London Fashion Week has come to a close and the city is still buzzing. Once again, big names ruled the runway and emerging talents hit the scene. You often know the names…Burberry, Mulberry, Tom Ford, Moschino, etc., etc…but what about the designer behind the curtain? The person behind the label?
You don’t have to be a designer or fashionista to appreciate the importance of branding the person behind the product. But by looking at the fashion industry, it’s particularly easy to see that certain distinct personalities can become synonymous with their label. You know who they are, and you are wearing a piece of it.
Let’s turn to Vivienne Westwood as an example. What can we learn from Dame Viv about developing a solid personal brand behind a product?
For me, five traits define what makes her a strong and well-known personal brand.
1) She’s an original. After introducing Punk into in the fashion world in the 1970’s (with Malcolm McLaren, her then partner and manager of the Sex Pistols), she has gone on to become one of Britain’s most influential designers, styling everyone from rock stars to royalty. Her unique history, unconventionality, outspokenness and fearless personality seem to be interwoven with her striking creations. It can be argued that there is only one “queen of shock fashion”, and that’s Viv.
2) She puts herself out there. Sure, she does social media. She blogs, tweets, Facebooks, etc. But it’s more than that. In an industry where models and celebs are marketed as the “face” of the label, Viv is one of the few designers who can be seen in many of her own ads. And when in the public eye (which is quite often), she also wears her own creations. She is the face of her label. At age 72, she shows us that her clothing isn’t limited to a specific target group, but rather appeals to a more diverse audience, leaving lots of room for individuality.
3) You know it’s her. Her signature asymmetrical cuts. The draping neckline. That fantastic orb logo. Her eccentric and bold designs are instantly recognizable. In a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert in London, her creations were described as a combination of unconformity with a sense of tradition: “She is renowned for her gentle parody of Establishment styles, her use of very British fabrics such as Harris tweed and tartan and her re-use of historic garments such as the corset and crinoline.” Without even knowing much about who she is, you just know there’s a lot of Viv in there.
4) She’s well recognized. I’m not just talking about her bright orange hair here (although that’s certainly a distinct part of her personal brand!). What I’m referring to is the wide recognition and respect she’s gained in the fashion world and beyond. After all, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II did appoint her Dame of the British Empire in 2006 for her service to fashion. She has also twice earned British Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. Then there were the two Honorary Doctorates, the Fellowship at Kings College…and the list goes on. With a dazzling CV like this, how can she not catch your attention?
5) You know what she stands for. One of the many things I love about Viv is she wears her values on her sleeve (or printed on her garment, rather!). She also showcases them on the catwalk, using her shows as a platform for her cultural and environmental activism, hitting audiences with a “one two punch” of her fashion and passion. You’ll quickly learn that she works tirelessly for social and environmental causes, and has joined forces with the UN on environmental and ethical trade projects. One of her most provocative political statements was in 1989, when she appeared on the cover of Tatler magazine dressed as then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher…in one of Thatcher’s suits that had not yet been delivered. Let’s just say that Thatcher was less than impressed. Her vision and passion are also captured in her Manifesto, “Active Resistance to Propaganda”, which has evolved through her fashion shows. And this is just a brief summary of her social involvement! I think it’s fair to say that Viv goes well beyond socially responsible branding.
And that’s just a bit of what makes the Vivienne Westwood behind Vivienne Westwood, the designer you certainly won’t find hiding behind the curtain.