Luxury Redux

Retailers and designers team up to bridge the gap between high-fashion and ready-to-wear making the prestige of the most-covetable names accessible for every woman.

Fall 2010 brings another notch on a decade-long fashion market revolution. Come November 23rd stylistas will be eagerly lining up around the block for the year’s most-coveted designer diffusion line—Lanvin for H&M. An ingenious team up that elevates the contemporary Swedish high street brand into the luxury of the Parisian fashion house. Artistic Director, Alber Elbaz, promises to bring the impeccable French tailoring of Lanvin to a wider audience through the collaboration with H&M.  The collection designed by Elbaz together with menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver promises to have the relaxed elegance and modern playfulness Lanvin has been known for. Expect exquisitely made pieces made in duchesse satin, cocktail-length frocks, sleek cigarette pants, and volume experimentation that lends Elbaz’ signature style to the new H&M designer diffusion line. As the world awaits the year’s wildest fashion riot, we dig deeper into the core of the new market shift here and around the globe. Designer diffusion breaks down the barriers and successfully joins two previously independent elements in fashion—affordability and luxury.

Historically, designers started creating their own diffusion line about a decade ago. Their aim was to cater to a younger crowd with a marginally affordable price point while maintaining creative control over the output. But even with a wider consumer base, self-produced diffusion lines such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe and McQ still sold garments at a price the everyman couldn’t afford. However on a cold November morning in 2004, legions of women assembled at H&M stores around the world braving the winter chill in order to purchase one-of-kind pieces from Karl Largerfeld’s collaboration with the high street powerhouse. The Kaiser’s brilliant business move seemed an inevitable market progression as a high street collaboration replicates the hottest runway looks into a broader market and available in a much cheaper price point. Once again, Lagerfeld played a pivotal role in a significant moment in fashion starting the sweetest November tradition over at H&M resulting in the brand’s succeeding designer collaborations with Stella McCartney (2005), Viktor & Rolf (2006), Robert Cavalli (2007), Comme des Garçons (2008) and Jimmy Choo (2009).

 

While the extensively hyped up designer collaborations at H&M may very well be a market-based reaction to the economic downturn, it proved instrumental in fashions’ move to provide accessible designer fashion. British high street brand Topshop have helped jumpstart the careers of then up-and-coming talents such as Preen, Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane by inviting them to create limited-edition capsule collections sold at select branches in London. The brand’s little experiment proved successful as pieces were snapped up by the Brit-cool set in mere minutes upon release. In the US, Target followed suit and collaborated with Proenza Schouler, Thakoon, Rodarte and Zac Posen to name a few, for their quarterly GO International collections that delivers the latest styles to the regular American girl at a fraction of the price.

Manila fashion has been steadily setting the foundation of the designers’ new found market in recent years. We witness a significant shift as local designers focus on a wider market by teaming up with household name retail brands for limited-edition collections.

“Strengthening branding and making design more competitive in the global retail business is in sync with the objective of the Fashion Designers Council of the Philippines,” says former FDCP president Randy Ortiz, who collaborated with Plains & Prints in 2009 and most recently with Kashieca Luxe. “Although it is a known fact that designer earn more with our made to measure business, the idea of doing collaborations is very fulfilling and challenging while being financially rewarding.” Ortiz adds.

Speaking of their collaboration with famed designers, Roxanne Farillas, Creative Head of Plains & Prints, shares, “We wanted to offer our loyal customers an exclusive collection with the added value of a respected designers’ excellent fashion sense and also reach other market segments who normally don’t buy local ready to wear apparel brands. We wanted to make their premium designs designer fashion accessible to Filipino women.”

Well-known designer Rajo Laurel, having collaborated with Plains & Prints in 2008 and Wharton in 2010, admits, “I wanted to experiment on how my designs could influence and attract a broader market.” On the production process, Laurel relays, “I personally had to make sure that the line was cost effective—choosing materials that would be in tune with the price points of the brand and creating designs that is easily manufactured on a mass scale.”

With designing a limited-edition capsule collection for Human since 2009, Avant garde designer Joey Samson shares, “Not all people have the luxury of time and the resources to have something bespoke so a diffusion line will let them experience piece of my work. Designing a line for a retail brand bridges the gap of being able to wear something that’s trendy yet affordable. Although no matter how you try to adjust to the taste of the market, there are designs that sell and don’t sell. Taking into consideration the design elements that make an item sell, my designs are able to capture a wider market audience.”

“We’ve always been eager to work with local artists that bring something fresh to the brand. We were looking for an edge that we could introduce to the local market. We took note of Samson’s work and felt that his style would complement our collections. And after several seasons, his limited-edition collection proved to be a certified hit gaining a loyal following amongst the youth that continuously anticipate the release of his new designs.” explains Suyen Lim, Brand Manager of Human, of their choice of designer to collaborate with.

Seeing himself more as a ready to wear designer, Young Designers Guild president Louis Claparol shares, “I have always wanted to put up my own ready to wear line catering to the mass market.“ His holiday 2010 collaboration with Ensembles is a foray into retail. Of the design process, Claparols adds, “There are so many things you have to consider. Will this style sell? Will this color look good on most women? RTW is more challenging because you are designing for real women and not models wherein you can be more experimental.”

“The most important factor to consider is of course the target market. The design can’t be complicated that the general public might not be able to understand the concept. Also too much exaggerated details would also raise the cost of the garment.” Says Debbie Co of her 2009 collaboration with Ensembles.

On the suitability of a designers’ aesthetic for a brand, Sheree Roxas-Chua Gotuaco, CEO of Ensembles, relates, “The upper class market already exists for our brand. They are the ones that most appreciate the dressier creations. We decided to create collaboration with designers that would fit our current market and image while creating a new exciting flavor to the brand. It is important to choose a designer that fits the brand and its market in order to create a cohesive and saleability collection.”

The advent of the designer diffusion raises the bar by introducing fresh new ideas in the game. It creates a more exciting competition amongst brands locally and globally. A significant gain can be seen in fashion with the emergence of the luxury for less phenomenon. Local retail brands are able to cater to their niche by providing premium merchandise and contributing the general market sophistication. While designers are able to broaden their scope let the mass market experience their one of a kind work without breaking the bank. As one of the most widely beneficial seismic shift in the global market, designer diffusions continue to create waves in fashion for years to come.