Thursday, June 04, 2009

Quote of the Day: Michael Bastian

“It’s crazy, I can’t even afford my clothes.”
Poor Michael Bastian. The designer of $600 cut-off shorts told The New York Times' David Colman that in an otherwise glowing article this week.

Bastian's menswear is made in Italy, and he told The Times that it may not last if his manufacturer can't cut costs by 30 percent. “Right now, it hurts a little too much. It should hurt a little, but it shouldn’t kill ’em. That’s the law of designer clothes.”

As the economy continues to tank and schadenfreude sets in, it's awfully tempting to dismiss the over-grown luxury sector. But.... But what? I'm sorry I have no sympathy if you can't sell a $425 dress shirt, not now, not in any economy. Such grotesquely priced apparel should never be more than a miniscule niche market. Come on. I can get a beautiful dress shirt made exclusively for me to my exact specifications by American workers right here in the New York area for half that.

While Bastian's designs are lauded for being wearable right off the runway (a relative rarity even in menswear; Bastian says, "The easiest thing is to create something no one has ever seen before. There’s a reason no one’s ever seen it — because someone tried it, and it didn’t work in the real world.”), wearable should not be confused with affordable. It's still a brand and it's still very high-end. Ultimately, Bastian's customers are spending on Italian fabrics and construction, but also on his name. Standard mark-up in the apparel world is more than double, which is why retailers can still make a profit after big sales.

However, the luxury apparel market is beginning to see that it may have suffered a permanent loss. The simple fact is that we got too greedy. The first sign of the retail apocalypse was when Chinese knock-off accessories (handbags, sunglasses) became acceptable among otherwise scrupulous women. As a cultural demand for luxury outpaced middle class pocketbooks, the culture compensated by allowing imitations and forgeries. Stories would circulate that these fake Chanel shades were made in the same factory as the real ones -- they were only fake because they weren't sanctioned by Chanel.

We've been forced to re-examine what luxury is and who deserves it. Is it merely exceptionally high-quality goods? Or is it just arbitrarily expensive goods? Is it gauche to show logos? Should we hide our purchases in plain bags? Does anyone give a shit? Is saving money right now and paying down debt un-American?

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