It’s an epidemic. This notion of Proenza Schouler creating their infamous bustier tops “on a budget” had me weary, but I figured it couldn’t come out that bad. When I heard Alice Temperly would recreate her romantic, whimsical frocks for practically 1/10th of the price of her ready-to-wear dresses I figured it was possible. Now I understand the fun and glory of designer items on a budget. I’m a fan of bargain hunting, and eBay, and know all of the ins and outs of scoring a Peter Som dress for next to nothing. But the watered down versions of designer staples are wearing thin, and resulting in pure designer duds.
I understand the objective; I do. Mass retailers want to offer a product that gives consumers a taste of luxury without having to compromise their bargain prices. And in theory, this would be fabulous. Who wouldn’t want to score the same quality and look that is plastered on pages of fashion magazines and high end advertisements? These pages sell us not only a $3,000 dress, but also a lifestyle. The notion that $3,000 for a dress is somewhat normal and the idea that though it’s expensive, it’s something you’ll treasure forever. The problem is, that isn’t always the case. A floral dress that appears in Prada’s resort ad today will be yesterday’s news by tomorrow. Something so recognizable becomes stale after we see it on the red carpet, Us Weekly and E! news several times during one month. And it isn’t just clothing. More and more often I’m hearing women say, “The bag is $1,200? Oh, that’s not bad at all!” Not bad at all?! Compared to what? When did we become so smitten with fashion that life goals like retiring early, traveling more often and college tuition for our children became second tier issues that aren’t paid attention to until they’re right around the corner. Granted, some are fortunate enough to have their cake and eat it too, but it’s debatable that anyone without a bank account comparable to Oprah should be able to sport a Birkin. At what point is too much, and at what point do we finally realize we are not ever going to identify with Nicole Richie because we’re sporting the same Rick Owens jacket that she is? Putting ourselves in pieces that fit our lifestyle is key, but retailers continue to push this designer agenda by attempting to offer us a snippet of that upscale life without the upscale price tag.
Target’s GO! International line originated with featuring a foreign designer that had yet to be introduced to the general American public. Tara Jarmon and Behnaz Sarafpour rounded out some of the pioneers of this project, but only the fashion forward identify with these names. It did bring the fashion set out in droves and even sparked a temporary Target store on the docks of Manhattan. However as the project wore on, we realized that as with dresses that cost a small fortune, we were also being baited by a name. Less than stellar craftsmanship was sure to be expected, but stray threads, uneven hemlines and too many synthetic fabrics left a lot to be desired. It seems to get worse with each installation.
If you think the craze is dying down, think again. This spring, Pierre Hardy, designer of all things that are lovely and unusual will team with Gap to create a limited edition line of shoes all made in Brazil. Boasting Hardy’s signature wedges and a flat gladiator sandal, the line promises to bring you all of the glory of Hardy’s collection shoes. While Hardy’s pieces will be made in Brazil, most diffusion lines are manufactured in the same vicinities as the mass retailer’s house lines. It’s impossible to capture the beauty of many designs when you run them through a Grade D sewing machine and attempt to attach .03 buttons because it’s more cost effective. Lost is the allure, the mystery, and the lifestyle that designer clothing conveys. A year later, you’re left with a pilled coat that reads Paul & Joe on the label, but was made in Taiwan using acetate and rayon. Is this really any more glamorous than something from Wal-mart’s No Boundaries line? No. The name is dragging us in, but it isn’t fulfilling its end of the bargain. Like any other piece made in such conditions with such materials, the diffusion lines offer little in the long run. We may be able to scoop up Rodarte on the sale rack for $34.99, but at the end of the day, it’s just another white shirtdress that was made in China.
It can be argued that designers are duds for participating in such a scheme. Compromising their artistic vision but spreading their name; but really it’s the consumer who is to blame. After all, a dress is a dress is a dress. It doesn’t matter the tag sewn on the blouse, the price paid for the trousers; it’s all just fabric that we hope conveys who we are.