Are Designer Collaborations Going Out of Style?

Photo credit: @MariaSanz on Twitter
About a year ago, the fashion blogosphere was buzzing about the launch of Jason Wu for Target. There were ad campaigns, commercials, and even a celebrity-filled launch party. Target and H&M designer collaborations are, in my opinion, a publicist’s dream. The Missoni for Target collection, brought out the crazy in fashionistas and bargain-hunters alike (see above).  There were a few items I wanted, but the Target website crashed and I couldn’t access it for days. My backup plan was to go to my friend Brian’s local Target in Queens, where people, er, care less about fashion than in other areas, but the line completely sold out there too.

Many pieces from the designer collaborations pop up on eBay at outrageous prices. (One person tried to sell a pair of Missoni for Target boots for $31,000 to pay for her daughter’s college education.) In other tales of critically absent self-respect, this man waited 22 hours in line to shop the Versace for H&M collection and was repeatedly mistaken for an Occupy Wall Street protester.

The Neiman Marcus for Target collection with various designers for holiday 2012 is generally considered a flop and the pieces wound up going on clearance for as much as 70% off. What went wrong? Was it the high prices, or did the high number of collaborators spread the buzz too thin? Or are people wising up and realizing that a cat food dish by a designer is still a cat food dish? (I kind of wanted that cat food dish.)

It bothers me that people overall think that designer collaborations at big-box retailers are a bargain and get all worked up about them. For a quick wardrobe pick-me-up, designer collections at Target and H&M can be great – as long as you know what you’re getting. I get the impression that the average consumer thinks he is getting a whole new wardrobe at a great price, and that just isn’t true. Even if you are buying a shirt designed by someone famous, it is still produced by a mass retailer and probably not very good quality.

From a marketing standpoint, collaborations benefit everyone. The designer gets to bring his or her work to an expanded fan base, the store gets increased web and foot traffic, which brings in customers who are likely to make a purchase, whether it is from the clothing line or not. Both parties get excessive publicity.  FashionIndie’s Becca Alexander told Forbes’ Blue Carreon that collaborations “are becoming more about the marketing opportunities, less about the sales.”

I’m always excited to see the lookbooks from these designer lines, but when you see the merchandise up close it almost always disappoints. One line I did like was Erin Fetherston for Target back in 2007. I got a cute babydoll dress for $39.99, I believe. (Side note: the Steps Girls on Gossip Girl wore the pieces!) This was before people went bat-shit crazy for the designer collections. What also bothers me is that between the inflated Target and H&M clothing prices and the outrageous eBay markups so many people pay, they’re spending enough to get the actual designer item at a discount.

Have people never heard of Century 21? They sell Missoni and M Missoni items at big discounts all the time! eBay and consignment shops are also great resources. Of course, there are some collaborations that are not based on high-end lines, like the Kardashian Kollection at Sears, which I will admit had some nice things. When the collection debuted, I spotted a sequined jacket I liked, but it was $99.99. If I’m going to be dropping that kind of money in Sears, I want to be walking out with either some jewelry or an appliance. The jacket went on clearance for $24.99. Now we’re talking, ladies. Still, when it comes to designers, I’d rather just hunt down a bargain on the real thing.

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