A recent quote from Women’s Wear Daily cited the motivation behind Rebecca Moses comeback, despite the current economic downturn. “We have totally lost our minds,” Rebecca Moses said with a sigh after seeing astronomic designer price points in magazines and how immune people seem to have become to them. “I have always designed an exclusive product, but the customer I left in 2004 is a very different woman now, at least in financial standing. I thought, ‘How can I deliver fashion in a significant way?’ I like to be stylishly correct. [...] I don’t want to do cheap clothes; I want to design smart clothes. The consumer is up for grabs. There is no brand loyalty. She shops the high end and the low end.”
It sounds like the ‘we’ that Rebecca Moses is referring to include women who want to buy high-fashion designer pieces and the designer who sells it. The line was cited to wholesale from about $22 to $60. So, if the markup is five times the cost, then consumers can buy it from $110 to $300, at full price. At this cost, Moses described her style as “casual glamour,” while the manufacturer, Mark Wolk, described it as “versatile and democratic.” The “democratic” reference seem to refer to the new line’s positioning to attract both the women who actually bought designer pieces and the women who wanted to buy designer pieces, but couldn’t afford to.
Yet, in a sense, it seems that the collaboration is merely a clever marketing trick to reinterpret outsourced pieces designed with compromised quality and having yet another newcomer’s name slapped on top of it. The manufacturer, Li & Fung seems to work with Wal-Mart, the specific subsidiary of Li & Fung, Oxford Collections, that Rebecca Moses is collaborating with, also supplies to Target. Though at one point in her career, Rebecca Moses was in the same ranks as Gianni Versace when she replaced Versace as the designer of Genny in 1991. Yet, this recent move seem to put Moses in the same ranks as Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan.
The quality in the Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan pieces are obviously suspect, but so is their level of thoughtfulness as well. The Atlantic had an article that touched on the level of care, detail and thoughtfulness and mused that the price might actually be worth it: “Part of that care, Singer, the senior vice president of Barneys New York maintains, means recognizing that ‘things that are very expensive can be very expensive for just the right reasons—because they were made beautifully by someone who really gave a lot of care to the design and by people who were fairly paid along the way to execute something that was rather difficult. Those prices that often seem high are fair prices.’”
The argument that everybody in fashion has lost their minds is not necessarily supported either. Shuoyong Shi seemed to have investigated the topic of excessive consumption in fashion in 1999 and concluded that spending on fashion causes “excessive wealth fluctuations”, but the overall level of wealth is stable. The article seem to basically suggest that even when we’re shopping more than we should, we’re still living somewhat within our means. Furthermore, if excessive spending is merely relative to how much money we had in the first place, then ‘astronomic designer price points’ is a gross generalization of all consumers, who cannot and should not be put together. In this sense, Wolk’s description of ‘democratic’ seem to merely mean that he is lumping together customers of significantly different levels of wealth and have greatly vary in willingness and ability to spend. And on the other spectrum of this is the ultra-luxury in fashion, such as Prada’s recent made-to-measure men’s shirts with one million variations. Even the packaging for the shirts look like it’s worth more than most shirts out there in the market and the wait for it is four weeks – either a lot of people want it, their production ability is terrible, or they are probably intentionally generating an artificial sense of exclusivity to make people want to pay even more. Yet, perhaps those were just plans that were made before the market crash, and Rebecca Moses is actually onto something.
The Atlantic likened our current times to in Autumn of 1930 when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “the most expensive orgy in history” was irrevocably over. The Atlantic described women wearing the dress shirts that their recently unemployed boyfriend no longer need and this “By mid-November , Saks had cut its prices by 70 percent—well below the break-even point. This introduced the most economically ravaging period in the history of American fashion. Saks’s competitors were forced to follow suit, which meant that designers got next to nothing for their fall collections. As Tracey Ross, who ran what was probably the best-curated boutique in Los Angeles (she was forced out of business in December after nearly 20 years) said, “I am like, ‘Do the math. I sold your $800 shoes for $50.’”
Different cases can be made to go either way – paying the fair price for the full cost and physical/intellectual/creative labor that was put into the piece, or paying the price that the customers think is the fair price. The difference almost seems to just come down to which strings in the hearts of customers are more readily willing to be pulled.