To many of us fashion may appear a confusing mix of gimmicks and rapidly changing necklines. Unless you're Carrie Bradshaw or a member of Gossip Girl it feels almost impossible to keep up with the latest trends. For those who try to remain stylish the cost can be astronomical, a reputation for extravagance that the big brands are fully willing to exploit.
Even since the beginning of the new millennium we've already been through a plethora of style eras. There was Minimalist, Boho and Vintage, popularized by waif-like beauties such as Sienna Miller and 'it girl' Kate Moss. Repeatedly decades were revived and revamped, including the return of the 80s in 2006 (when skinny jeans truly returned and leather jackets were ‘hot’ again). More recently leggings and yoga pants have left the gym to become a staple of our day-to day wardrobe (unfortunately resulting in the emergence of the phrase ‘camel toe’).
Some may try to follow it, while others try desperately to stand out from the crowd, but whatever your stance fashion is an inescapable facet of modern life. We will always need clothes, and fashion retailers will always find new ways of manipulating fabric to cover us up and keep us warm. Some trends may appear confusing to the outside observer; however as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ taught us, what these designers create is (for many people) ‘greater than art because you live your life in it’.
There is some serious money to be made from looking fabulous; magazine and billboards are filled with the next great outfit which you ‘simply must buy’. Even the simplest pair of jeans often represents hours upon hours of detailed design and the effort behind that LBD would make your head spin. From designing to production, marketing to sales this industry employs hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, making their companies incredibly rich in the process. And the richest of the rich? That'd be these 5 fashion brands, with the biggest annual revenue.
10 Levi Strauss & Co., $4.67 billion
Jeans were first invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in the 1870s; almost 150 years later jeans are now one of the most popular garments across the board and Levi’s company is still going strong (with a healthy annual revenue of almost $5 billion). Levi’s innovative ‘shrink-to-fit’ 501s have proved a hit with customers (giving the opportunity for individually-sized jeans) and remain the company’s best-selling product. The brand uses an array of retro music within its adverts as a nod to the brand's popularity with youth subcultures (including mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads) in the 1950s through to the 80s. The brand has been a favourite of iconic celebrities including Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Springsteen and even Barack Obama.
9 Coach, Inc., $4.76 billion
Coach Inc. was founded over 70 years ago back in 1941, the company’s horse and buggy logo harking back to its historic beginnings. Synonymous with quality and sophistication, Coach produces leather goods including handbags and wallets for the discerning fashionista. ‘Mad men’ actresses Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss are among the myriad of celebrities who favour the brand. Although some have criticised Coach’s heavily branded items as simply a vehicle for people to display wealth, their products have remained popular due to their durability and elegant styling.
8 Phillips-Van Heusen Corp, $6.04 billion
This company owns some of America’s most recognisable brands, including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, in addition to producing clothing under its ‘Van Heusen’ label. The company first gained popularity as a shirt-maker, creating the world’s first self-folding collar back in 1919. Tommy Hilfiger was bought by the company in 2010 for $3 billion; Calvin Klein has been owned by the company since 2002. The Van Heusen brand barely advertises, preferring customer loyalty and store presence; however both Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein run extensive, high-profile campaigns (including David Beckham’s frequent endorsements of CK). In addition the company supplies neckties for high-profile labels including DKNY and Ted Baker.
7 Estèe Lauder, $9.71 billion
Estee Lauder was founded back in 1946 in New York, selling through Saks after two years. This company proves that to be a part of the fashion industry goes far beyond clothing, providing make-up and skincare for everyone (from models on the catwalk to women on the sidewalk). In addition to its own-name brand, the company owns high-profile luxury cosmetic names including Bobbi Brown, Clinique, M.A.C and Jo Malone. Estee Lauder employs almost 40,000 workers worldwide and at the end of 2013 had made sales of over $10 billion. Estee Lauder has held celebrity endorsements with a multitude of celebrities since its inception and Gwyneth Paltrow recently became the new face of the brand.
6 Richemont, $11.83 billion
Selling premium watches, jewellery, clothing and leather goods, this Swiss company has held its own on the international stage since it was founded in the late 80s. Cartier, perhaps one of its most successful subsidiaries, has made jewellery for the rich and famous (described as ‘the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’ by the king of England in the 1900s). The French brand Chloé is also a member of the Richemont family, providing haute couture and ‘off the rack’ ranges which display effortlessly elegant French styling. In spite of the company’s wide variety of products within its various subsidiary companies, a high level of quality and certain sense of luxury remains a constant for the brand.
5 Christian Dior, $11.91 billion
Christian Dior founded his own fashion house back in 1946, launching his first collection the following year. Dior remains one of the premier brands on the runway and creates a variety of haute couture and off the rack pieces for the discerningly stylish. The brand is also responsible for an incredibly successful range of perfumes and cosmetics (famously modelled by Charlize Theron in their “j’adore Dior” campaign, which was recently rebooted to include restored footage of icons including Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn). The brand was at the centre of anti-Semitic controversy back in 2011 when its head designer John Galliano was accused of making offensive remarks in Paris (Natalie Portman, previously the face of Dior, expressed her disgust and has refused to associate with him in the future).
4 The Gap, $15.65 billion
Like Levis Strauss, Gap has made its riches by selling us the simple pair of jeans. Anyone who owns a pair of the brand’s jeans will be well aware of their founding date, as 1969 adorns the inside of waistbands and pockets (and is even engraved into buttons). From its inception, Gap was a hit with consumers, taking in $2 million in sales in the first year. Instantly recognisable by its simple logo, in 2010 the company attempted a rebranding only to return to the well-known blue box within a week. The company also owns successful franchises Banana Republic and Old Navy.
3 Kering, $15.65 billion
Kering owns some of the most well-known luxury brands in the marketplace, including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Gucci and Stella McCartney. Each of its brands may have an individual identity, from the extravagance of Gucci to the elegance of Stella McCartney. In addition to high-fashion ‘Luxury’ brands, Kering also has a ‘Sport and Lifestyle’ division which includes Puma, Cobra Golf and Volcom. Although its brands are known in their own right, as part of the Kering group they form a brand built on quality and success (accruing sales of almost 10 billion Euros last year).
2 H&M, $18.82 billion
This Swedish company has become a high-street staple, providing us with affordable style since 1947. H&M can now be found in 53 countries - so if you find yourself short on T-shirts while you're on holiday, chances are there will be a familiar store near you! The initials ‘H&M’ derive from the word ‘Hennes’ (meaning ‘for her’ in Swedish) and Mauritz (the first name of the retailer who introduced a men’s range to the company in 1968). Although H&M always carries ‘basics’, the shop has really made its money by selling us disposable fashion (updating its stock regularly so that customers are always on trend). The company has raised its profile internationally by featuring exclusive designer brands (such as Isabel Marant) on a limited edition basis at highstreet prices.
1 LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton S.A, $37.14 billion
Created by the merger of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy in 1987, this fashion giant truly proves that there is some serious money to be made in style. Its products range from clothing and jewellery, to perfume and luggage - and even includes fancy wines. Its most famous subsidiary brand, Louis Vuitton, makes world-famous bags which are instantly recognisable for their prominent branding (often utilising the ‘LV’ monogram as a key aspect of the bag’s design). Louis Vuitton alone has an estimated worth of $19 billion, so it's hardly surprising that LVMH has taken the top-spot.