If the ever-in-the-know fashion industry was asked to write its top 100 list of luxury brands, it might look very different from the ranking that appears here — at least, in some cases. But this survey is not meant to be a defining list, nor does the ranking reflect the size, the sales or the market penetration of companies and brands traditionally defined as “luxury.” Rather, it is a nationwide poll of affluent women, from Madison Avenue to Madison, Wis., that attempts to measure not, “Which is a luxury brand and which isn’t?” but rather, “How do consumers perceive the image of a brand?” And because WWD chose not to define the term “luxury” in its poll, some names ranked very high in the final listing that don’t, strictly speaking, fit the standard definition of a luxury brand.
Names like Estee Lauder, Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Ray-Ban, Guess, Anne Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and Liz Claiborne, which appear on our ranking — sometimes above brands whose whole history has been synonymous with luxury — have a few different factors influencing their perception, including longevity, extensive advertising, selective distribution, a general perception of quality or all of the above. In other words, those names are recognized by a huge number of women with relatively high incomes. So while those aren’t, strictly speaking, luxury companies, the company name was recognized by large numbers of respondents and also rated as “luxury” by enough people to give it prominence on the list. While those results might cause a few eyebrows to twitch, keep in mind that this broad national poll reflects not the specific viewpoint of the fashion world, but rather the general perception of American women.
Another point to consider: Never underestimate the lingering power of mass media in the consumer’s mind. Names that have plugged into the celebrity machine, especially via Hollywood — Vera Wang, Bob Mackie, Halston and Badgley Mischka — score surprisingly higher than some of fashion’s biggest powerhouses. That’s no doubt due to their high media visibility and the simple fact that America equates red-carpet glamour with some aspect of luxury.