A while back, reader Emma sent this question via e-mail. I wanted to delay posting it for a bit, until the Target/Missoni furor had died down a bit.
I saw the other day on Facebook that you prompted a short discussion on the Missoni for Target line, but I’d like to hear more of your and other people’s thoughts about the line in general. Most people commented on the quality – or lack thereof – of the line, but what about the entire concept of affordable designer wear? Since the line launched last week I have seen no less than 4 different women in very different settings wearing only 2 different outfits. Although I’m not a person who can, or really wants to be able to, afford high end designer clothes like Missoni I can certainly appreciate the uniqueness and specialness of being able to. Before the Target line if I had seen someone wearing the distinctive Missoni zigzags it would have meant something totally different than it does now. Now all I can about is the LACK of uniqueness and specialness – like the equivalent of having a knockoff hand bag.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this – does having greater access by more people of designer goods in fact make it more special? Or, do you think that maybe affordable designer clothing will only ever lead to cheap over exposed options like the Target line?
I think the very reason that the vultures swooped in and grabbed armloads of the Missoni/Target stuff to sell on eBay is that, unlike other Target designer collaborations, this stuff LOOKS like “real” Missoni. Kinda. Signature zigzags, anyway. So it’s got more cachet than the Rodarte stuff, the Zac Posen stuff, the Proenza Schouler stuff. Even the Liberty stuff, which looks like real Liberty, just isn’t as famous and fancy as Missoni and, apparently, everybody knew that.
Until recently, I didn’t understand why anyone would want anything to do with designer goods unless it was to indulge in conspicuous consumerism. Then I started reading Orchids in Buttonholes – a blog that is, sadly, now defunct – and saw a very smart, earthy, bookish, articulate woman my own age waxing poetic about designer history, artistry, construction. And the designer stuff she bought wasn’t recognizably designer at all, and she was very thoughtful about her purchases. She loved what she bought because it was beautifully made, would last forever, and made her feel connected to fashion’s legacy.
Coincidentally, around the same time I started buying the Vogue lookbooks and learning more about the RTW collections, their designers, and their respective aesthetics and preferences. And then I went to New York and spent a day at Barney’s handling and trying on designer clothes. And then I stopped at the Burberry store at the MOA and, just for laughs, tried on a $1,200 trench. And I can’t afford any of that stuff either, and still believe the markup is breathtaking despite small product runs, materials costs, etc. But I get it. Designer stuff is closer to clothing as artwork than anything we’ll ever find at the mall.
I’d wager that the people best equipped to appreciate the difference between mass-market garments and designer duds are sewists, tailors, and fellow designers … followed by women like you and me. Celebrities expect to wear designer duds, and many wealthy people don’t know any other level of quality, but regular women on budgets? We can appreciate the differences, even though we can’t often indulge. Which is, of course, what the marketers are counting upon when they put ads for Prada in Real Simple and InStyle: That we’ll hang onto those aspirations, maybe open a new credit card or two, and get addicted. And that’s insidious, of course, and something to be attuned to and deeply, deeply skeptical about. But if you’re a budget-minded woman who falls in love with a spendy item, you can get it the old-fashioned way: Save for it. For as long as it takes. And that process of saving, waiting, saving, waiting some more, and finally buying something you’ve loved for ages and ages does make it special. Because it’s a reward at the end of a long haul, because it’s something you loved enough to save for, because it might be better made than anything else you own.
So do the Target/designer collaborations siphon off some of that specialness? I guess it depends who you ask. If you’re asking me, my answer is, “No.” Target is ubiquitous in the U.S. and, as Emma pointed out, the collaborative pieces become ubiquitous, too. Ubiquitous and special don’t play well together, so the collaborative pieces become less special in and of themselves. Of course many of the people wearing those Target/designer pieces are more interested in cachet than specialness, and many more just really love the colors and designs and styles. But those pieces are separate from actual designer items in my mind. They don’t sully any potential specialness associated with saving for, buying, owning, and wearing a piece from a high-end line that I truly love.