Disclaimer: Pardon my wordiness. I’m currently unemployed and still pregnant.
I struggle with the concept of “luxury” in fashion, both as a designer and a consumer. Any disposable income I’ve ever had has always been put towards designing- buying fabric, buying machinery. I’m a sucker for quality leather goods and then the occasional $300 pair of jeans, but that’s where my investment-guilty pleasure shopping ends. I wear mostly vintage, otherwise. Designer luxury brands don’t really impress me in the sense that I ever covet anything. That isn’t the kind of fashion fan I am, I am way too practical. In order for me to covet a luxury piece it needs to be inspiring to me, create feelings of aspiration, maybe jealousy- like how the fu** did they do that!?!? NOT how are they getting away with charging that much for that?? If something has a ‘luxury’ price tag, it better be really complicated-we’re talking technical wizardry.
As a designer, it has never even occurred to me that I should be making dresses that retail for $800 or coats that sell for $2000. I’ve always tried to keep my clothing affordable for what it is and who wants it. Producing clothing in Canada is not cheap, so obviously I am not competing with your typical fast fashion/made in China mall brands. But relative to the level of design, say in comparison to a “luxury” label, you could say it’s a good deal. I’ve learned a few lessons about my customer in the few seasons I’ve been in business- and it turns out she doesn’t want me to make anything out of silk, because she isn’t going to buy it. I get that. She’s low maintenance- but she still wants that feeling. For fall 09- I managed to find a large assortment of that early 90′s style buttery”silk”, aka microfibre. My sample sewer was fooled, she even thought she was working with silk. . . but it’s actually polyester, which means it’s beautifully washable. That’s luxury. It’s one of my dream fabrics.
My experience during the past few seasons has been a huge learning curve in terms of production costs- my first collection had the dress pictured below, which was made of something like 26 different pattern pieces. My math nerd self was very proud of it. It was even more complicated than it looks in that it had no side seams; the engineering I put into the pattern to get that fit without a side seam was a serious effort. I think I priced it at about 200 wholesale/400 retail- and I subsequently got a few orders for it. When I actually priced out grading the pattern, the cutting, and then the sewing- the cost to make it was at about $200. So I had to cut it, leave it behind. Realistically- that was an $800 dress. Too bad- this dress is an example of the kind of designing that really gets me going, and I’ve basically abandoned that level of effort because I am not a luxury designer.
Those lessons I’ve learned about the cost of production, particularily pattern grading, has completely changed the way I design. Grading costs are calculated based on a per piece/ per size formula. My production costs were so over what I had estimated for my first collection that I decided to get creative. For my second season- which was spring 09, I was like “how can I win?” or “how can I beat this system?” Enter. . . the unipattern. I had a gushy conversation with another designer at the POOL tradeshow about our mutual love affair with the unipattern. Basically a garment that creatively explores the concept of only having one singular pattern piece, or as few as possible. The challenge also appeals to my math nerd self on a different level. Another coup was reducing my size range, and choosing to leave the onus of fit on the consumer. Below are a few examples of unipatterns/fit onus from spring 09 and fall 09. These small feats make me feel like I am being the best possible designer I can be within my price point.
I’ve come across some interesting snippets of knowledge pertaining to luxury, and it’s future. According to a few smart humans, there are different categories of luxury, and some are gaining strength and some are disappearing because of the new economy. In terms of the new economy- in order to be successful, people need to stop struggling to get back to the way things were, and need to treat the present as the beginning of a future being built. The people and businesses that can adapt quickly (smaller businesses) will find a new niche for themselves, and the large businesses will falter because they can’t get their shit together fast enough, and are burdened by stubborn stalwarts clinging to the past (CAW). You snooze, you lose.
The five types of luxury:
1) The Silent- dedicated to people who always live in luxury. Their entire life is high end, it’s not something aspirational or communicative, it just is. They would never wear clothing with labels splashed all over; they aren’t trying to prove anything- that’s just the way they roll, yo!
2) The Noisy- subscribed to by people who are “new rich”, who buy things as symbols of their percieved reached social status, without any real regard to the historical or qualitative value of the luxury. Credit crisis, anyone? This ‘phenomenon’ is predicted to decline.
3) Luxury of “So Much”- Flashy, promoted, false, similar to noisy but even more accesible. More to do with the image projected by advertising than the actual product- mass market luxury.
4) Luxury of “Not Much”- This is a new one, a result of a new way of thinking about life and the world, and the “silent” will be the first to adopt it. People realizing that ‘things’ are not the objective, and actually living life according to that philosophy, not just pretending to. A life less temporary- which leads into the fifth and most important-
5) Time- the ultimate luxury, the most intangible. I love this concept because of it’s contradictory nature- in order to get more of the luxurious kind of time, you have to slow down. The selfishness of the past decade’s me culture will translate into people being selfish with their lives in a different way. Let’s call it the “fuck it” philosophy. Removing the ‘should have-would have-could have’ guilt from our daily lives, and believing that everything happens at the exact time it’s supposed to. I often think this way when I am designing a collection. It seems no matter what I do or how hard I work, I am always busting my ass until the last possible second before a deadline, ah! it’s so frustrating. A take it as it comes-laissez faire philosophy makes my life less stressful- like, ” If I had finished this design yesterday, it may have turned out completely different, and I really like the way it turned out today.” Otherwise, I’d be a total basketcase.
Since I can’t help myself, I’ve started designing Fall 2010/2011. It will be my first collection post baby, besides the imaginary spring 2010 “Lake Superior Yacht Club” collection that will exist solely in my mind. I am finding that at this point the pieces I am inspired to do are pretty involved. So rather than stifle those ideas, I’ve decided to expand my brand. I am going to do a few luxury items, based on the time-is-luxury principle. The higher price tag will be a direct consequence of the technique and effort. If no one buys it, whatevs.