I was recently at a party where a woman noticed my purse, a messenger bag from Target's recent Liberty of London collection (she guessed it was Anthropologie), and we got to talking about the new designer collaborations at Target and other big box stores and affordable fashion in general. "Even if I had the money," she declared, "I wouldn't spend it on designer clothes." Why throw money at expensive designer clothes, she asked, when fashionable clothing can be had for so much less at places like H&M and Zara and even Target?
I can't say I agree. If I had oodles of money falling out of my pockets, I can't promise I wouldn't be making a beeline for Barneys. But until I win the lottery or inherit a fortune from a currently unknown distant relative, I pin my fashion aspirations several notches lower -- like on the fantastic Zac Posen for Target collection which hit stores last Sunday.
The thing about these couture-for-the-masses lines is that while they can be great, they can also fall spectacularly flat (or worse). Of course, that happens with high fashion too, but when it happens with cheap clothes -- cheap clothes made from cheap materials -- it can be really, really bad (Gaultier for Target anyone?). I'm not a fashion designer, but I'd imagine that designing beautiful clothes is a lot harder when you're working with a fabric like polyester versus something like silk. Knowing that, I am particularly thrilled when it's done well.
Take the Floral Print Brocade Tie Dress, arguably the best piece in the Zac Posen for Target collection:
The brocade fabric isn't lush and does feel rough to the touch, but it's thick and gives the dress great structure that makes it both flattering and forgiving. And Posen incorporated great couture details like a heavy, slightly off-center zipper on the front bodice, pockets in the skirt, exquisite pleating details around the waist and, of course, that huge slanted bow. On the other hand, the hidden zipper in the back is one of those super cheap ones that you fear will burst at the first hard pull and the golden thread woven throughout the brocade clearly tends toward fraying. But overall, it's a beautiful, thoughtfully-designed piece that is statement-making while still being totally wearable and versatile. (And yes, it's happily hanging in my closet now.)
So sure, I'd like to be able to buy this $1250 pleated skirt from Zac Posen's Spring 2010 runway collection. But I love that I can actually afford the $40 Zac Posen for Target skirts, which allows me to incorporate some of those beautiful pleats into my wardrobe without costing me my rent money.
So are low end designer clothes worth the investment?
On the one hand, I hear from women like the one I met at that party that designer fashion is basically a waste of money that could be sent on more worthwhile things, which is all true to a point, but doesn't change the fact that I love wearing beautiful clothes and appreciate the artistry, craftsmanship and quality that goes into making a skirt like this one. On the other hand, I sometimes get impatient with magazines that tell me I need to "invest" in designer pieces that will last my lifetime because for the vast majority of us, clothes like this is purely inspirational (not even aspirational). Even if we can't afford to "invest" in high end designer clothing, I want to be able to wear well-designed clothing that is both interesting and functional for my decidedly non-designer life.
What about you? Is it worth mining through the dubious-quality of some of these designer collaboration or would you rather save your pennies to eventually be able to afford "the real thing?"
Nina Moon also blogs at Sweet Disarray.