New York Fashion Week has started, a fact which is of extreme, all-consuming interest to the 0.000000000001 per cent of the population whose job it is to attend, and of slightly less interest to those whose attitude to style is best summarised as “find me a pair of ankle boots that don’t make my calves look heavy and I will kiss you”. For while it’s mildly diverting to see the new season’s trends unveiled on the catwalk, the four figure price tags can’t help but make the whole thing feel not so much “exclusive” as “exclusionary”.
Designer brands spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to be “exclusive” – you could say it’s their very raison d’etre. But winds of change are coming. And at the forefront of this change is Marc Jacobs, who has just announced that from now on, 70 per cent of his accessories will be priced under $500 (£350).
This is seismic, and here’s why. Firstly, because 70 per cent is no token gesture towards “the poors”; no narrow, cheapo range done for cynical publicity reasons. It’s the majority of his accessories. Secondly, because Jacobs has made this move while maintaining his position as one of the biggest draws of New York Fashion Week. Such is his heft that his show is the last on the NY schedule, strategically placed to ensure visitors stay until the end. And thirdly, because when a designer as major as Jacobs says “excuse me, but showing expensive clothes on a catwalk doesn’t mean I can’t also sell $500 bags”, then it’s a fair bet others will follow suit.
Designer brands spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to be “exclusive” – you could say it’s their very raison d’etre. But winds of change are coming
After all, can they afford not to? Designers have traditionally been wary of dropping prices for fear it compromised the air of luxury on which their top-price wares depend. But as Michael Kors has already proved, you can sell mid-priced bags in vast numbers without diluting your brand. Besides, you might argue that with profits as healthy as Kors (his most recent figures show revenue rose 6.6 per cent to $1.13 billion), what, exactly, are you diluting?
Kors is often cited as creating the “affordable luxury” category, but Jacobs was there first. It was back in 2000 when he launched his less expensive Marc by Marc Jacobs line, which sold bags, clothes and even £20 key rings. He shuttered the line last year. And now we know why: he was planning to offer the same affordable luxury under the umbrella of his main line. A quick glance at the new spring 2016 collection reveals a Marc Jacobs “Gotham” tote (from $550) and a “Wingman” leather shopper ($395).
These aren’t Primark prices, nor will they ever be. But they’re a darned sight less out of reach than the mythical four-figure handbag beasts being peddled by most luxury brands. “Mythical”, because they frequently cost more than the average Brit takes home in a month. Sure, you could cater exclusively to filthy rich people, but why price such a vast number of fans and potential customers out of the market? They’ll only spend their money somewhere else. Mainly, on the high street - which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a dab hand at selling bags, shoes, clothes and everything else in close approximation of your own. Instead of aiming your prices at Amal Clooney, isn’t it savvier to help yourself to a slice of the pie? It may not be a business model ever destined to appeal to Chanel, Hermes or Louis Vuitton, but not all luxury brands are as premium as these.
What with Burberry showing seasonally appropriate clothes that customers can buy straight off the catwalk (as it announced earlier this week) and Jacobs offering £350 handbags, finally, it looks as though fashion is catching up with the real world. Well, it has to, really. You know what they say: adapt or die.