In the midst of a turbulent retail landscape, labels have been quick to roll out all manner of think—fast “new stuff” to entice shoppers—from collaborations and capsule collections to seasonal pop-ups. The trend shows no sign of slowing in 2010, as Levi’s joins forces with Opening Ceremony, a multitude of designers (like Stella McCartney and Tom Binns) create limited-edition pieces inspired by Tim Burton’s upcoming Alice in Wonderland, and—most heart-stoppingly horrifying of all—Jimmy Choo pairs up with Ugg Australia to create $600 frankenshoes.
All of these unconventional match-ups and special-editions, however, pale next to the most pervasive trend in contemporary high-end fashion: the lower-priced spin-off.
What started as a fall-and-spring phenomenon has evolved into a full-blown micro-industry, with a calendar that keeps pace with the primary collections’ endless stream of seasons—pre-fall, holiday, resort, etc. It seemed like we’d only gotten over the blitz surrounding Jimmy Choo for H&M (wherein even editors waited in lines around the block), when the Rodarte for Target frenzy started up. Already on the docket for 2010 (that we even know of—it’s only January): Jil Sander for Uniqlo in January, Sonia Rykiel for H&M in March, and Target’s insane lineup: Jean-Paul Gaultier in March; Zac Posen’s dresses, Cynthia Vincent’s shoes, and Eugenia Kim’s hats in April; and recently announced Tucker by Gaby Basora sometime after that.
Those who can’t (or would rather not) score a deal with Target or H&M have chosen to launch or expand their own lower-priced line, like Alexander Wang’s fast-selling T collection or Carolina Herrera’s “CH” line. Designers are also fleeing to TV, and with good reason: Naeem Khan, a lesser-known designer with a penchant for gorgeous cocktail dresses, created a line for HSN that sold out in ten minutes flat. QVC has enlisted a slew of fashion folk like Thuy, Rachel Zoe and Erin Fetherston to spearhead its section, and is even planning its own show during New York Fashion Week in February.
Much like everyone else, I’m not entirely sure what side of the fence I’m on. On one hand, there’s a certain genius and challenge in extending a high-price brand to a budget audience. Rodarte’s collection for Target, for example, disappointed many fans who’d hoped for better fabrics, but also brought their playful, artful aesthetic to the 99 percent of us who’ll never be able to afford the main collection. Which brings us to a second point: Designer fashion is insanely, prohibitively expensive. We live in a society that’s constantly tempting us with what we can’t have—in magazines or billboards—and there’s a satisfaction in finally being able to get a taste of what we’ve been missing.
On the other hand, we’re approaching a place where main collections are to lower-priced lines what couture once was to ready-to-wear: Everyone poo-poo’ed it, but it slowly became the main revenue keeping couture alive. It will be a sorry day indeed when Rodarte’s Target line is the only reason Rodarte can continue to exist. Truly, there is something afoul in an industry where that is the only resort.