The nineties

The 1990s was a decade of explosive global consumption of modern luxury fashion goods, spearheaded by the vast expenditure of Japanese and Middle Eastern consumers on luxury goods. As a result, the majority of the existing luxury brands launched international market operations, notably in Japan. Luxury brands also expanded their product portfolios and placed increased emphasis on accessories like leather goods and jewellery, in response to consumer demand.

The decade also witnessed rapid developments in the competitive structure of the luxury goods industry, which led to the adoption of advanced fashion management practices. The most noteworthy of these developments is the reinforcement of the luxury brand's equity as an intangible asset generator for luxury companies. This recognition of the important role of the 'branding' factor in the performance of luxury companies led to the revival of staid brands like British brands Burberry and Mulberry and the rise of other brands like the Italian brand Roberto Cavalli.

Also, for the first time in centuries, Britain, which is considered the global centre of business services rather than fashion, began to take fashion seriously with the recognition of the huge corporate potential of the luxury goods sector. Efforts in this regard include the establishment of The British Fashion Council in 1991, to protect and support the interests of the British fashion sector and to discourage talented British designers from leaving the country. British fashion schools like Central St Martin's College of Art and Design, London, were also highly promoted as a centre of learning and fashion excellence.

An additional change in the luxury competitive environment was the gradual lowering of the high entry barrier of the luxury goods sector. This was made possible partly as a result of the interest of external non-luxury companies in funding new brands and acquiring old ones. Consequently, brands like Ozwald Boateng, Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo were launched in 1990, 1992 and 1996, respectively. They also paved the way for the 2001 launch of the Stella McCartney brand.

The management methods of luxury fashion brands was also highly affected by the rapid growth and influence of LVMH, the first luxury goods conglomerate with a portfolio of more than 50 brands including Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, among several others. LVMH's success led to the emergence of a new luxury goods sub-sector and other conglomerates and corporate brands like the Gucci Group, Richemont and the Prada Group.

In response to growing competition, luxury brands also focused on product retailing by adopting the strategy of colossal 'cathedral-type' retail stores, with great emphasis on architectural design. Several innovations were also made in selling strategies in addition to store design and atmosphere as tools for representing the brand image. These include the use of advanced information technology in inventory management and control and in tracking product stock and delivery. Technology also provided a new channel of retail and distribution through the Internet. However, the dotcom crash of the late 1990s highlighted by the failure of the first fashion e-retail start-up company, boo.com, discouraged the adoption of Internet retailing during this decade. The Internet, however, affected other aspects of fashion such as the influence of celebrities like Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Hurley on a global level.

The 1990s was also the decade that launched the luxury services sub-sector in response to the increasing business needs of luxury brands. The company that pioneered this sector was Atlantic Publishing Ltd London, owned by James Ogilvy, which publishes the pioneer luxury industry journal, Luxury Briefing. The journal was launched as a response to the market size expansion and competitive structure changes which called for specialized market information and analysis.

Another significant fashion market change of the 1990s was in the mass fashion division but with a direct impact on the luxury fashion sector. The mass fashion sector grew rapidly as a result of advanced manufacturing, designing and retailing techniques. Brands like Zara from Spain, H&M from Sweden and Top Shop from Britain began to produce catwalk-style fashion at low cost, offering consumers luxury fashion alternatives at significantly lower prices. Their fashion goods were instantly embraced by global fashion consumers, leading to swift success. Their presence in the fashion market also led to a dramatic change in luxury fashion consumption attitudes, as had never been witnessed in the history of fashion. These changes have been more prevalent in the noughties.

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