Is fashion moving beyond brands?

It was the show of the fall 2014 runway season.

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, luxury fashion oracle, transformed Paris’ Grand Palais into the most banal of locales — a supermarket — and stocked the shelves with thousands of bespoke, Chanel-branded “groceries.”

Browsing the Coco Flakes, Jardin de Gabrielle canned peas, No. H20 Eau Minerale and Cambon jambon, I was reminded of “Project Runway” designer Christian Siriano’s collaboration with O-Cel-O on a line of cleaning sponges. The partnership was announced in 2010, when fashion had started to creep into every corner of our lives, including the kitchen sink. It was on TV; on the big screen; at Starbucks, where designer coffee mugs were sold, even the drugstore, where Cynthia Rowley, Marc Jacobs and others imparted their aesthetics to Band-Aids and condoms.

And fashion’s infiltration of the culture has only continued to grow: a record-setting Michael Kors initial public offering, a style blog star performing on Broadway, First Lady Michelle Obama cutting the ribbon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s renovated Costume Institute, a new high-low design collaboration landing every minute.


Fashion needed to be taken down a notch. It was time to put down the platinum card, take a deep breath and get some perspective.

That’s what Lagerfeld gave us with his supermarket sweep. He played with the ubiquity of fashion in pop culture and the sanctity of Chanel as a luxury brand valued at more than $10 billion. When it came to accessories — the addictive salty snacks of the luxury diet — some models at the Grand Palais carried Chanel chain-link shopping baskets, and others had heavy Chanel padlock necklaces chained around their necks. He was poking fun at our insatiable appetite for luxury and feeding it at the same time. Signs on the walls didn’t post discounts, but price hikes of "+30 percent” and "+50 percent.”

And Lagerfeld wasn’t the only one winking at fashion’s feeding frenzy during the fall shows.

For several years now, streetwear labels Brian Lichtenberg, Ssur and This Is Not New have been parodying luxury brand names and logos as symbols of status and wealth on slogan T-shirts, casual hoodies and hats (“Homies” instead of Hermès, “Ballin” instead of Balmain and so on). Designers are skewering fashion and branding in general. In his fall collection, Lichtenberg took aim at “white trash elements” Marlboro, Bud Light and Yamaha, twisting the brand names and splashing them on motocross-inspired sportswear.


Moschino designer Jeremy Scott had fun with McDonald’s golden arches, appropriating the fast-food symbol as a stand-in for the Moschino “M” on handbags and iPhone covers resembling French fry boxes, and designing shirtdresses and visors reminiscent of food service industry uniforms. By making a capsule collection of some of the styles available the next day, Scott poked fun at the notion of fast fashion and beat knockoff artists at their own game.

London designer Anya Hindmarch also turned the ordinary into the extraordinary. Expanding on her handbag hit from spring, a $1,595 riff on a Walkers potato chip foil packet made using 3-D design technology and Italian metalworking craftsmanship, her Counter Culture fall collection included a series of clutches and totes emblazoned with Kellogg’s supermarket icons, Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger and the Corn Flakes clucking cockerels among them.

For those who don’t want to be walking billboards for Kellogg’s, McDonald’s/Moschino or Chanel, the fall offerings also include an alternative diet of understated fashion. Newly freed from his post as artistic director of mega-brand Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs went back to basics in his namesake collection, a palate-cleanser of spare-looking tunic tops and leggings with a futuristic flair, some with swirling bands of beading or undulating waves of chiffon bringing to mind the spare Western landscape of Georgia O’Keeffe country.

Michael Kors brought back the rich hippie look with haute slouch wear, including culottes and longer-length skirts anchored by chunky, nondescript clogs. The Row’s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen also reveled in ultra-luxe simplicity, or as they call it, “anonymous clothing,” showing austere tailored separates and chunky layered knits. Simple ‘60s shifts at Gucci and Vuitton; feminine coats, long skirts and camel sweaters at Céline; and spare-looking, polished leather bucket bags and satchels by Mansur Gavriel and Myriam Schaefer all suggest a growing desire for clothes that speak quietly and last longer.

Designers seem to want to reach women who have had their fill of fashion’s never-ending checkout counter, who don’t necessarily want to be recognized, labeled or photographed for a style blog. Call them the “normcore” crowd, the Generation Z kids raised on Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” and Lorde’s “Royals,” or today’s answer to the 1990s antifashion movement.

Fashion is poised for change, just as consuming and shopping are changing. Some industry experts predict we could be entering a post-brand era. (Perhaps the hyper-commoditized Chanel show was meant to suggest a tipping point.)

There are countless studies that suggest that millennials place less emphasis on ownership and more on experience (which could be why many luxury fashion brands are entering the travel business).

Sharing, not shopping, is increasingly part of the culture, whether it’s on Instagram or through Airbnb and Uber. And the idea is starting to filter into fashion. There are several websites that let shoppers rent clothes, including RentTheRunway for formalwear, NextSuit for 30-day business-suit rental, and LeTote, an unlimited monthly wardrobe rental service starting at $49 that aims to be Netflix for fashion.


Other new platforms are letting people into the design process. The website Tinker Tailor lets customers customize luxury apparel from 80 designers, including Marchesa and Rodarte.

With today’s renewed enthusiasm for customization and self-expression, in the future we may all be designers, if only for a Warholian 15 minutes. And big brands may no longer be at the top of the food chain.

Adidas just started offering a new service that lets shoppers emblazon sneakers with their own patterns, using an Instagram customization app. Print All Over Me is offering a similar service for apparel, and NailSnaps for nail decals. Three-dimensional printing marketplace Shapeways is already assisting producers of millions of user-designed items, and Amazon just launched its online store offering customizable 3-D printed products. When 3-D printers become commonplace household items, making your own version of Coco Flakes could be as easy as booting up your computer.

If we are all designers, why shouldn’t we all be our own brands too? Welcome to the era of Me-commerce. And for the record, I’ll be calling my perfume Booth No. 5.

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