The name debate: should you name your fashion label after yourself?
Designer names such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tory Burch and Donna Karan, stand out in the fashion industry not only for being distinguished luxury designers, but for being distinguished luxury brands. What’s different about these brands from others is that the brand name mirrors that of the designer himself/herself. Recent debate has sparked the question of whether young designers should continue to create their own namesake labels?
Donna Karan, former chief designer at Donna Karan International shared the difficulty of operating a company that shares her name. “It’s hard to be a name and a brand,” she said. “I would open everybody’s letters because it would say ‘Donna Karan’ and I thought it belonged to me. People would say ‘Donna, that’s mine!’ It was a name that belonged to more people than me.”
Mistaking others’ mail for your own is just one small point in the namesake argument. Susan Scafidi, fashion law professor at Fordham University and founder of the Fashion Law Institute advises student designers against using their own names. She comments: “[The] Fashion industry is filled with designers who put their names on the label, brought on an investor or backer, split from that investor and walked nameless into the night leaving behind their name. When you put your name on a label that is a corporation and no longer belongs to you. It can be personally painful to have to walk away from your name.”
International fashion designer Roy Halston sold the rights to his name when he was bought by Norton Simons Industries in 1973. While Halston’s brand was ripe through licensing deals he had no say over business decisions regarding his line.
Some have the option to start a new venture under a different name – for example, Kate Spade left her company a year after it was acquired by Neiman Marcus back in 2006. Over time, Kate Spade & Co. grew into a global lifestyle brand, while Kate Spade herself is currently working on a new shoe and handbag line (Frances Valentine).
Unlike Scafidi, luxury fashion brand consultant Steven Dennis, sees the benefit of having a namesake line, but only if you possess a strong personality that can support the brand. He comments: “If you’re a designer who doesn’t have any particular story around why the brand should be named after you, then I would question that strategy. Is adding your name hurting or helping you?”