs stands out the most since he not only has his own American brand, but he’s also the Creative Director for Louis Vuitton.  The American brands have successful marketing campaigns within our borders, but they don’t reach out or garner the attention internationally that is comparable to their foreign familiars.  Calvin Klein has had very successful campaigns since the days they squeezed Mark Wahlberg’s amazing body into those tight white boxer briefs and Tommy Hilfiger has adopted a new style for their brand design as well as their print campaigns.  But of the American brands, where does one start to make since of this unbalanced economic situation?

America seems to have a very high concentration of entrepreneurial designers looking to start their own brand to be sold in department stores until they reach the success to open up their own boutiques.  While there are many niche-focused brands sold in department stores and consignment shops, brands by designers like Rick Owens, Vera Wang and Michael Kors have great brand recognition and stores world wide but it is not held in as high regard.  That’s not just to say about them, but all American fashion designers starting their own label.  Granted, they make a good living that affords them the lifestyle of American success, but they are not as consistently relevant.  For those who watch Project Runway, the first thing you learn is that “One day you’re in, the next…you’re out.”

When asked who my favorite designer is, I don’t really have one.  I love so many of the brands and enjoy seeing the process of cutting room floor to catwalk looks and print ads.  Neil Barrett is the designer that I consistently find myself attracted to his work; he’s an English designer (much like the late McQueen) with traditional style but adds some clever urban and “cool” edge.

The world of fashion has very clear rules regarding women’s apparel: advertisers and marketers know that women make a majority of household spending decisions and are also more prone to guilty purchases.  The rules for men’s wear are…not as clear or concise.

Before the counter-culture revolution of the 60’s, everyone dressed nice.  Boys and men wore wingtip shoes, slacks, a button up with a tie, sometimes a vest and coat.  It was a social norm and expectation.  But no longer.  Men have less to deal with when it comes to self-presentation in a social scale.  You can look at a guy and tell what’s going on in their lives by how they dress.  It’s easy to spot out the guys who really have no clue because in the general population, they grew up learning that to them, the rules are different.  In my opinion, this is what is reflected in the overall brand awareness of American luxury clothing labels.

Think about it…for America to be a capitalist country, we sure have a lot of communist qualities.    The top fashion designers hail from either Italy (Armani, Cavalli, Fendi, Prada, Pucci, Missoni, Gucci, Valentino, and Versace) or France (Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gaultier, Lagerfeld and Luis Vuitton) and the culture in both of these countries encourage a lot more self expression with one’s personal appearance, including the men.  American men have escaped to over-priced but simple untailored suits from medium to large retail chains.

Amazing shoes by Michael Kors

Let’s observe one of the fundamental organizations of the American higher-education institution: Greek Life.

If you have friends who were in a fraternity in college, you may have been invited to a frat party.  Often times, frat houses will have framed alumni pictures hanging up somewhere everyone who enters can see.  Look at the pictures, don’t the guys all kind of look alike?  Perhaps it’s only a coincidence in the south, but every single guy who pledges for a frat look exactly the same.  There is no individual style or permitted rebellion regarding how their peers look or the way they want their friends to be seen.  Not that I totally hate Greek life, I had very many friends in college who were in sororities and fraternities (okay, not that many, but a few!).  I use the example of Fraternities because it would be great if they would take this conforming characteristic and start dressing like gentlemen, not arrogant high school ass holes in polos and sperrys.    Not to mention, I don’t like fraternities because coinciding with all of the bad-behavior characteristics iconic of the University fraternity houses include alcoholism, academic plagiarism, delusions of grandiose, and less than flattering reports nationwide of sexual abuse and, date rape, and gang rape on intoxicated party goers, its not hard to see why they have no problem recruiting new archetypal preps to pledge, pay for friends, and then stay drunk so that you are late to class.

European men have more flare for there self presentation.

America has an image problem and I would really love to see a makeover with the standards on American men style.  Women already have more than enough options and styles to take and make their own.  The male figure is becoming such a strong sight and appearance in so many aspects.  With clothes, with television and magazines, and every consumer item in the market.  The future will bring acceptance and innovation, in which I hope American luxury retail doesn’t skew too far into the “weird” haute couture fashion for men’s apparel, but bring options and appeal for men to be more adventurous and show more care in interest in how they present themselves.

Didn’t your grandmother ever tell you?  The clothes make the man.  And every girl/gay loves a man in a suit.


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2 thoughts on “American Luxury Retail: Why is It not as Relevant?

  1. First, I want to say how I very much enjoyed reading this passage. It beings me joy seeing others with a strong opinion in tradition, fashion, the value of brands, and how it is influenced by outside factors.
    If you look at places such as Europe and Italy where the culture is richer with art, expressionism, and liberal ideals, it’s no wonder the norm for men’s fashion is a little more aesthetically pleasing than others. These places idolize beauty and have a much higher awareness of personal appearance and grooming. Men are not afraid of incorporating a little bit of color in their wardrobe at oversea countries and it’s perceived as something completely normal in the eyes of society. Now, under no circumstance am I demeaning American tradition or values. Simply, our country is a little more conservative and traditional even till this day compared to other countries and part of it has to do with economic obstacles we had faced throughout history; luxurious garments simply were not affordable for your average citizen at a time. Other country’s history is far more richer with revolutionary movements that have given people the liberty to have a little more freedom and we’re just not there quite yet.
    I loved how you used Greek life as a prime example for your argument. Fraternities and Sororities are highly based on tradition and American values. There is little room for new ideas in these groups and organizations but despite that, I still respect those who stick to their personal values and traditions. And because this ideology remains intact even till this day, the idea of this sort of “image” a man and woman are supposed to be remains to be drilled into society. God forbid a man wear “loud” colored pants that is just “too much.” And just a quick side note, I concur on your statements about Greek life. I highly recommend a few Frats and Sorority Sisters should brush up on the definition of what it means to be in a Fraternity or Sorority; I don’t think the scholars had weekly partying, excessive alcohol consumption, and immature behavior in mind when they began organizations for the sake of intellectual and social development.
    In conclusion, I believe that America as a whole needs to freshen up men’s fashion and apparel and bring more awareness to grooming and care. Women are embracing the liberty and new ideas designers today offer to the world far quicker than men. I’m sorry to admit, but in this context, men may not be a tough opponent in this “Battle of the Sexes” compared to women. How many men today know how to properly shave and groom themselves? The difference between herringbone and tweed? Different fits in blazers, button-up shirts, slacks, etc.? Tie a tie? And don’t even get me started with bow-tie knowledge. It’ll take some time to see a significant change. The fearless expressionists of fashion must rise, take pride in their love for style, and make a statement that is loud and clear. This is how I, as an individual, live my life every single day and can only hope that I make an impact. This sort of change does not occur over night unfortunately, so in the mean time, all we can do is handout flyers for annual subscriptions for Details and GQ Magazine in a pop-of-color ensemble of garments. Guys, did you know that GQ stands for “Gentleman’s Quarterly”? I promise it’s not just a magazine for gay guys.

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