Fashion week excites despite retail struggles

If I could have been anywhere in the world last week, it would have been inside a white tent at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue in New York City.
Inside that tent, I’d be accompanied by individuals I feel I’m on a first-name basis with – Diane, Isaac, Nanette. New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park – for many of us, it’s a lot more exciting than the Olympics.
But a few years ago, I could have never dreamed of rocking frocks with big names on the labels. Even still, my nicest pieces came from a roommate who worked in a fashion showroom and gave me a few samples.
But while scoring a roommate with a job that pays in clothes is a great way to pretend you belong on a runway, it’s not the only way for everyday Janes and Jills to act as if we’re Giselles these days.
Not surprisingly, the recession struck the high-end fashion industry more quickly than Forever 21 can churn out a $12 dress. So what are designers to do when the clothes stop selling?
Gilt Groupe found the answer. Its founders were inspired watching New York women stand in sample sale lines for hours. So they did the obvious – took that world of highly discounted designer items online.
Nowadays, Gilt Groupe leads the charge of a plethora of online sample sale sites, which also includes Rue La La, HauteLook, ideeli, Beyond the Rack and more.
These sites are perfect for the recession, offering designer goods up to 80 percent off. They even make consumers feel a little more elite by creating homepages with a greeting saying the sites are members-only and they must wait for an approval. But at the end of the day, everyone gets past the velvet rope.
It’s all part of the plan – to make consumers feel as if they’re shopping the real designer, even if they’re not.
Some items are made specifically for Gilt Groupe and aren’t necessarily made with the usual integrity of that designer, according to the New York Magazine article ‘What’s a Dress Worth?’ So although you may be sporting an Elizabeth and James label, the only way to know it’s not made with cheaper fabric is if you saw its twin at Nordstrom.
But there are still some great deals with the original stuff. Just this week, Gilt offered Valentino jackets for 75 percent off and several varieties of designer denim for $68 apiece.
Nonetheless, many wonder what this is doing to fashion.
If more people can afford to wear the designer, does its name lose credibility? Is Burberry about exclusivity or an impeccably-made trench coat?
By the looks of last week, it doesn’t seem to be hurting the designers. People are excited about the fashion – and with the lucky few who were given the golden tickets to the shows blogging and tweeting each outfit at a rapid pace, the everyday consumer was able to feel even more a part of it all.
Perhaps these sites are even helping designers survive. As little as 25 percent of all designer goods sold for full price between fall 2008 and 2009, according to Bain Capital. If the clothes, bags, jewelry and shoes were selling for full price, their crafters clearly wouldn’t be discounting them.
Not all designers will make it through the recession. But not all other companies and retailers will either.
For now, those of us intrigued by fashion are lucky to be seeing four-digit prices come down to three and three-digit prices down to two, and perhaps snag a timeless piece for our closet that will be worth much more in years to come.
And for those of you who were busy watching hockey, stock your closet with nudes, pieces with cut-outs, fur and leg candy in the form of tights, warmers and leggings for next fall. Although if you’re like me, you’re just hoping for spring right now.
Emily Regenold is a senior journalism major from Cincinnati. She is the Scout managing editor.
Direct questions, comments and other responses to eregenold@mail.bradley.edu.