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High Fashion in a Low Economy: A Tutorial

The high-end retail environment is baring the brunt of consumers’ recession-induced hesitation to spend. The blood-bath clearance sales post holidays were said to be a “once in a lifetime event,” with rumors of bargain bins filled to the brim with last season Marc Jacobs hand bags going for Marc by Marc prices. This past month, Henri Bendel announced that it was scrapping its retail department all together and reducing its store to the two most lucrative floors — jewelry and cosmetics. Institutions like Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York are also feeling the pinch of a new economy, with staggering losses reported last quarter.

So what is the cure for retail malaise? This seems to depend on how large the designer and how creative their marketing team is. For more established labels such as Givenchy, the key seems to be coming out with low(er) priced accessories and more inexpensive leisurewear. This tactic is also being used by mid-range designers, such as Phillip Lim, who recently announced a new accessories line (dubbed “3.1 Phillip Lim Initials”) of shoes, bathing suits, and lingerie, for the masses.

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[Photo credit: WWD]

However, the real golden ticket to economic salvation seems to be high-end to fast-fashion collaborations. The first to usher in this trend sometime ago was Target, who has in the past introduced some interesting (Richard Chai, Proenza Schouler) and less interesting (Alexander McQueen) fashion to mass markets across the country. What was once seen as a dicey step for a lesser-known designer to take (Patrick Robinson’s collection ended up with him being dropped from Barneys) is now seen as the best thing for fashion since the invention of the zipper.

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[Photo credit: Proenza Schouler for Target]

Another mutually-beneficial albeit less wallet-friendly series of collaborations has come out of Urban Outfitters, who has worked with higher end retailers like Steven Alan, LA-based emerging designer Geren Ford, and NYC designer Rachel Comey in the coming months. Another collaboration I’m looking forward to is between indie fashion darlings Vena Cava and the Gap. They’ve also been working with Michelle Obama’s pet designer, Alexander Wang.

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[Photo credit: Vena Cava for Gap]

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[Photo credit: Alexander Wang for Gap]

There seems to be but one cloud in the affordable fashion sky. Many designers are wondering if and when the economy picks up, how it’ll affect the price of their heavily-discounted wares. While this fear is valid for emerging designers, it’s one that can only be realized if they’re able to weather the next couple of years in an unstable market. In other words, it will be a good problem to have.

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