The heady days of haute couture are passing, says Wall Street Journal reporter Agins, and are being followed by name-brand mass marketing. The great fashion houses, one gathers from her report, are fading in an excess of hauteur. In a text that is more knowing than it is dishy and more respectful than it need be, Agins shows that some emperors of the garment trade are not that well decked out. She gets down to business in the odd world of $10,000-a-day supermodels and wealthy fashionistas, garmentos and knock-off artistes, beginning with the fall of Paris, the capital of high fashion, where style, not substance, had been all. But baby boomer career women let go of fashion; most people eschewed fancy dress; fashion was valued less than before; and top designers abandoned originality. “Bridge” goods (less pricey apparel) took hold. Boutiques replaced the top ateliers. Widespread licensing of T-shirts, briefs, and fragrances and the sale of signatures was followed by street vendor forgeries. Now, to express individuality, everyone may wear the same garments, on which only the names are changed. And the names drop like confetti. The story is traced through various players, from Armani to Ungaro and Zoran. Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger) try to capture the flag for their own logos. As Donna Karan discovered when she went to Wall Street, fashion’s connection to the real world is frequently tenuous. It is chi-chi and edgy, frou-frou and funky and up-to-here with arrant snobbery. Businesslike and entertaining as the discussion of the upscale rag trade is, the real contribution of high style practitioners is simply assumed, not made evident. A reader may want to call for a pox on all the fashion houses (which is probably not the author’s plan). Here, backstage in a special industry, is a knowledgeable reporter’s tale of marketing Ö la mode. (8 pages photos, not seen).