Friday, February 10, 2012

The Inexorable Move Upmarket or The Travails of the Middle

That this title could refer to the current economic climate is clearly not coincidental. My focus here, however, is the continuing transformation of the independent/contemporary market (or, I suppose, that sweet spot where they overlap). Specifically, I was reading the Fall 2012 Rachel Comey Fashion Week slideshow and commentary on this morning and was struck by two points--her renunciation of prints in favour of more upmarket or "incredibly lush fabrics," and secondly, Comey's own admission that she had "decided to grow the higher-end side of the brand a bit." Obviously, this statement is not without its own ambiguity--it leaves room for a lower- or middle-end side, and it begs the question of which side will be emphasized. My suspicion is that she's moving upmarket, possibly leaving some items (maybe shoes) at the same price point.

I remember looking at her price points for Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 and noticed a strong upward trajectory--dresses that looked a lot like ones from past seasons that had retailed in the $400s were now in the $600s, an increase near 50% in some cases--and from what I remember, her prices were even lower not so long ago. Given that some of these dresses use the same patterns as earlier seasons, I suspect this was not entirely an economic decision but a subtle rebrand. It's also not cheap to use prints--if you use your own prints like Comey, the costs are substantial and her use of US labour is to be commended. So there are, perhaps, reasons for her pricing to increase, but given her statement, I believe there's more involved in rethinking the brand in an economy where the middle--even the top end of the middle who can afford her dresses as is--are being squeezed. Don't get me wrong--I think $400-$500 for a dress is still very expensive and positions Comey's clothing for affluent consumers and those of us who scour sales/sample sales for pieces. But these are not the demographics for the higher end, a market that continues to do better than ever.

It makes economic sense I guess and may be necessary if you want to continue to have ethical production standards and use US labour (which could also be a selling point to higher-end consumers). But I suspect this is the slow creep further upmarket that other brands have displayed--from Miu Miu, Isabel Marant and A.P.C. to Mayle and Lyell, both of which registered notable and hefty increases in pricing in their last seasons.

It's a shame too as Comey's clothing is often well made, despite its sometimes simple lines, holds up well and is ethically made. I have several of her dresses, although I will be selling three of them that I don't wear, many pairs of her shoes and a pair of pants. In a climate where many of us have discussed the quality of clothing and the ethics of production, her line has been one of the few to withstand scrutiny and wear. But any further move upmarket will put her brand out of my reach, except on ebay and sites like Community Closet Sale and Laws of General Economy.


Amanda said...

I've been noticing that Rachel Comey and similar designers of "contemporary labels" have been increasing their prices astronomically this season. My first pair of Comey boots cost $330, this season, its $420 on Saks. The same APC boots that sold for $500 last season is $530 this season. I understand the the cost of raw goods are going up, so I don't really faul them for the price increase. But...

I don't know what this "lush fabric" use that RC is talking about, because I've also noticed that a lot of her clothing is now made using polyester. So unless polyester satin is the new silk charmeuse, it's aggravating to think that even in this economic situation, designers think they should be able to peddle cheap plastic material as upmarket. *GROWL*

joyce said...

all i can say is "oof."