Monday, December 8, 2014

Against Brand Loyalty

My wardrobe tells a sad story of brand infatuation. When I was younger and had way less money my options were limited to vintage stores and the Top Shop and Miss Selfridge sales racks, cultivating a habit of waiting for markdowns that survives to this day. At that time, I aspired to the slightly higher priced High Street brands like Warehouse (once a brand with some style that featured a young and less androgynous Tilda Swinton in its advertising, not the ugly polyester that now fills its racks). My sorry story of brand loyalty started there, first with a lovely striped cotton 1930s style blouse and pleated skirt that I left behind at a friend's wedding when I changed into my bridesmaid's dress. By the time that my first real salary cheques allowed me to binge purchase in the late 1990s-early 2000s, the brand was turning sour and I knew it, but bought anyway, clouded by memories of prior glories as I chased earlier aspirations. A couple of years later, I'd donated the clothing and thought I had learned a lesson--not to trust high street brands.

A series of similar but milder infatuations followed. Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor, Jill Stuart--but none were exclusive and as I only bought on sale, I didn't end up with much excess. Amongst my buys were items I liked and wore, but a few gaudy dresses and ugly tops ended up in charity bags. Then I discovered Lyell, which actually was a pretty good, if--or perhaps because--it produced so few items. What little I didn't wear then, I sold. And while there are pieces I'm still hanging onto in the hopes that I can slim down enough to wear again, I know they can be sold if necessary, leaving me without too much of a loss. Lyell's craftsmanship, vintage style and lack of excessive adornment meant it didn't date badly and was appropriate for day to day life. The fact that it ran small also prevented me from buying as much as I'd have liked, limiting stupid purely brand-centred purchases (and, yes, there were a few). 

I'd loved Mayle from afar but when I could afford it on sale I made a few judicious purchases--shoes that I wore to death, coats that are still in regular rotation, a couple of workhorse dresses and blouses. If the brand hadn't closed and I hadn't gone crazy, perhaps all would have been fine. But the end of the label, for me and others, spurred a frenzy of inappropriate label-centred purchases, mainly of the dregs of the line but sometimes of beautiful pieces that didn't fit. Tops and dresses that pulled over shoulders and hips teamed with muddy olive silk dresses now rest in the back of my wardrobe, devoid of the crazy value they briefly possessed in those days of collective madness. I sadly recognised that some pieces would never fit and sold them but didn't cash the checks which lie in books to this day, as I know I have to finally email those friends and ask for something in return for the dresses I sold and never wore. Jane Mayle's depressing pop-ups with their poorly made and strangely designed clothes pretty much ended the brand's cult value and eroded my investments.

Post-Mayle, there were other brands that tempted me but seeming bad luck saved me from more stupid shopping. Rachel Comey--lovely dresses (including one of my favourite workhorses) but price hikes, erratic sizing and uncomfortable shoes made me cautious, leaving me with a few dresses from Gilt that never really fit and a sample sale buy that was disastrously small. A Detacher was always too pricey and hard to find, Suno looked great at first but odd sizings and strange materials caused me to pass after one purchase. Timo Weiland appealed but then looked too junior. I couldn't afford Mary Katrantzou even at Top Shop. Then there was the new Tocca, designed by Emma Fletcher, whose clothing ran typically very small and was barely available anywhere, especially in the size 10s that I needed.

My Mayle binges caused me to rethink. I filled wardrobe gaps with cheaper mass market brands. J Crew cashmere was pretty good (although it pilled) until they opted for a cheaper supplier and could be bought for a decent price on sale. Club Monaco had good cashmere, reliable skirts and trousers. I'd liked their clothing when I first moved to NYC as it played with trends creatively without ripping off more well known brands. Even though Zara are less than admirable in their production, labour practices and fabrics (and have tiny sizing), there were pieces there for me. As for Madewell, I exerted self-restraint as I'm trying to break the pattern of buying nondescript, ugly or inappropriate clothes just because the label and discounts are both right.

Two events really brought home the stupidity of my brand loyalty. First, the gradual rebrand of Club Monaco. The higher quality, more minimalist brand I liked started to change a couple of years ago--at first, it seemed, for the better. Their dresses started to improve--away from the workwear or party binary. Then the flagship on 5th Avenue closed for a redesign, away from its probably somewhat tired 1990s-early 2000s minimalism. While I love beaux arts and Victorian gingerbread, the reopened store seemed wrong. Beautiful but somewhat off. It reaffirmed what I had already gleaned from the pile of unremarkable reduced clothing in my bedroom--there was a new design team and their clothes were tacky. Overdesigned, over-embellished, with a much smaller fit (my old size 8s were bigger than the new 12s) and cheaper fabrics, chasing trends that didn't exist, these were not the clothes of yore. My habit of scouring their sales and outlet abruptly ended as I recognized what was in front of me, not my memories and imagination. 

The second epiphany occurred last week. I think I'd have said that Tocca was my favourite brand in my price range (even though it stretched those limits), but I now recognise that was another spell based around a couple of earlier collections and a couple of coats. I went to my third Tocca sample sale last week, hoping for some size 10s that were not small 6s in disguise. My hopes were briefly raised as I saw the size 10-12 rack stuffed with a variety of this season's coloured items--until I noticed it was the size 0s where the 10-12 rack used to be. 8, 10 and 12 were now together, except they have never made 12 in the Emma Fletcher era. There were about 3 or 4 pieces in a 10--a tiny jacket, a small shirt I'd seen in the last two sales (a size 4-6 in real sizes at best) and two heavy woolen sleeveless dresses. I did buy the coat I wanted in an 8, but after another rant about their sizes, I woke up. The coat wasn't that great and the fabric was a cheap wool that attracts threads, dust and hair. It didn't have set in sleeves. And why was I so upset about a brand that doesn't make clothes in my size and is barely sold anywhere that now uses cheaper fabrics and lesser craftsmanship? Why bother when they don't? I did get some nice cream and shower gel, and from now on, that's what I'll get from their sales--like most of their other shoppers.

On final reflection, the clothing I like and wear frequently comes a variety of brands. I never bought any more Joie items just because I liked one dress or  Rails items because I have a couple of nice shirts. I want to be more environmentally and economically responsible in my purchases and removing the blindness of brand loyalty is one important step on that journey. 

4 comments:

joyce said...

Oh, Moya. I can so relate to this post. I was just looking at the contents of my closet the other day and lamenting all the brand-driven purchases that are currently crowding the back of my closet. The silk and lace dresses, especially, that just do not function in my current life. I have this one beautiful ochre Mayle dress that I bought a couple of years ago because the price was good, but it's literally gathering dust.

Sigh.

Jocy said...

I am also guilty. I loved Mayle and still collect old piecea, some purchase being better than others. Now I suffer from brand infatuation with Ace and Jig. I think I am more prone to this behavior because I want to find a brand that I trust, quality and fit-wise.

Mona Vernon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mona Vernon said...

I am amazed more people are not pointing out the steep decline in quality from all brands. I have herringbone black wool trousers from Banana Republic from 10 years ago that are well made and still going strong. I have not been able to look at anything from that brand in at least 5 years.

Most brands to deliver flimsy poorly made clothes. I agree with Muffy Aldrich from the Daily Prep blog and I am not necessarily preppy on her observations regarding quality.

Everlane is tapping into this issue. Although the brand is focused on price transparency, I am pleased with the quality. The Everlane silk shirts are thick and beautiful and put to shame the expensive versions sold at Saks or Barneys. At 80 dollars, I stocked up and made it part of my work wardrobe uniform.

If you are in your twenties, you would not know that he norm is terrible trash made of lyocell, acetate, rayon and other junk is new and that once upon a time, there were natural fabrics and brand stood for quality.