The Strength of Forgotten Brands

It might come as a surprise, but heritage sells. In this increasingly connected and newness-obsessed world, traditional heritage brands are being resurrected from the past, and old icons are generating some serious revenue.  

In the case of treasured early-20th century brands like Schiaparelli, Vionnet, Lanvin, and most recently Patou – all it took was updating the creative narrative by weaving stories of the past into the present with a fresh point of view, and celebrating the brand’s iconic founders in the process. 

So even if today’s social media generation is tapping into young, and so-called “disruptive” luxury brands – brands such as Off-White and the infamous VETEMENTS – heritage brands are undoubtedly still successfully tugging at our purse strings. All the more reason to believe that dormant brands – such as Patou, which debuted its first collection under Guillaume Henry this season in Paris, after a 30-year-long hiatus – could be the industry’s next big cash cows. 

Speaking of which, oddly enough, Guillaume Henry seems to be considered the luxury’s industry “revival expert.” After previously relaunching Carven’s ready-to-wear line in 2009 and making it a commercial success, he was tapped by Nina Ricci in 2015, before taking the reins at Patou this year. Courrèges had a similar fate: first being relaunched in 2014 by Coperni’s Arnaud Vaillant and Sébastien Meyer, it’s now continuing its course with Yolanda Zobel at its creative helm. As for Haute Couture brand Schiaparelli, its current creative director Daniel Roseberry, just introduced his first ready-to-wear collection for the brand – which is Schiaparelli’s second ready-to-wear collection ever to be designed. 

Vanguard brands, such as Dior, have weathered economic crises and wars and are thriving today. Part of their secret sauce involves bringing their oldies but goodies back into the spotlight. The Saddle bag’s success story, in fact, is the very proof that heritage can generate some serious income. The it-bag was first released under John Galliano in 1999 but managed to enjoy a second wave of success almost 20 years later when it broke the Internet in July 2018 via 100 influencers who simultaneously posted photos of themselves with the re-released model on social media. It was a success that has contributed considerably to make the fashion and leather goods sector of LVMH its fastest growing unit in 2018, with an organic revenue growth of 15% and profit from recurring operations up 21%. 

But the phenomenon of heritage brands “living happily ever after” is not just a Parisian reality: Gucci experienced a similar success story recently, with the Cruise 2020 re-edition its 1955 Horsebit bag. It was the fastest sell-out in the brand’s history. According to the 2019 Global Power of Luxury Goods Report by Deloitte, Valentino is the fastest-growing luxury brand, as reports show that its sales surged by $1 billion between 2013 and the end of 2018. Giada was basically a local Milanese name until it was acquired in 2011 by China’s Redstone Haute Couture (the same group that brought Valentino, Ferragamo, and Saint Laurent to China). The brand now boasts key selling points worldwide, with a major presence in China and its first store in the US. “Chinese consumers are looking for a European name they can trust,” a company representative said. Giada’s trajectory proves international investors are looking more and more into exploring the commercial potential of what we call heritage.  

So why exactly is the luxury industry so obsessed with reviving the past – and why do we buy into it? According to Delphine Dion, a professor at the Paris-based ESSEC Business School and who specializes in luxury branding and customer experience, it’s psychological: “Heritage brands enable a strong sense of collective nostalgia, which ultimately culminates in building customer craving and customer trust,” Dion explained. Her studies highlight two types of dormant brands: those that have kept a strong reputation on the market as they are part of our collective memory, and those that almost no one remembers. And, against all expectations, it’s the obscure, lesser known, and perhaps the more dormant ones that may prove to be more profitable when relaunched. A lot of it depends on the storytelling that goes along with it. 

According to Dion, “brand awareness can be a hindrance to relaunching a dormant brand.” The ability to re-build a dormant brand’s reputation not on its actual legacy, but on the rather emotional, vague nostalgia that its name evokes, is what makes it possible to successfully integrate such a brand into today’s collective memory – and what ensures its commercial success. 

In other words, the less we know, the better: Dion’s studies show that the potential success of a resurrected brand is determined by the absence of a ubiquity. “Marketing managers can basically define a new brand strategy that’s in-tune with the expectations of our generation, and also select the most relevant characteristics from the brand’s heritage,” Dion added. “They can avoid the risk of being confronted with customer criticism that may emerge if the dormant brand has kept its strong reputation and potential customers thus do not recognize the brand of the past.” Now it’s up to the newly-launched Patou to prove if this marketing strategy really works on the long haul. 

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