Much was made of Isaac Mizrahi’s recent show that mixed pieces from his ready-to-wear line with those from his line for mass-market retailer, Target. He showed voluminous evening skirts with Target tank tops with a certain amount of glee.
Mizrahi wasn’t the first to design for Target, the late Stephen Sprouse and Todd Oldham both had done so. But Sprouse was criticized for selling out with his red, white, and blue line and in 2002, Todd Oldham’s higher end Todd Oldham Jeans lost the confidence of its financial backers with the introduction of his dorm room line for Target. The perception was that brand lost cachet when it went mass. Years before, other designers who’d licensed their names to mass marketers had both endured similar criticism and taken serious hits to the success and saleability of their higher end work. Who but Liza wanted to buy Halston when the hoi-polloi were able to pick up Halston at J.C. Penney?
But times have changed. Rather than excusing his foray into mass-market land, Mizrahi has positively celebrated it as demonstrated in his mixing of the affordable with the un- on the runway. And last fall, Karl Lagerfeld, (Chanel, Fendi and Lagerfeld Gallery) got into the game, designing a one-off collection for affordable retailer H&M. As Lagerfeld put it, “The days when designers could lose their jobs because it was linked to a collection for an inexpensive brand are over. H&M has made inexpensive desirable. Today this is fashion.”
He’s right, but the mix of high and low isn’t a new thing for those of us who don’t have the budget to buy designer ready-to-wear in volume every season. Stylish girls on a budget—real girls—have always mixed high and low both out of necessity and to strike an individual statement in a uniform world.
The mix is the thing. Designers too, take notice. Much of Prada from a few seasons back was borrowed from a certain vintage aesthetic that to many of us looked beautifully familiar. Everytime a designer borrows from the street they validate what we already know, that the mix we make because we have to can be a dynamic style statement.
This kind of hi-lo mixing it up includes pairing fine fabrics with common, mixing a tailored piece with a t-shirt, and mixing sources of clothes from thrift stores to mass-market to boutique.
The current ubiquitous fashion-girl uniform, of a flowy camisole in chiffon or satin over a pair of jeans and heels is classic hi-lo, although in absurdly expensive jeans it comes with a heavy wink-wink.
Mixing vintage and new is not only a way to achieve a unique look for those of us who can’t afford to buy one-of-a-kind designer pieces, it’s also a way to build out a wardrobe on a tight budget. And buying vintage doesn’t mean having to settle for any of the several accepted thrift uniforms including the indie girl, librarian, or roller queen. When everyone turns right like so many sardines in school, a vintage piece can be a showstopping turn to the left when executed by one with a great eye for what works, for what looks fresh and modern. Think Christina Ricci, Chlöe Sevigny, or Kate Moss.
Like Target and H&M (for those of you lucky to live near one), there are a number of mass-retailers (mall store, Forever 21, comes to mind as does cataloguer LaRedoute) that feature amongst the drek little 20-dollar treasures that will be fabulous in the company of better pieces, say a one-of-a-kind skirt by an emerging independent designer. The lower-priced mass-market stores also provide an answer the problem of wanting to wear something that looks right right now, but most likely will look too last year, next year. Pick up the 35 dollar version of the piece and it doesn’t hurt so bad to wear it for only a season.
It’s great to see Mizrahi and Lagerfeld confirm what we already knew, that the mix is the thing for stylish girls with an independent streak. Welcome to the Hi-Lo party.