Iconic Brands - After They Fall

A Sad Tale of the Modern Era

by Alexander Kabbaz, Master Clothier

As one who formerly sold Zimmerli of Switzerland longer than anyone else - and for many years as the largest Zimmerli retailer - I am saddened by the firm's decline.

Countries of Origin

Zimmerli was sold to a venture capital group. Unlike renowned textile engineer Walter Borner who rescued the firm from financial distress during the '90's, the new regime seems bent on sacrificing quality in favor of cheaper production and values "market cachet" over traditional values. The former watchwords - "only the best quality" - have been replaced by "only the greatest profit". Zimmerli's leader, whose fortune derives from the baking business, chose a watch salesman to run the company. In his quest for control, Zimmerli's new CEO culled new hires without regard to their textile knowledge. So alientating textile-savvy long-timers as to cause their departure, the firm is virtually berefit of those essential skills. With many Zimmerli products now being made in Poland and Bulgaria - where sewing costs are 30% less - rather than Switzerland and Italy, the previously undisputed world leader has fallen out of first place.

A similar fate befell the former world leader top quality socks. As said on their own website, "Pantherella has always bucked the trend, from its heyday in 1937 when founder Louis Goldschmidt ..." Sadly, they are now bucking - rather than leading - the trend towards improved sock quality. When Pantherella was owned by the Goldschmidt family, innovation and improvement were key. Not so today. Since Pantherella was sold a few years back to the H.J.Hall Sock Company, a maker of $6 English socks reputedly now manufacturing in Turkey, they have not kept pace with quality improvements by the forward-looking Bresciani 1970 and other smaller Italian sock artisans. With Pantherella's head honchos unable to transcend the "bean-counter" mentality, Pantherella has languished.

Nobody is a stronger advocate of adherence to old-world quality than I, having fought the worldwide cheapening of fine custom shirtmaking for more than forty five years now. But when technology advances and makes possible a better product, it is the duty of the conscientious artisan to use every possible advantage to improve his wares.

Personally, I've worn Size Large Zimmerli Royal Classic shirts for 40 years. Now, notwithstanding my 10 pounds lighter than a decade ago, I am forced to wear Extra Large or look like I've borrowed from my middle teen's T-shirt collection. The iconic Richelieu Rib tank shirt made famous by Hugh Jackman in Wolverine featured the incomparable "lettuce edge" hem. It was lovingly produced on ancient machines capable of making 32 shirts each day. Now a half-foot shorter both front and back - with the unparalleled hem replaced by a common seam-binding - the once-proud icon is but a shadow of its former self. And the decreased length has allowed a daily production increase of more than 25%. Pureness micromodal, for the past decade the most supportive of Zimmerli's offerings and my personal favorite, has degraded to a thinness reminiscent of tissue paper.

As responsible top-market retailers, we must keep a close eye on changes such as these. Our clients need to be able to depend upon our recommendations. Thus we took it upon ourselves to do some comparative studies. An example: Zimmerli offers a "Sea Island Cotton" shirt which, with but a few proper launderings, shrinks in length from 28" down to 24".

Suffice it to say that, for some, profit has become the driving force. Iconic names are no longer assurance of the finest products. It's sad.

Copyright © 2019 Kabbaz-Kelly & Sons. All rights reserved.