At their peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, diffusion brands were big business. In the last decade, though, as household names like Marc by Marc and D&G have gone out of business, the very concept feels outdated. To understand this trajectory, and the current state of diffusion labels, it's important to explore how the concept began. Internationally recognized designers cashing in on downmarket and more commercially viable products is not a new concept—haute couture houses have done this with perfume and sunglasses for decades. Novel, however, was the idea of simplifying runway designs, using cheaper materials and manufacturing in order to offer product at a much lower price point. That, in essence, is diffusion. At their peak, diffusion labels leveraged the reputation of their respective mainlines to attract a following of their own.

Like licensed products and accessories, diffusion was another revenue stream allowing luxury houses to reach an even larger audience. Prior the the current fast-fashion mimicking the runway paradigm, diffusion lines were a boon to designers—and their bottom lines. Yet, with watered down versions of this season’s hit items now available at Zara, the old business model is quickly becoming irrelevant. With increased competition from all directions, brands have pivoted away from the diffusion line strategy, with everyone from Raf Simons shutting down Raf by Raf to Burberry consolidating its numerous brands.

In a tepid market with lightning fast trends, brands are increasingly selective with how they develop products and present them to the world. Collaborations are a frequent occurrence, and a “drop” based system—a response to the massive success and industry wide obsession with streetwear—is becoming the norm. Independent designers no longer feel forced into starting diffusion lines as a much needed stream of revenue. Instead, they are seizing the opportunity to raise exposure by aligning themselves with a household name and releasing inherently limited product available for a short time period. Luxury giants like Kering and LVMH have streamlined their distribution and branding to maintain high margins. In conjunction, these forces bring the diffusion line’s viability into question in the current fashion climate.

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