Can One Have a True Relationship with a Brand?

September 27, 2013

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A commenter in yesterday’s Let’s Talk About It brought up a really interesting point: where the article mused on finding comfort in an exclusive relationship with a single brand, this reader posed an argument that there can’t really be a relationship without reciprocation on the designer’s end. Instead, she suggests that with big brands and fashion franchises, the relationship is much more like a sports team we venerate than a two-way street.

Is this the case? I very respectfully beg to differ; allow me to play devil’s advocate to her point:

I understand what she is saying, but as a woman who devotes allegiance to designers rather than athletes, my position is admittedly skewed. Perhaps I cannot understand my hometown’s fierce loyalty to the San Francisco Giants, or my Manhattan friends who don Giants-of-the-football variety paraphernalia each Sunday; when I say that what I feel towards the likes of Valentino or Dolce & Gabbana is different than the way said sport fanatics feel, a person who tethers both sides of the argument may disagree.

Further weighing down my end of the seesaw is that I actually work in fashion. I started way back when in PR as an assistant for a few major design houses, so for many of the brands I feel a sense of relationship with today, a real connection did at one point exist, albeit low on the totem pole.  After leaving PR and entering the world of editorial, I found myself sitting at shows, visiting showrooms, conversing with designers and touching the clothes sometimes mere days after they walked. Living in Manhattan, as the commenter who sparked this discussion pointed out, allows for us to meet very young designers–the up-and-comers–and develop a sense of loyalty and “I knew you when.”

Now, allow me to take a step back and tackle my own argument from the perspective of someone who perhaps doesn’t work in fashion. (I’m also extremely eager to hear from those of you who love it, but don’t work in it.)

When I was just an intern at a very big magazine, I felt like the tiniest of fish in a giant ocean. What I thought I knew, I very quickly learned I didn’t. And everything else that I wasn’t aware I didn’t know of, well, I learned that even faster. Who was my favorite designer? Erm…Chanel. And did I wear Chanel? No… And did I know who designed for Chanel? Well certainly! This wasn’t amateur hour! Now ask me if I knew that the very same designer also designed at Fendi. No.

So it was here that I was, in fact, a fan.

But the operative word lies in was, because upon instantly realizing that my degree in journalism had prepped me for everything except the industry I wanted to be part of, I made it my business to study. Style.com became my bible, and I absorbed as much as I could from the experts around me. To this day the amount of knowledge to gather is overwhelming, but for me, that’s all part of the fun.

It was in the process, of research, of learning, of immersion by way of street style and magazine articles, that I very much developed a relationship with brands. Although, in looking back on it all, perhaps it’s not the brands so much, or the designers, or the clothes, that I consider myself related to. Maybe it’s the idea of fashion as a whole.

I truly believe that one can find requited emotions for what may technically be a one-way street. Aren’t there paintings, songs, movies, scents, that you feel you have a relationship with? Or at least very much more of a deep connection to? Where calling it fandom just wouldn’t do the self-described symbiosis justice?

Now tell me where your thoughts lay. Are there any brands that you feel very much connected to, to the point of it being a relationship? Or what about designers? Or even an item–your grandmother’s Hermes clutch, per Leandra’s example.

I know this is a cogitation, but I too would love for you to talk about it.

Photo by Tommy Ton.

  • Maryam

    I don’t work in the fashion industry & I can’t afford to own designer wear (yet) but I could relate to every single word in this article!!
    I’ve come across so many comments & posts by people sometimes working in the industry who have a very snobbish & elitist attitude towards pretty much everything & it makes me sad. Because to me, fashion is LOVE & I’m in a serious relationship with it till death do us part.
    p.s. I didn’t know Karl did Fendi for the longest time either! But the internet certainly taught me. Thank you so much for contributing to that & running such a fabulous website!

  • Poppy Princess

    <3 Unrequited Love <3 . //Possibly requited if you believe in the fashion fairy Godmothers. It/She/He will give back in return, in some way shape or form, what you give to it/her/him. Dedicate your life whole heartedly to anything and it's gotta give you some pleasure in return, no ?

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    I think I could develop a passion for a well-edited wardrobe containing things that are “just so me”, but not for a brand.

    For me, it is the same as with pictures: I am never going to buy a painting or similar, because if I put it on the wall, I have used up the available space where other pictures could be, too. And I couldn’t stand that (let’s just pretend I have one space on the wall – in real life, I have, like, 3, but it’s the principle that counts). Some time ago I heard about a gallery where you can rent paintings for not too much money and then bring them back. I immediately fell in love with the idea. THis must be the reason I prefer abstract art: it gives me the possibility to invent a new way of observing and living it and that’s what I need. Multitude.

    Now, a well-edited wardrobe containing things suitable for me would of course mean I can wear a multitude of combinations (Don’t know about you, but I might own 20 pairs of jeans (some are VERY old and so am I :-)), 30 tees and … 20 pairs of shoes. If they were all combinable, that would make … 30 x 20 x 20 outfits, which would be … quite a few combinations, all of them “so me” …). I don’t see the importance of a particular brand playing a role here. But then, I am generally too old for fandom, for preferring one writer to all the others, listening to … U2 all the time and things like that.
    I might remember which of my favourite clothes I wore in certain important situations and that’s what might make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside :-)

  • Katie

    I love this article! I would consider myself a fan and one of the many followers and buyers of Celine- I absolutely LOVE Phoebe Philo! I also am loving Stella McCartney’s new collection but I do not own anything from the brand. I own lots of Isabel Marant but it seems like her “popularity” is dying down a bit…. I guess my favorites change season-to-season or the designer does not produce their own brand anymore. Last time I went to Paris I bought a very expensive pair of Bruno Frisoni shoes but now the designer is just designing for Roger Vivier… times change, brands change and so do trends!

  • Nicole De Jong

    As I begin my career in the fashion industry, I have been on both sides of the this spectrum. Especially when I couldn’t distinguish between Balenciaga and Vionet (I was naïve). My entrancement began with Vogue. I was 16 and alone waiting for my flight when I decided to buy the September issue. It was fate (or good visual marketing) but as a took in the pages I felt like I had found what I was looking for…HOPE. I have yet to justify buying a Chanel bag and foregoing my rent… but dreaming about it is similar to that of Holly Golightly having breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s the hope that one day I will have my shit together and run into the people who gave up on me with a Balenciaga bag on my shoulder. It has little to do with the designer of object and more to do with what it represents to that individual, whether it’s wealth, beauty, or hope.

  • liv

    Love this!

  • Madisson

    I’m not sure I can think of a brand I’m “in a relationship with” at the moment, but I love that idea of being bonded to something like that. Maybe it’s the romanticism of it. I do know that when I can assign a physical experience or personal exchange to an object (be it clothing or otherwise), it adopts a higher value. Sometimes that’s directly tied into the brand or the people who make up that brand, like my friend who designs shoes of
    the utmost care and quality (and is an all-around cool person). And sometimes – perhaps more often – it’s woven into a memory or period of time, like the little chambray dress that got me through a summer I spent interning (and completely broke, I might add) because it helped me feel somewhat pulled together.

    I sort of do the same thing with music. There are such vivid recollections and emotions that pop up when I listen to certain artists. But then again, those are more dependent on a second factor, not just the music but a simultaneous experience. I think to be in a relationship with a brand, they need to have in some way contributed to your having an experience in their clothes. Whether that be due to the idea they’re selling with the clothes or some aspect of your interaction with them. But I think the key element might be some sort of associative event or feeling.

  • Freckles

    It’s funny living in a small town, I am the one my friends come to for fashion advice. You should see all the fashion magazines that I pick every month. They are an addiction to say the least. Then there are the fashion blogs that a frequently visit on a day to day basis. My family is aware but they have always put my love of fashion on the back burner (“it’s just a hobby…” or “you can do better…”). Having come from two military parents who deemed hard work a must and everything else is irrelevant, they didn’t see that they gave birth to two daughters that both had the creative mindset. They don’t understand the dedication of getting the same moisturizer (regardless, of the price) because it is WORTH IT. Or looking forward to certain brands bring forth every season. For me, it would be Michael Kors, BCBG, J. Crew, Isabel Marant, and especially Calvin Klein. Sure some would say that I have expensive taste, seeing that I am from a small town. But, when I eventually leave that small town for the big city, I will be a very small fish in a big pond. My dedication, however, is nothing less than those who have been immersed within the fashion industry their entire lives.