The Fashion Statement: Luxury in Flux
You can blame plenty of things on the recession, but luxury fashion may never be the same.
Houses are way past worrying whether the haute couture segment of their business will live or die. Now the industry is lowering the prices of their ready-to-wear collections, investing more in cheaper secondary lines and producing small collections for cheap chic retailers like H&M. More people probably know Zac Posen from his capsule line for Target than for his self-named ready-to-wear collection that hangs at Saks or Neiman Marcus.
Is this the end of luxury-largely defined by exclusivity-as we know it?
The house of Valentino caused a dust up at a Reuters Global Luxury Summit late last week. Never having sold an evening gown for less than 2,000 euros, Valentino is offering cocktail dresses for half that and T-shirts priced at about $300. The main question at the summit: How can Valentino be more accessible without losing its luxury appeal?
"Being more affordable means you are trying to get new customers on board," Valentino's CEO Stefano Sassi told the summit. "We are not stretching down the brand. We are trying to say that you can be both couture and contemporary."
Designers are also willingly downgrading themselves. Last week, Olivier Theyskens, the high-end Belgian designer was tapped to design the moderately priced fashion label Theory. Theyskens said he had long been bothered by the fact that his haute designs were unapproachable to his own generation.
In the last few weeks, another sign of change is in the wind. Gone are the days of hiring superstar designers to helm established European houses. Among the changes: Hermès is replacing Jean Paul Gaultier with the largely unknown Christophe Lemaire. Emanuel Ungaro did away with Lindsay Lohan (thank goodness!) and is banking on designer Giles Deacon. Sarah Burton is in at Alexander McQueen. And Alessandro Dell'Acqua will design Brioni's women's line. As a sign of things to come, perhaps, Valentino Gharavani retired in 2008 (his last collection pictured above) and hired Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, two low-key accessory designers from within his company, to take over the collections.