Fashion designer Thierry Mugler, the French fashion mogul who died in January, was worn by icons such as David Bowie, Diana Ross, and Lady Gaga. In recent years, if you were lucky enough to wear Mugler to an event, you couldn’t pass it by without saying something, and he was certainly the highlight of the evening. But after his death, how much will the raindrop-like creation Kim Kardashian wore to the MET Gala in 2019 be worth, or how much will Cardi B’s “Birth of Venus” dress from the Grammys fetch in a few years’ time? We’ll probably find out soon enough, because mourning or not, it’s true in the fashion world that death can really boost a brand’s value.
We don’t need to go too far! In just a few days following the death of Virgil Abloh in November, the value of Off-White and Louis Vuitton menswear has soared to incredible heights on retail platforms. On StockX, Goat, and eBay, the price of Nike and Off-White’s “The Ten” collection of 10 classic designs from 2017 has skyrocketed. The Jordan 1 Retro High Off-White Chicago (with the iconic “AIR” inscription) sold for an average of $8,861 on StockX. That’s a 4,460% increase from the retail price of $190.
Not only fashion fanatics, but regular shoppers in general have a strong association with the brand and the designers themselves. There is nothing supernatural about the art market being disrupted when a creator passes away. After Alexander McQueen‘s suicide in London in 2010, people immediately started raiding the shops and asking huge sums of money on the online platform for a second-hand piece he had created. “There was a mad rush for McQueen”, recalls fashion consultant Robert Burke, who says people’s emotional attachment to brands doesn’t die with the designer, in fact…” When Yves Saint Laurent died, people wanted to buy even more YSL. This shows the power of fashion, because a creation is much more than just another consumer product.”
In addition to the (rather sacrilegiously) positive effect that death has on the brand for a long time, there is of course a huge unfilled void every time, and the task of replacing the creator and putting the brand back on its feet. Can the brand be said to be “dead sure”? Donatella Versace is a good example! Fashion’s emotional connections can last for decades and can be passed on to younger generations. Gianni Versace has experienced many rebirths after his death, thanks to the guidance of his “little sister”. A few years ago, the brand brought back some of the biggest supermodels of the ’90s in its advertising, on the catwalks and on its fashion pages, and in 2017, the 20th anniversary of his death, the brand once again saw greats such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, and Helena Christensen walk the runway. This revival coincided with a series on FX (American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace), which revived the memory of Versace’s violent death in Miami in 1997.
As we can see, the classic laws of supply and demand are at work in the fashion world. Just as the value of an artist’s work rises almost every time after their death, the same is true of the work of individual designers, and the reason is obvious: there will be no more collections, no more new work, and so it will become harder to get hold of every year.