Our Changing View Of Style

Stylish. What a word: fashionable, chic, modish, trendy, smart. It seems to sum up so much of what we care about in our brands. Take a bit of trendy, add a soupçon of fashion and a dash of smart and voilà - we have style.


Stylish is one of those concepts we know when we see it. And in the midst of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, it will be defined and re-defined by the world's hottest designers who will set the fashion bar for the coming year. But, what does the American public consider stylish? Which brands lead in the stylish stakes? And how has that changed?

To answer these questions we tapped into the BrandAsset Valuator (BAV) Landor's powerful brand research tool. BAV, the world's largest study of brands (3,000 brands in the United States alone), is based on the knowledge that strong brands share some fundamental traits. We measure product brands, company brands, sub-brands, celebrity brands, not-for-profits. They are all there. We started collecting data in 1993 and have done so yearly since.



Top 15 Most Stylish Brands

1. Levi's1. Victoria's Secret
2. Nike 2. Ralph Lauren
3. Bugle Boy 3. Nine West
4. Guess 4. Calvin Klein
5. L.A. Gear 5. Coach
6. Liz Claiborne 6. Manolo Blahnik
7. Dockers 7. Tommy Hilfiger
8. Ralph Lauren     
8. Polo/Ralph Lauren    
9. Reebok 9. Louis Vuitton
10. Gap 10. Dolce & Gabbana
11. Jordache 11. Nike
12. Jaguar 12. Old Navy
13. Porsche 13. Vera Wang
14. Calvin Klein 14. Eddie Bauer
15. The Limited 15. Donna Karan

A couple of overall patterns are clear. We have a circumscribed view of what is stylish in our society; apparel and high-end cars make the grade but household goods, non-apparel retailers, consumer packaged goods, and consumer electronics don't. Further, we believe founder-named designer brands are stylish and praise brands speaking directly to the young and/or the affluent.

Although these fundamental principles remain constant, major changes in our understanding of what is stylish have occurred in the past 15 years. In 1993, there was a distinctly sporty, even utilitarian feel to our Top 15 list: Levi's, Nike, Dockers, L.A. Gear, Reebok, Gap. Maybe the emergence of the "Get Physical" fitness culture colored our view of style.

Also, we saw some new brands just wading into the "fast fashion" waters: Bugle Boy, L.A. Gear, Jordache. Fun, sporty, and denim, these rising stars turned out to be shooting stars as by now they are practically out of business. Bugle Boy declared bankruptcy in 2001. L.A. Gear had all but disappeared by 2004, and Jordache, while still existing as a company, manufactures and sells more jeans under other brand names than its own. The lesson here: Stylish alone does not ensure longevity. It may be a necessary attribute for an apparel brand, but certainly not a sufficient one.

Moving right along to 2008, the Most Stylish brand list has taken a distinctly more international, prestigious, and definitely sexy look. Leading the pack is the iconic Victoria's Secret - fun, sexy, and with wide appeal.

Nine of the Top 15 are designer-named brands compared to only three in 1993. And those nine are mostly European and true luxury brands: Manolo Blahnik, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, and Vera Wang. In 1993, only Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren waved that flag - both American designers offering products at a broad range of price points.

Our sporty and pretty down-to-earth Most Stylish 1993 list, led by Levi's and Nike, had by 2008 evolved into a stratospheric price point and higher status category. Only the more down-to-earth Nike, Old Navy, and Eddie Bauer brands remain. I can hardly wait to see what our 2009 data looks like. Will our definition of stylish brands return to earth with the crashing economy? Or will the most stylish brands remain mostly aspirational?

Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, contact Nina Lentini.

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