Growing Ferocity of Competition

Couture was not profitable after World War I; its client base dwindled further during the Depression of the 1930s. Designers tried to control copying of their designs and sometimes produced lower-priced replicas of their own exclusive models. Design piracy has long been a plague for clothing manufacturers and designers, but no tactics seem to stop it, especially when consumers are ea ger for the latest fashions at the lowest possible prices. The spending of fickle teenaged customers, anxious to look like popular entertainers, accelerates the pace of fashion change.

For a time after World War II, couture houses licensed their names to other firms to produce lower-priced clothing merchandise and accessories. Some ventured into men's wear, with limited success. In Europe and North America, the number of establishments producing fine custom-made clothing and the number of customers that bought it had declined. Demand continues to shrink for complex and costly custom-made apparel such as elaborately embroidered or beaded garments. To the extent that such clothing is still produced, production moves to India and other Asian countries.

By the late twentieth century, large European corporations, some outside the apparel business, competed to buy Paris couture houses and leading Italian design firms, while other high-end design houses gobbled up each other. Sales of expensive apparel and luxury accessories to wealthy people and entertainers all over the world burgeoned in the 1990s' economic boom. Designer-name firms outdid each other by opening showy retail stores, designed by avant-garde architects, in major cities around the world, but some of these stores attracted more lookers than purchasers and soon closed. Young design-school graduates from England, Belgium, New York, California, and elsewhere started their own small firms; only a lucky few achieved enough recognition or financial backing to stay in business.

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