Bureaucracy and Charisma in Fashion Firms

Fashion firms operate as bureaucracies. Yet if we step inside these firms we are likely to find an organizational culture where a vision, shared values, and innovation exist within a rational bureaucratic structure. There will be a clearly delineated hierarchy, a complex division of labor, and activities that have been standardized. There will be a definite calendar according to which certain tasks must be performed. Objectives will be defined, responsibilities assigned, and strategies formulated.

Alongside these mechanisms of formal control we are likely to find features existing in organizations defined as the polar opposite of the bureaucracy: informality, collegiality, favoritism, competitiveness. Structurally, we may have a bureaucracy with alternative structures (such as teams in which designers work), while culturally we find a closer fi t to the type of enterprise where a high degree of personal engagement and unity may be found.

A new dimension is added when the charismatic leader, unlike the prophet or seer, is the head of an established firm set up in accordance with bureaucratic principles. Indeterminacy and rationality operate in tandem. The ambiguities of personal engagement are not traded for precision and efficiency. Weber states, “Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is ‘dehumanized,’ the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation” (1946/1958: 215-216).

In creative endeavors certainly the hallmarks of bureaucratic organization 142 Designing Clothes (predictability, efficiency, strict control, and subordination) are insufficient to attain the desired result: a musical score, a fi lm, an advertising campaign, or fashion. In the fashion industry these conditions may be insufficient, yet they are necessary. To create fashion on a global scale, rather than in an atelier for one client at a time, a bureaucratic system must be in place.

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