James adjusting one of his designs in 1948

 

I'm fascinated by the seemingly superhuman power of "the brand" – omnipotent, immortal, worshipped in temples to retail across the world.

In fashion, branding is next to godliness. Many people have blind faith in its power, the latest demonstration of which comes on the back of the Charles James exhibition at New York's Met museum. American mogul Harvey Weinstein has struck a deal to license his name.

"Charles James was one of the most incredible couturiers in the history of fashion," read Weinstein's grandiose statement. "We are beyond thrilled to be spearheading the revival of this brand." There's that word again.

It raises a simple question: why throw money after the revival of an old name, rather than helping build a young designer to an international level of success?

Weinstein obviously hopes to capitalise on the publicity generated by the Met exhibition – the fact that James's name is fresh in the public consciousness, alongside what that name, that "brand", stands for.

The allusions behind the brand are how designer names such as Dior and Chanel leverage themselves, stamping their identities across disparate products. Monsieur Dior was a famous licensee, building his house into a commercial monolith.

And James? James died in poverty, having created barely a thousand exquisitely wrought, one-off garments, each one a masterpiece. Women bought a James gown not because of the name on the label, but because of the man behind it. It was the brain, not the brand, that seduced. Unless they manage to bag a similar, prodigiously talented genius to helm it with conviction, I'm not sure it will again.

Comments