There used to be a time when clothing brands actually meant something. It was a time when luxury labels were hard to come by – no Marshall’s shopportunities, Ebay auctions or massive credit lines for common gents here, folks – and high fashion was a mark of high society status. In other words, it was the Golden Age of luxury branding. We guesstimate that the zenith came at some point between the 1970’s and the 1990’s, only to be countered by an internet- and recession-fueled decline that now threatens the very bedrock of the luxury fashion industry. With Bill Blass and Christian LaCroix at bankruptcy’s door and Prada nearing the brink of debt disaster, one wonders if anything is sacred in the winner-lose-all hootenanny that is the world’s unfortunate economic situation.
In honor of high fashion’s current struggle against an embarrassing bargain-basement demise, we thought it only fitting to take a look back at our favorite fine clothiers of yore who are now either completely defunct or completely ensconced in the moderately-priced trenches of the national discount chain. Join us as we remember the glory days.
The rise and fall of one-time king of Parisian haute-couture Pierre Cardin exemplifies a sad fact of high fashion: what goes up must come down. It’s almost impossible to believe that the man who invented the bubble dress could be forced to market his wares to Filene’s Basement, but sadly, this is what our world has come to. We aren’t sure whether it was his move to alarm clocks and frying pans or his ready-to-wear line that was more offensive, but the Chambre Syndicale in Paris thought he was enough of a badass to kick him out of their elite club in the ‘50s. This makes him somewhat of a pimp, so we hope he has a comeback, and soon.
If you, like us, hit the bar mitzvah/quinceañera circuit hard in junior high, then you’re familiar with the cotton stylings of one sportswear king Perry Ellis, if only because your mom bought his wares on sale at J.C. Penny. Before he hit the mid-range mid-size department store circuit, though, dude was a self-made fashion king with no ability to sketch, sew, or even dress himself particularly well (awww, just kidding, P. You da boss). He hit his stride in the late ‘70s, but after his death in the late ‘80s, someone decided it was a good idea to sell out and retire early, choosing for the brand to become synonymous with awkwardly trying to get to second base while dancing the Hora instead of awkwardly trying to get to second base while wearing inappropriate pants in the ocean.
For a guy who started his career with a trunk show at fancy-pants (literally) d-store Bergdorf’s and sold his line to Chanel almost immediately afterwards, it seems like a gigantic fail to end up at Target (as delightful as their commercials may be). But maybe he’s got the secret to never-ending success: start big but end bigger by hooking innocent college students on your intoxicating brand of twin extra-long sheets. Also: whore yourself out to the entertainment world, because even if they’d never wear your clothes for fear of being laughed out of the Ivy, they’ll be more than happy to give you airtime on national television to show off your true colors.
Pretend for a moment that you’re a former coat designer turned minimalist sportswear emperor who discovered Brooke Shields and put her in a sexy jeans ad at the ripe young age of 15. Pretend, also, that you saw Marky Mark (of the funky bunch, of course) and had the premonition that he’d be super huge one day, so you decided put him all over giant billboards in Times square and hurry the process along a little. Would you let a little thing like a near-bankruptcy in the early ‘90s hold you down? No. You’d sell your company to whoever gave you the most cash and move on to more important pursuits – like America’s Next Top Male Model – but in return, you’d give up your star status and turn your once billion-dollar company into a nicer version of Wrangler (functional ? Yes. Fashion-forward? Negatory). While the Calvin Klein Collection still pretends to be high up on the fashion totem pole, the rest of the brand just can’t seem to escape the cloying scent of 1996.
This may not have been considered a “luxury” brand, necessarily, but it was certainly considered a damn cool one. Even if you weren’t around for its ‘80s heyday, you sure as shirtsleeves know the iconic silhouette, the effortlessly nondescript tagline and the power it had to bring women to their knees (and match quite nicely with slacks). Thanks to the hipsters of America, M.O. has made a comeback, so get ‘em while they’re still around (again). And enjoy the thanks we’re begrudgingly giving you, hipsters, because it won’t happen ever again.