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Saint Laurent vs Colette: A case study in how not to defend your brand

yslAbout a year ago a t-shirt reading ‘Ain’t Laurent Without Yves’ surfaced in response to the Yves Saint Laurent’s choice to lose the Yves from the name of their brand. It was just the latest creation from the streetwear industry that has long borrowed inspiration from the world of high fashion. The Parisian boutique Colette ordered 300 shirts to sell online and in their store. Hedi Slimane, the Saint Laurent creative director, contacted Collette requesting the removal of the shirts from the online shop, to which they complied, but decided to sell the remaining shirts in their in-store. Then on September 25 YSL sent Collette a letter accusing them of selling counterfeit products that ‘seriously damaged’ the brand and that YSL was going to end their 15-year business relationship.

I thought the shirt was funny and some of YSL’s own brand touch points like their Twitter feed still read ‘YVES’ Saint Laurent support the point that the shirt was trying to make that the brand were making a mistake by trying to erase their founder. I also understand why its well within YSL’s right to protect the cachet of the brand but I was shocked that YSL decided to go so over the top in their reaction. Even if you believe that somehow people would confuse these shirts with YSL’s designs – why wouldn’t they  go after the producers of the parody  instead of the independent retailers who sell them? That would be an action everyone would understand and it wouldn’t make their brand look like a pouting child who chose to take their toys form the best design lead store in the world and went home.

But I think the issue here is how antiquated YSL’s reaction is for a modern brand – especially a modern luxury brand. The age of experiental currency driven social media that has completely shifted consumers relationships of brands.Brand can’t be so one side and so fragile that they can’t interact with society in any way except on their terms. This is a design that equally publicize and profit off of them so why wouldn’t you look at this as an opportunity to open up your brand, REALLY give it a new image and make the brand transformation more than just losing part of the name. I would save the temper tantrums and legal action for the fakes that pollute Canal Street here in NYC and streets like it all over the world.

All of this also only reinforces my opinion that luxury fashion brands in spite of the power of their brands and their ability to influence culture consistently remain among the worst at how they build relationships with their consumers and how they use modern branding channels like digital. They need to figure out ways that they can maintain the cache of their brands while creating engagement and communities around those brands. They need to understand that modern brands are made up of collections of experiences that can be brought to life through digital channels and shouldn’t be reduced to just a logo and visual language. So I hope that other luxury brands can look at this, look at what the reaction has been to YSL’s actions and understand that they need to find brand strategies that are as progressive and modern as their designs.

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