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 soupcon of fashion and a dash of smart and voila - we have style.
By Susan Nelson, Executive Director, Consumer Insights
Stylish is one of those concepts we know when we see it. And in the midst of Mercede-Benz Fashion Week in New York, it will be defined and redefined 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),(1) 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, subbrands, 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
- Bugle Boy
- L.A. Gear
- Liz Claiborne
- Ralph Lauren
- Calvin Klein
- The Limited
- Victoria's Secret
- Ralph Lauren
- Nine West
- Calvin Klein
- Manolo Blahnik
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Polo/Ralph Lauren
- Louis Vuitton
- Dolce & Gabbana
- Old Navy
- Vera Wang
- Eddie Bauer
- 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?
1. In the mid-1980s Landor recognized that all brands, regardless of category, country, or target audience, seemed to live by certain rules. To understand those rules and describe the strongest brands, we developed ImagePower®, the world’s first cross-category, multicountry study of brands. In the early 1990s, the ImagePower study was expanded from a few key measures of brand stature to the largest study of brands in the world. To date, BAV is in 48 countries, covers some 30,000 brands, conducts interviews with more than 500,000 consumers, and includes hundreds of brand metrics and attitudinal questions. BAV is currently run by Young & Rubicam Brands, a consortium of companies that includes Landor.
About the author
As executive director of consumer insights in the San Francisco office of Landor Associates and the global insights leader for Landor, Susan Nelson works with strategists, client directors, and designers to develop insightful brand strategy and identity programs that drive success by meeting customer needs. She leads a team of insights professionals with backgrounds in market research, brand planning, and innovation. Susan has over 25 years’ experience in global brand research and brand strategy, 12 of those years at Landor, working in both San Francisco and London. At Landor she has been instrumental in developing the insights offer and trains Landor staff worldwide in research methods and the BrandAsset® Valuator. Her Landor clients include Bank of the West, BP, British Midland Airways, Brocade, Citigroup, Del Monte, FedEx, Freixenet, Frito-Lay, and Samsung. Previously, Susan worked for Addison Design in London, New York, and San Francisco, and for Enterprise IG in a variety of brand strategy and research roles. Susan is a regularly quoted speaker on branding and research and has spoken at numerous conferences and seminars. She currently writes a monthly commentary for the online journal Marketing Daily on a variety of branding issues. Susan holds a BA in sociology from the University of California, Davis, and attended the sociology masters program at the State University of New York at Buffalo.This article was first published in Marketing Daily (17 February 2009).