Luxury: to whom does the product appeal?

Monday, 11 February 2013
Whatever happened to fashion houses making real clothes? Visiting London's most exclusive boutiques, shoppers are no longer being enticed by product that does what it says on the tin: that are beautifully made and will stay in our wardrobes for many seasons to come. Instead, we are lured by gimmicky, marketed fashions, presented as must-have items with expiration dates more on par with supermarket products.

Take Prada, for instance. Once a upon a time you would enter the store and see shelves lined with gorgeous sweaters and shirtings, dresses to die for, exquisite tailoring and beautifully cobbled shoes. Nowadays, it's row after row of accessories plastered with its triangle or brand logo, in garish colours, and a fashion range that is made mostly in Romania.

On close examination an expensive trench coat, also made in Romania, was finished so appallingly it seemed a far cry from the Made in Italy pieces the house was so famous for. Shoes too were baffling, and were either so over-designed (velvet slippers with studs for men) or so expensive you could find a nicer pair made by a 'proper' shoemaker, like Church's. Which, strangely, is a British company owned by Prada.

In short, shop product seems geared towards catering for the tourist consumer, most notably to Chinese shoppers, who, unlike the UK customer, hold little reservation to hand over their credit cards for a slice of the European luxury pie. Logo accessories and advertised must-haves dominate the windows and shelves of so many boutiques, it must be concluded that they are selling, and selling well. But the question remains, to whom does this product appeal?

It has long been known that fashion is no longer a profitable tier for many luxury houses. The catwalk collections and ready-to-wear pieces do not garner the same turnover that perfumes, accessories and handbags do, but instead provide the house with image and credibility. Sadly, in the age of conglomerates and stock market valuations, companies must achieve their margins, which either affects the quality of its products or retail price for the end-consumer. And so they must appeal to the shoppers who hold the actual purchasing power.

Prada's prices, for example, have not decreased despite it moving a core of its production to Romania, where it costs considerably less to stitch a garment than in Italy. Quality too appears to have suffered, for example shirtings are no longer as sharply made as they once were, and a decade ago some of the pieces seen would unlikely have passed quality control.

So where does that leave shoppers who are looking for authentic, beautifully-made products, without gimmicks, without feeling like they are marketed towards an wealthy tourist customer? The truth is it is difficult and not so obvious. If you open the pages of any fashion glossy, it is the advertising brands that dominate the magazines, with their seasonal must-haves carefully disguised as editorial. It is easy to be lured in by brands who's giant billboards and department store presence can lead us into fashion oblivion.

Buying into a brand seems to hold less value, if that brand's end-product is no longer what it originally stood for. Perhaps it is the less advertised brands, that haven't drastically changed or grown so enormously with its supply and distribution chains that its product suffers.

British brands like Margaret Howell, John Smedley, Sunspel, Christopher Kane, Church's and even the random Scottish cashmere shops on Regent Street seem to offer a good standard of product that are as relevant and desirable as they are beautifully-crafted. Certainly, we all like to be lured by the desire factor of the dominating luxury houses, buying into the beautifully-photographed advertisements and to wear the latest it-shoe. But when it comes to buying authentically, it can't be product that is fraying at the seams at the expense of its original fashion consumer.

Image: Getty

(Don-Alvin Adegeest)

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