Zandra Rhodes and Betsey Johnson: Fashion grannies rock on

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Two legendary doyennes of the fashion world have been making news this week — and not just for their colourful fashions.

Today, Betsey Johnson announced a majority investment in her business from Boston’s Castanea Partners. Some observers are questioning Castanea’s logic for investing in a 30 year old brand whose namesake is already a grandmother and whose high-profile days are long over.  On the contrary, the business  has a solid own-retail network of 51 stores and a respectable $200m in sales. This could provide a great platform for further growth, as long as Castanea doesn’t dilute the brand’s famous quirky irreverence, which is what is most appealing to its loyal fans.

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Earlier this week British fashion icon, Zandra Rhodes, garnered yet another high profile article highlighting the resurgence of interest in her designs around the world. While she doesn’t have a business on the same scale as Johnson, she is still finding news ways of capturing value from over 3 decades in the industry, using her iconic colourful style as the basis for a series of licensing agreements with MAC (for makeup), Pologeorgis (for furs), and the Dash Partnership (for jewellery).

So, why are the fashion grannies on the rise?

Well, apart from a lot of hard work (Zandra Rhodes’ daily schedule starts before dawn, sending faxes around the world, while straddling homes in London and California), they both have unique signatures for which they are famous (Johnson for her frilly girly designs and Rhodes for her vivid multi-coloured prints). They have also taken their extreme creativity and toned it down so it is more accessible to a wider audience and can therefore be extended to other categories, while still retaining the core spirit of their brands.

Many young designers, who are often content to simply follow trends and reference other designers as inspiration, could take some lessons from Johnson and Rhodes. Few emerging designers are pushing themselves enough to develop their own signatures, to establish what they will be known for.  Without this, a designer is just one of the crowd, and doesn’t stand out.

In the long run, who wants to be just like everyone else?

Photos courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald, Zandra Rhodes and Betsey Johnson