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Designers Move from Class to Mass

Nov 1, 2008

Such high fashion designers as Vera Wang and Stella McCartney are among those shifting to lower priced lines, in order to gain wider recognition across a broader customer base. The trend has been termed, "high-low."

In September, Jill Stuart, the designer known for a cutesy clothing line, opened a store in Tokyo that features apparel which is at least 35 percent less expensive than her regular designer line.

Later, designer Norma Kamali launched her new line of affordable clothing at the ultimate discount destination: Walmart. "Through the Walmart stores and website, I can reach more people and affect more lives than in any other venue," said Kamali, president of Norma Kamali Inc.

Isaac Mizrahi is credited with starting this trend, when he launched his line of clothing for Target in 2003. The line, which featured $13 T-shirts and dresses for $29.99, ended up being one of the most successful partnerships in the business and reached annual sales of $300 million.

"Fashion design is a very competitive and fragmented business, and this kind of a partnership can be extremely rewarding financially," said Patricia Pao, founder of the Pao Principle, a New York retail consultant. The real surprise was that the Target hit revived Mizrahi's haute couture reputation and revived sales of his high end outfits at Bergdorf Goodman, where the average bill for a Mizrahi made to order outfit ran between $12,000 and $15,000.

This year, another surprise: Mizrahi joined Liz Claiborne as a creative director, and his brand will disappear from Target stores at the end of the year. Nevertheless, Mizrahi's success quickly lured other top designers looking for a lucrative deal and exposure. Wang, the doyenne of designer wedding gowns, launched her affordable line of clothing for discount department store, Kohl's, in 2007. Nicole Miller started designing more affordable clothing for J.C. Penney in 2005.

The popularity of fast fashion stores like Swedish import, H&M, and Zara from Spain, which were quick to emulate designs from the runway into their racks at affordable prices, led to another wave of the hottest fashion designers launching limited edition affordable lines. Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, designers on the highest rung of fashion, created clothes for H&M that sold out within hours.

Target continues to rely on new designers to bring some excitement into its stores. In September, it opened four temporary locations for four days in New York City. The stores, called bodegas, featured clothes, accessories, and shoes with an average price of $25 from 22 designers. Among them was hot Scottish designer, Jonathan Saunders, whose cocktail dresses and gowns are sold at upscale store, Jeffrey, at prices between $1,500 and $5,000.

"We have found it to be an extremely successful formula," said Target spokesman, Joshua Thomas. "Our shoppers know that they can get high design without breaking the bank, which is a great lure in today's environment." Information in this article was edited from a story in Business Week

Topic: Product Trends

Related Articles: fashion 

Article ID: 792

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