Abstract: Retailing Innovation: The Origins of Contemporary Merchandising in an Edwardian Couture House

Lewis Orchard


Using the couture house Lucile Ltd. as a case study, this paper will demonstrate how an early twentieth-century international fashion business considered the marketing potential of a collection, from initial design stages through to promotional techniques. Using a sequence of contemporary and historic images for comparison, I will identify what are now familiar advertising, branding, merchandising, and retailing techniques in their early stages of development at the turn of the century. I will consider how this custom dressmaking service became a fashion empire with couture houses in London, New York, Paris, and Chicago, and focus on the combination of creative design and business practices that contributed to its extraordinary success. Specific focal points include the development of a fashion brand label, and what we can recognize today as the fundamental ingredients of the runway fashion show, featuring a structured fashion collection, "superstar" models, and accompanying publicity. As the business expanded abroad, I will look at how the cohesion of the business and its brand was maintained and promoted in the press, and to the public, and how an ambition to reach larger numbers of customers inspired innovation in business structure, including possibly the first diffusion-line mail order catalogue in 1916.