Why Do Fashion Houses Keep Consolidating Their Lines?

Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images.
Burberry is making a big move to streamline its business that will have some pretty major industry significance: The label's creative director and CEO, Christopher Bailey, announced yesterday in London that the company would be consolidating all of its sub-labels — Burberry Prorsum, Burberry Brit, and Burberry London — into one brand, simply titled Burberry, effective by the end of 2016.

“We believe that this will make us simpler and more intuitive for our customers," Bailey said in his speech sharing the news, according to The New York Times. "And we are confident that this will make us both more productive and more efficient as a business.” (The company also announced that roughly $77 million would be spent on a factory in Leeds, England, which is slated to create jobs for 1,000 workers when it opens in 2019.)

Does the melding of a multiline company's offerings sound familiar? No wonder: Earlier this year, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, and Victoria Beckham made somewhat similar changes. Jacobs opted to blend his (somewhat) cheaper Marc by Marc Jacobs line into his namesake higher-end line in March, resulting in one collection that will have a sprawling range of price points. (The news has been interpreted by some as a straight-up shuttering of Marc by Marc, under the guise of "consolidation.")

In May, Beckham decided to combine her Victoria Victoria Beckham and Victoria Beckham Denim lines, while keeping her priciest, eponymous label intact and distinct from the rest of the business. When Donna Karan left her namesake fashion empire in June, parent company LVMH decided to ax the most expensive of wares bearing Karan's name — the Donna Karan Collection.

Dolce & Gabbana was somewhat ahead of the pack in terms of taking a lean approach to its business. Four years ago, the Italian label killed off its successful secondary line, D&G, though the shuttering was quite surprising to some. "Consumers — savvier and more confident than ever about fashion — no longer pay as much attention to narrow tiers of brands," The Wall Street Journal's Christina Binkley wrote about the death of D&G in 2011. "They've been mixing and matching expensive and cheap clothes for years."

Lumping labels together under one unified brand still seems striking and surprising, but it might be commonplace soon enough: It "looks less like a trend and more like the industry's future," as Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times puts it.

"I think it's about time that this quintessentially modern brand adopts a modern attitude to branding," Fabrice Paget, founder of consultancy firm The Luxury Brand Agency and a vet of Cartier, De Beers, and Fabergé, told Refinery29 of Burberry's decision to combine all its brands under one umbrella. "Having just one brand label…removes doubt and gives us more confidence that we are buying the right product."

Having a smorgasbord of diffusion, offshoot, and secondary lines can be confusing to the customer, Paget says: "When we look at a brand online or in store, we often ask ourselves, 'What is the difference between sub-labels?… Is there a difference in quality between them? Which one is the true Burberry? What will my friends think if I buy the "wrong" level?' " Super-luxe brands such as Hermès or Chanel are able to sell a very wide array of price points under the same, singular name, often in the same retail digs, Paget points out.

So, it's a fairly safe bet that we'll be seeing even more houses take this approach. How it will come off to shoppers is another story, though. A singular brand with a wide range of price points could make a high-end name more accessible, but could it also deplete the cachet of the priciest pieces?

"Clients who buy the higher lines are rarely swayed by what is written on the label. They essentially care about the design, intrinsic quality, and personal service that they get," Paget says. "Sub-labels are as effective protecting a brand as a paper helmet on a motorcycle."
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