Compared with 2004's survey, there has been little movement in the designer-specific rankings this year, but that doesn't imply that executives at fashion brands have rested on their laurels. To remain at the top of consumers' minds, designers have been strategizing to get their names across in as many ways as possible.
This is the era of the celebrity endorsement in fashion, and many of the designer top 10 have capitalized on this trend. Brands have tapped stars for their advertising efforts, dressed them in extravagant gowns for the red carpet or outfitted entire movie casts. Brands create uniforms for restaurants and design hotels, and some designers, like Tommy Hilfiger, become stars themselves with frequent TV appearances.
Designers have spread their wings beyond traditional sportswear and ready-to-wear, and customers appear to be responding.
It's been another banner year for Calvin Klein, the highest-ranked sportswear company on the overall list, at number seven. The designer brand also maintained its top position on the designer-specific top 10.
Since Phillips-Van Heusen bought the fashion house in 2003, it has been working to absorb the label, and the house seems to have found a groove, having effectively strengthened its three tiers — the designer Calvin Klein Collection, the ck Calvin Klein bridge label and the core Calvin Klein better-priced label. Francisco Costa, who designs the top-tier Collection, received generally good reviews for his last two collections, and the bridge and better lines designed by Kevin Carrigan have been well-received by retailers and consumers and are considered among the more successful launches in department stores.
The founding designer was a master provocateur, and the company continues to create buzz. When Hilary Swank had a last-minute change of heart and chose Guy Laroche for the red carpet on Oscar night over Calvin Klein, which she had made a commitment to wear, it was widely considered a snub. But from a marketing perspective, Calvin Klein scored big: Swank's action resulted in dozens of press hits, keeping the Klein brand in the forefront of consumers' minds — more so, in fact, than the label Swank ended up wearing.
Calvin Klein's future is busy: It's opening stores in Europe and recently signed a deal with an affiliate of Fingen SpA to develop the ck Calvin Klein bridge collection in Europe and the Middle East. In June, Calvin Klein proved yet again that it can think outside the box, designing the uniforms at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's hot new eatery, Perry St., under the better label.The rankings are not always an indication of the general health of a business, as in the case of Tommy Hilfiger. Hilfiger's H launch at Federated Department Stores was far from successful and it's now being retracted to focus on company-owned retail stores. Yet Hilfiger, who bought the Karl Lagerfeld business this year, still managed to secure second place in the top 10.
Hilfiger has had a little help from friends with a lot of star wattage. In the past year, he tapped Beyoncé Knowles and Enrique Iglesias as the faces for the new fragrances True Star Women and True Star Men, respectively. Hilfiger's own star can only rise in the coming months: He launched a reality TV show, "The Cut" on CBS, guaranteed to bring his name — and brand — to a whole new audience.
If there is one designer who doesn't need a reality show for name recognition, it's Ralph Lauren.
Remaining in the third seat this year, the Lauren brand continues to build on its image of American style, though Lauren, too, has had support from Hollywood and beyond. In the past year, "Phantom of the Opera" star Emmy Rossum has worn Lauren's designs to many red-carpet events.
The designer and his brand will become even more recognized by consumers come September, when the label's four-year partnership with the United States Tennis Association takes full effect. That's when 86 million viewers worldwide will see Polo as the official apparel sponsor of the U.S. Open tennis tournament and supplier of shirts and outfits for all on-court officials.
Gucci, still in fourth place, is a company in transition. Gucci is trying to get back into the swing of things after Tom Ford's departure last year and designer Alessandra Facchinetti's short and abruptly ended stint at the design helm. But Gucci had Frida Giannini in the wings. She developed the Flora accessories collection, which became a must-have for the fall season and kept the Gucci name on everyone's lips. As a result of that hit collection, Giannini was promoted and now oversees accessories and women's ready-to-wear.
Christian Dior holds steady at number five, thanks to John Galliano's continued efforts to wow the fashion faithful with innovative and extravagant collections and powerful advertising images. In recent seasons, his designs have become much more wearable, which is sure to widen his consumer base. The brand is also helped by the fact that of-the-moment singer and actress Gwen Stefani dons Galliano's Dior designs at every red-carpet opportunity.Chanel moved up one notch this year to number six. The privately owned house continues to get women to dream about its luxurious tweed suits, leather-quilted accessories and quality cosmetics. Chanel no doubt struck a chord with consumers by tapping Hollywood A-lister Nicole Kidman for its No.5 perfume campaign. But it's designer Karl Lagerfeld whose cult of personality and ever-growing popularity may be the largest contributor to Chanel's success. The house also scored some recognition this year with a major retrospective at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Anne Klein jumped a spot to number seven, a sign that the company is quietly strengthening its operation from within, without much fanfare. Executives at the Jones Apparel Group-owned brand are busy reinstating Anne Klein's core values that built the company. Anne Klein is increasing its international business with department and specialty stores and is also looking to build its accessories assortment.
Number-eight Giorgio Armani might be remembered as the designer to reinvent fashion in Hollywood, and he is sure to continue on this path, especially since he launched his first couture collection, Armani Privé. The designer is also getting serious about spreading his wings elsewhere. He recently signed a deal with EMAAR Hotels & Resorts and has plans to open seven luxury hotels and three vacation resorts over the next 10 years, starting in Dubai and Milan.
The most intriguing entry is Pierre Cardin, who returns to the top 10 positioned at number nine after failing to make the cut last year. Cardin has some 800 licensed products, but hasn't had a major product launch or particular marketing strategy to draw the attention of American consumers this year. That said, he launched a fragrance recently, and he may be reaping the benefits of fashion's growing obsession with all things vintage. The 83-year-old maverick couturier continues to shop around his business, and although he says he's been offered as much as 500 million euros, $607 million at current exchange, he continues to hold out for more money. "I know what I'm worth," he told WWD this spring.
Perhaps the biggest changes are in store for Oscar de la Renta, in 10th position on the list. The rtw designer, who is celebrating 40 years in business, has kicked into full gear in the past few years, building his accessories and home assortments and opening stores. Next up is a global agenda, and de la Renta has plans to take his idea of chic abroad with stores in Madrid, Moscow, Paris and London. The fact that First Lady Laura Bush has been wearing the designer's creations at official functions has surely helped raise awareness of the label.
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