What Debenhams’ demise reveals about the future of fashion

Department stores have been replaced by fast fashion e-commerce brands. But they, too, may face stiff competition from a new force.

This week, the British multinational Debenhams was reduced to a website. The liquidation of the department store chain saw it become the latest victim of the changing fashion world, taking away thousands of livelihoods in the process.

But, when it first arrived on the high street, Debenhams and other large-scale retailers like it were dubious but irresistible businesses of their day, much like the ruling e-commerce conglomerates of ours. Émile Zola’s 1883 novel about a fictional Parisian department store, Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise) captures the ruthless business as it undercuts specialist shopkeepers and made-to-order craftspeople.

Now, that dynamic repeats once more, but it is the former predator who is the prey. Brick-and-mortar retailers are now being swallowed up by e-commerce brands. The demise of Debenhams has prompted nostalgia for department stores of the past—but what can it tell us about the future of fashion?

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