Greedy fashion designers destroy their own brands

The Washington Post (September 10) has a front-page article in the Style section, “Proving Their Worth,” about designers—like Badgley Mischka and Vera Wang—who undercut their own brands by selling lower-priced lines of their own clothing. “The signature collections form these designers sell for 10 to 30 times as much as what they delivered to the Gap,” writes the Post about Rodarte designers Thakoon Panichgul, Doo-Ri Chung and Laure and Kate Mulleavy, “So why spend the extra money?”

Why, indeed. “There have always been those who cast a skeptical eye on the expensive and esoteric merchandise peddled on designer runways, but now the designers themselves are forcing the question,” notes the paper.

Designers who sell lower-priced versions of their own lines aren’t smart. They’re stupid and short-term greedy. Branding, in fashion, is about creating the illusion of premier status, and part of the illusion involves the extraction of enormous amounts of money from consumers’ wallets. When designers sell themselves short, they literally destroy the halo that surrounds their work. They drag the price of the brand down and with it the entire image.

Contrast this with Ralph Lauren, who, notes the Post, has been in the fashion business for 40 years this year. He celebrated by showing his spring collection in Central Park then “following it with a black-tie dinner that had all the breathtaking elegance that only Jay Gatsby himself could conjure.” In addition to lauding his collection, the paper notes that “few designers are as facile at myth-making as Lauren. They have the pressure of being judged on their clothes alone, not the stories they weave.”

Ah, but the whole point is to tell the story. Ralph Lauren does this majestically. When we pay for the fashion, we’re paying for the story. Designers who sell the clothes are missing the point.