Jimmy Choo’s cheap & chic

With style and price in mind, the tight weave of designer brands and retail giants is reshaping the fabric of affordable luxury

Jimmy Choo’s latest line, which debuts in four H&M locations across Canada this Saturday, is the perfect combination of party chic and detailed luxury.
Jimmy Choo’s latest line, which debuts in four H&M locations across Canada this Saturday, is the perfect combination of party chic and detailed luxury.
Credit: 
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The most innovative of fashion trends often take root in the most turbulent of times. The nylon stocking, for example, was introduced to the U.S. market in 1940, immediately following the Great Depression and preceding the Second World War. Originally recalled from the market for the production of parachutes, nylons later returned triumphantly, propelling the “nylon riots” over the coveted undergarment. In the same way nylons revolutionized the war years and the zipper revolutionized the Depression, the recent economic downturn had sprouted fashion innovations coveted by reccesionistas everywhere.

The ubiquitous partnership of exclusive designer brands and their antithesis—the chain store—have become a distinguishing emblem of the 2009 recession. Stores like Target and Kohl’s paired up with designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Vera Wang, respectively, while Macy’s nabbed Rachel Roy’s sophisticated designs.

Amidst this designer fervour, H&M has revolutionized the designer-department store combo. Their recent collaboration with Jimmy Choo marks the transcendence of luxury into the clean lines of retail. Where the average Jimmy Choo footwear begins at an average of $500, the new shoe line for H&M drops slightly under the $100 mark—a refreshing diversion from the elite world of high heels and high fashion.

Emily Scarlett, public relations manager and spokesperson for H&M, said the collaboration is H&M’s first fusion with an accessories brand.

“We’re always looking to do something new and exciting for our customers,” she said. “This is the first time we’re collaborating with an accessories brand, and because ladies love their shoes, we immediately thought of Jimmy Choo. Jimmy Choo shoes are so well known and became so famous—in part by Sex and the City—and ladies around world absolutely love it. When we talked to Tamara Mellon [Jimmy Choo’s president and co-founder], she was on board immediately.” Scarlett said this collaboration is particularly exciting for customers, who for the first time will see a new direction for the brand—a never-before launched a men’s and ladies wear line.

The prediction for this line’s success is an easy one to venture—one only needs to recall the Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney lines that sold out within the hour.

“Every year we sell out within minutes,” Scarlett said. “We always have lineups of hundreds of people. We want to keep doing these collaborations because they’re something really exciting for the customers and we constantly get such a positive response. It’s nice to offer one-of-a-kind pieces that are still affordable and luxurious at the same time.”

Working closely with H&M designers, Mellon came up with the designs.

“She had her hand of in all of the designs and personally approved them all,” Scarlett said. “We used our suppliers to manufacture the goods—and that’s how we keep the price-tag low. We use a very efficient logistics system and manufacture our goods globally, which again factors into keeping prices low and yet keeping a glam feel.”

Scarlett added that the economic downturn has encouraged more and more designers to tap into the mass market resource.

“They want to share their products and ideas with everyone, as opposed to just those who can pay top dollar,” she said. “It’s a way to bring your brand and design to the mass market through partnering up with chain stores and making their designs and visions available to the greater public.”

Even though the price tag makes the shoes available to a wider consumer demographic, Scarlett said the line manages to maintains Jimmy Choo’s exclusivity nonetheless.

“Even in Canada, it’s only available in four stores across the nation,” she said. “And of course, people have to wait in line for the collection because it’s only a limited time collection and it sells out in 10 minutes—so if you were lucky enough to get a piece, you still maintain that exclusivity...it’s not something that gets replenished like our regular inventory.”

Scarlett said the affordable luxury is a popular idea amongst designers because it helps promote name recognition and brand awareness.

“Especially for new and upcoming designers like Kate and Laura Mulleavy for Rodarte, it’s an amazing partnership and their designs are so avant-garde and beautiful, but it wasn’t that well-known to the public,” she said. “So they partnered up with Target and got their names out there—and we did the same thing last year with Matthew Williamson, who has so much to say and an amazing point of view, but who wasn’t so well known in North America. So we introduced his brand and made his name known to thousands and thousands of people who may not have known it before.” Kenneth Wong, associate professor and Commerce ’77 Faculty Fellow in marketing, said these types of collaborations allows a shift in the products companies tend to provide for their clients.

“When we think about things like this we tend to think about two types of demand,” he said. “One is primary demand, which concentrates on how much overall demand there is for clothing, and then there is selective demand, which is however much clothing is being bought, who’s selling what, how much is being sold and what the market share is like.”

Wong said when a company launches a diffusion line, the retailers are mindful of the ways in which a specific designer will attract a certain kind of client into the store. Once the designer affiliates with a store, though, the notion of exclusivity on which their business is based will be compromised.

“The moment you move away from an exclusive boutique to a chain store, the whole economics of the store are different,” Wong said. “Designer boutiques have this whole air of, I’m not going to sell many items but I’ll make a lot of money on those I do sell. It’s this whole notion of, I have a monopoly and if you want that exclusivity, you have to pay the price. When you get into a chain store, the whole exclusivity aspect changes into, ‘I can bring you the look but it will be in a piece of clothing that’s not exclusive anymore.’”

Even with the diffusion lines’ limited supply, Wong said the exclusivity of the designer is nonetheless compromised.

“It’s still not exclusivity in the context of what you’re buying, because it’s still mass produced and it’s widely available,” he said. “So the likelihood that you’ll see someone else wearing an is much larger, which happens on a much smaller scale with designer boutiques. Where exclusivity comes in, however, is for the retailer; if you want to buy a pair of these Jimmy Choos, you can only get them at four places in Canada—and while you’re there you’ll buy other things.”

Wong said the downside of diffusion lines is the discrepancy between the types of customers designers attract and the type chain stores want to pursue.

“For instance the recent collaboration between Zellers and Alfred Sung—the buyer who shops at Zellers and the person who buys Alfred Sung’s designs are not the same person,” he said. “These kinds of collaborations only work on the condition that you can convince someone with the same designer taste to shop at Zellers.”

By adjusting the concept of limited high-end availability, department stores have tapped into an alternative way to maintain exclusive items a limited niche.

Replacing the criterion of exclusivity which accompanies the high price-tag with an overwhelming demand in the face of an extremely limited supply, stores have allowed retail shoppers to get a glimpse of haute couture at a fraction of the price. Yet again, the world of fashion has proven as elastic as the fabrics it so heavily relies on.

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