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Abstract

In many industries, the contemporary context of acute environmental dislocation shows the limits of traditional organizational recipes. In direct response to environmental challenges, companies are experimenting with new organizational solutions. While flexibility, or the capacity to redefine organizational form to follow changing purposes, is undeniably a common trend, these experiments otherwise differ greatly. Diversity is such, in fact, that it is difficult to clearly identify and define a unique organizational paradigm for the future. To explore the connection between environmental dislocation and organizational transformations, we adopt a historical and comparative perspective. Our empirical base of evidence is the luxury fashion industry in three countries. France, Italy, and the United States. For many years, this industry was defined by stable environmental conditions, and a craft model of organization remained dominant. We show that, over a more recent period, increasing environmental turbulence has brought about a redefinition of the rules of the game. A common response has been for organizations to move towards greater flexibility or modularity and to experiment with network forms. However, we also show that the paths or trajectories leading to organizational flexibility have varied significantly across countries, reflecting historical legacies and institutional constraints. We identify in fact three different network forms in that industry, which represent national ideal types—the "umbrella holding" company in France, the "flexible embedded network" in Italy, and the "virtual organization" in the United States.

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