Wednesday, March 3, 2010

When bargain meets luxury

When people say they’re “really into fashion,” they mean one of three things: 1. They’re into the industry — people who go into magazine editing, styling and PR. 2. They’re into clothes, meaning they care about dressing well. 3. They’re into labels, meaning their taste level is probably questionable, but they think that if they carry something expensive, it will compensate.

Here’s the thing. Being label-obsessed does not equate a respectable interest in the fashion industry. There is devotion to quality, and there is devotion to the label lifestyle. They are entirely separate entities.

Here’s another thing. Designers, the poor things, don’t make a whole lot of money. Like any creative field, reaching success takes a heaping tablespoon of talent and a whole lot of luck.

So fast-fashion retailers like H&M, Target and Topshop believe they found a way to please everyone: luxury designer collaborations. Each store has a constant rotation of guest stars who design one-time capsule collections. Relentless shoppers go crazy for the opportunity to buy up the designer duds. Case in point: H&M’s autumn team-up with Jimmy Choo sold out within hours.

On the surface, this luxury/discount relationship seems like the ideal scenario. The industry insiders finally get a chance to afford the designers they spend their time researching and promoting. The people who like to dress well get an opportunity to buy something that’s potentially more interesting than the average lot on the racks. The people who like labels get to stock up on things they can wear and proudly say, “It’s Anna Sui.” The designers get to make some extra cash.

In actuality, I think everyone loses. I have never once — really, not once — been blown away by a fast fashion/luxury designer collaboration. Sure, the stuff looks great when it’s in the marketing campaigns. However, when you actually get to Target, you’re touching inexpensive fabrics. It just doesn’t seem worth buying simply for an extra name on the tag, no matter how previously devoted to the designer you were.

Really, you can’t blame the designers. They can’t help that they’re used to creating beautiful things on a large-scale budget. They are forced to sacrifice their creative integrity in order to fit the expectations of whomever they’re designing for. Which is why I enthusiastically applauded Hedi Slimane when I heard he wasn’t interested in doing a collaboration line anytime soon.

The one-time Dior Homme designer had a heavy hand in the boys-in-skinny-pants phenomenon, but then he gave up designing to turn to photography. He told that he didn’t “like the ‘capsule’ collection trick. ... There is something terribly cheap about it. This validation is somehow dodgy, since fast fashion, with few exceptions, is quietly ripping off all it can, including brands that are too small to defend themselves.” Rock on, Mr. Slimane. I couldn’t agree more.

Luxury, in the truest sense of the word, is meant to represent quality. Top-of-the-line fabrics, perfect fit, comfort, long-lasting pieces. When a luxury designer makes something for a budget retailer, however, all of that is lost. It would be like if Mercedes created a $2 toy car. Sure, the label is there — but its not going to get you to where you want to go.

Yes, collaborations are an opportunity to get a designer’s name out to a new demographic. I’m sure the average Target shopper doesn’t know a whole lot about Rodarte. But are these shoppers really going to start buying the designer’s full-priced line once the collaboration collection sells out? I highly doubt it. What exactly are these discount lines achieving? A bunch of girls running around in poorly made clothes that are a disgrace to the designer’s name?

I say cut it out with these collaborations. I’m sure there are plenty of fashion school graduates who could create something budget-friendly and well-made for Target. Give those people a job.

When someone asks who designed my outfit, I’m completely OK with saying, “I have absolutely no idea.”


ANNA SMALL said...

LOVE. i agree. the rodarte for target was so completely disappointing and painfully cheap looking. i did get a jovovich-hawk for target shirt at the avalon dollar sale... which was incredible. because it was a dollar. the gaultier for target is probably going to be a disaster as well.

Ms. B @ Millie Deel said...

I totally agree with you. I haven't ever bought or been even tempted to buy a piece from any of the Target collaborations. They really are all very poorly executed. The latest one, Gaultier, is one of the worst I think I've seen so far.