Mark Ritson on branding: Mary Quant is proof that we all have to move on

If you are in London for the January sales, can I suggest a quick pit-stop? Just across the road from Harrods in trendy Knightsbridge is a lovely tree-lined road called Montpelier Street. Immediately on your left, tucked between the sandwich shops and cafes, is a boutique bearing the name Mary Quant. It is a small shop - more than six customers makes it feels crowded - and it contains a limited combination of clothing, accessories, handbags and cosmetics. Yet it is a shop that presents marketers with an invaluable lesson in brand management.

Thirty years ago Mary Quant was at her zenith. She was set to launch the mini-skirt on an unsuspecting world and her designs were a global sensation. By 1969 it was estimated that more than 7m people owned at least one item bearing the designer's daisy logo. Despite its global appeal, Mary Quant was indelibly linked with London, a brand that came wrapped up in the cultural attraction of the swinging 60s.

Quant herself was an iconic figure who took great pleasure in breaking the conservative rules of women's fashion, once famously dyeing her pubic hair green and referring to this taboo area as 'the crutch' during an interview with The Guardian.

What happened next was as predictable as it was avoidable. The very strength and ubiquity of the Quant name became its weakness. Because Mary Quant had been so successful during the 60s, the brand became associated with the decade, and when the fashion scene moved inexorably on to the 70s and 80s, Mary Quant was left behind. The iconic designs that made it first cutting edge, and then contemporary, finally made it seem stale. Even loyal customers did the brand no favours at all. Their continued patronage meant that as they aged, so did the brand. New, younger customers were turned off by this brand gentrification and sought their fashions elsewhere.

Today, the Montpelier Street shop and two other small boutiques in Paris and New York are all that is left. Since 2000 the Japanese have been running the brand, with the result that the price tags of Mary Quant cosmetics and accessories are now displayed in yen, with the equivalent in sterling written beneath.

Mary Quant has ultimately become everything it was not. Where once the brand was British, now it is Japanese; where once it was contemporary, now it is historic; where once its fashions were the centre of the brand, the make-up range is now its focus. It used to be the label of choice for those at the epicentre of international fashion, but now its London store merely attracts a sad little flow of retired English women and Japanese tourists. Ironically, this reversal of fortune was caused by a fixation on brand consistency and an inability to recognise and embrace change.

Good brand management is not simply a matter of keeping everything from the logo to the product consistent. A good brand manager must also strive to reinterpret brand equity as times, competitors and customers change around them.

One way of doing this is by dragging an old, iconic brand such as Burberry or Bentley back into the light with a dramatic strategic revitalisation.

However, a better approach is to implement a continual revitalisation of the brand in which new customers are wooed at the expense of short-term sales, and the iconic elements of the brand are excised in favour of contemporary but brand-consistent designs.

The truly great brand managers are those who are unable to rest on their laurels and who perceive the successes of the present as the biggest challenge for the future. A walk up Montpelier Street is a sad but vital journey.

- Mark Ritson is assistant professor of marketing at London Business School


- Immortalised as the originator of the mini-skirt, designer Mary Quant began designing and manufacturing clothes in the 50s after graduating from Goldsmiths College of Art.

- In 1965 she launched the mini-skirt in London, then took 30 outfits to New York. The models stopped traffic on Broadway and in Times Square.

- In 1966 Quant received an OBE for her contribution to the fashion industry. She arrived at Buckingham Palace to accept the honour in a mini-skirt and cut-away gloves.

- According to Vogue, Quant had a 'cataclysmic effect on London'. It noted that her 'international name and logo, associated with youth and freshness, enabled her to change direction and encompass kitchenware, stationery and fabulous make-up'.

- In 2000 Quant resigned from the company she founded after Japanese licensees took charge.


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