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Posted in FASHION
28 Jan ’14

What Luxury Really is: Shopping for Quality or the Virtue in Supporting an Emerging Designer.

So I did a test. Maybe a crazy one, but a test nevertheless. I need a jacket, vest and maybe sunglasses and a tablet case. I decided to visit the website of a few of the brands that I enjoy both culturally and visually. This is not normal shopping for me, so forgive my ignorance – so I will describe what happened when I visited the websites of both Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent today.

The first designer/brand I liked was Yves Saint Laurent, named after it’s creator and lead designer during his lifetime Yves Saint Laurent in 1961 after his stint at Dior where he was subsequently “booed” out because of radical indiscretions. Yves was a powerhouse and from working class French courtiers, he was also gay and lived with his partner as it were for most of his life friends with Warhol and many other artists. Yves died 2008. The brand is now Saint Laurent and is run by creative director Hedi Slimane, who was mens designer of the brand from 1996 until his appointment as lead everything.

The second, Alexander McQueen, similar creation. The brand started in 1995-96 and subsequently the founder Lee Alexander McQueen, who like Yves Saint Laurent was pulled on board an existing Haute Couture house, Givenchy, and later treated badly as it goes usually for geniuses. Lee came from the street culture of fashion, but also had a stint as a tailor for a large respected house that made suits for the royal family. Lee was gay like Yves, as it goes. Lee died, committing suicide, in 2010. Subsequently the brand’s women’s design head Sarah Burton who was with the brand since the mid-1990s, became creative director.

Both Burton and Slimane have a common boss, and brand financier – Kering brands. Both Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent are considered LUXURY brands and are not only well respected but both collections are covered in every major fashion and even popular culture outlet on the planet. This to me would say, although McQueen is the YOUNGER brand by 30 years, they would be equal.

So I thought.

So, in visiting the McQueen site there was a very obvious SALE button which was nice. I went through the more classic versions of the things I like. I wanted to find a jacket and a vest. McQueen, or World McQueen as it calls itself on social-media, was expensive as would be expected. I added a few items, keeping abreast of the price but at the same time knowing it would be a lot but trying not to go out of a particular range. The cost came up to what would be expected even with a sale at $1,374 for a jacket, pinstripe vest (called ‘waistcoat’) and just for consistency an iPad case.

Going over to the Saint Laurent site there was no sale button, but there was a permanent collection – which I would think would be maybe classic items, or reasonable items within a particular price range. Looking through them they weren’t, but as expected very high priced. Just as a test I decided to get comparable items from the YSL site, a black denim jacket, a leather vest and for accessory (since they did not have cases for phones or bags) a pair of aviators. Other items on the site were skinny jeans, etc – obviously the ‘hipper’ of the two sites. My three comparable items worked out to be a price $2,695!! In fact, in comparison almost TWICE the price as the Alexander McQueen.

yslvsMcQ

Now, both prices were high, and of course are set to ban a certain set of people from affording them. I get that. I was happier with the Alexander McQueen pricing and since I don’t shop that often I was thinking it over and thought well I buy Apple products because of their build quality and I like nice things it’s not THAT expensive. Hell, I will wear them forever. But I wanted to see if the comparable product was in my bevy of indie designers and smaller brands what kind of prices would a lesser known brand with equal quality have?

skingraftholster

I decided to go with some of my domestic US friends like Los Angeles founded, now with a NYC location Skingraft and check their prices on comparable items. Choosing a jacket, a vest and instead of the glasses or the iPad case I went with one of their nice holsters at $185 (most were sold out, guess they are a popular item). The pricing was comparable to McQueen but still about $200 cheaper at $1100. I was getting closer!!! Still not sure though. I love Skingraft, but I thought I might give a designer pal an actual text to see what he could do.

The Maddox Leather web-shop has a few items, but really the main option is the customization of your order!
The Maddox Leather web-shop has a few items, but really the main option is the customization of your order!

I texted leather designer Joshua Maddox, since all I was doing was looking for a nice leather jacket and a vest and something to accessorize. Visiting his site’s shop his prices were comparable in accessories, a holster at $350 and a leather bound book (iPad case) at $250, except Joshua Maddox would hand make the items and send them within 2-3 weeks. “I can make what you want really,” said Maddox. “As a designer I should be able to customize an item to my client’s needs.” This was great, and I felt like, okay, well I am helping someone that is a creative artist really do what they do and I have a unique item that no one else will have. Isn’t that the spirit of couture anyway?

I tried another designer I have worked with, Sylvia Heisel. We had talked a long time and I remember once her saying something that enlightened me about Haute Couture, “You know who can afford those gowns. Think about it, if an affluent woman in Dubai says, ‘I really like that gown, but the back is too low and if you could put sleeves on it and a burka it’s sold!’ Since couture is by definition made to specifications, for 100K of course a design house will do it!” Now I wasn’t looking for couture, not at all. First off, I’m not going to wear a gown, secondly I didn’t think about making something custom for me. That’s awesome! It got me thinking, I know many designers, wouldn’t it be better to ask one of them to make the things I need and pay them the cost of a luxury item?? I would be supporting an emerging designer and at the same time have something that literally no one else would have!

It got me thinking, I know many designers, wouldn’t it be better to ask one of them to make the things I need and pay them the cost of a luxury item??

I didn’t look up the jacket or vest, but consigned myself that I may take a little more time. I love Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and other luxury brands. You know the quality you are getting from the get go. Their ready to wear is expensive by comparison to something you would get at H&M or say Forever 21, and the price means you will likely not part with the garment for awhile. However, if I can I would much rather help a young McQueen or Yves take their work to that very next level. Maybe find an emerging talent even if the prices are the same or just a little less expensive, and buy from them. It’s worth it, you get individual attention and who knows – in years to come you might find out you have Vintage Maddox Leather or Skingraft, Zayna Bayne etc and it is worth a lot more than you paid for it!

To put it another way, at one time there was a young man from a small town that went to the big city to make something of his talent and vision. He liked clothes, he worked as a tailor and tried to get into the best design schools. He was turned down the first couple of times but then someone believed in him. He was energetic, oft times angry, and had a vision. Once he had a show he called “rape” and it got someone’s attention that pointed him out to someone else and bought his entire collection. She was a patron, she introduced him to people. They became friends for life. When he was more powerful and influential than she was he helped her. That first collection is worth millions now. The young man is Lee Alexander McQueen.

Take a chance.

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