FLUX synopsis by Silje Bethuelsen Lode, M.Sc. International Business
Copenhagen Business School, 24. November 2008
Driven by globalisation and cultural and social changes, the international luxury industry in the 21st century is facing multiple new challenges. These include fast fashion, counterfeiting, maturing new markets, the casual consumer, western existentialism and democratised luxury. At the same time globalisation has opened channels of international communication and allowed us the opportunity to question how design and clothing production decisions affects the people and the planet we all share.
As fashion can be seen as a nonverbal form of communication responding to what is going on in the world, it functions as a tangible tool for communicating ideas and concepts. Corporate Social
Responsibility (CSR) covers a wide range of aspects related to social, environmental and ethical concerns. In the sense that CSR is a rapidly emerging trend in a wide range of industries; luxury fashion as well is forced to recognize both potential and obstacles. In this light the fashion industry can be observed as trying to capture the trend of growing CSR awareness among consumers, by manipulating the product attributes. In many ways CSR as a mainstream concept seem to be conflicting with the quintessential notion of exclusivity which luxury fashion rests upon. Accordingly, the paradoxial relationship between CSR and exclusivity offers some interesting considerations. This leads us to to wonder;
How have product-attributes of luxury fashion developed, and does CSR offer a competitive luxury attribute?
Fine and Leopold (1993) present two directions for clothing: “like food, clothing has always been a necessity as well as a luxury”. Veblen has a similar distinction, though he sees it as dress and clothing, where clothing is the functional, necessity of physical comfort and dress is the luxury element which he refers to as the reputable appearance. A contrary and more modern interpretation is expressed by a range of researchers. For Dana Thomas “luxury is about pleasing yourself, not dressing for other people” (Thomas 2007). While Gilles Lipovetskys considers the attributes of luxury as being “comfort, the body, the self, individualism, and conformity”. As for the French professor Chevalier, the three success factors that must be obtained when building a strong luxury brand is 1) a strong name and status, 2) a product that can be identified and 3) a brand which is in line with the cultural and social trends.
The similarity of the modern interpretations of what luxury constitute, is that luxury is targeted on an individual level and does not include environmental and social concerns that occur on a macro level in the economy. This synopsis will describe the historical development of luxury fashion in order to evaluate the potential of CSR as a luxury product attribute.
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In the late 1800s and the beginning of 20th century fashions developed by the few haute couture companies at that time, were adopted by the upper classes and by women with working-class origins who participated in the social life of the upper class and gradually the middle classes. Women changed multiple times a day and attended a range of social events to keep up their luxury lifestyle and social prestige. This elite-oriented fashion system implied strict rules among the designers which evolved in a centralized system of fashion creation and production with a high level of consensus among the designers (Crane 2000, Thomas 2007).
Due to social and cultural changes, haute couture is no longer appropriate to most lifestyles and creating it is not as lucrative as it used to be (Jones 2005). Davis implies that the creation of fashion is a less mechanic process than what the trickle-down theory constitutes. Instead of the social