Thursday, 3 October 2013

Is fashion in tune with the real world?

Is it just me or is there a disconnect between the world of fashion and retail and ‘normal’ consumers? Now, I like fashion quite a lot. I think it does play a role in defining identity, both on an individual level and cultural level. UK designers are amongst the most creative in the world and our high streets wipe the floor with those of our European counterparts. I ‘get’ that high fashion exists in the realm of fantasy, affordable only to a select few and attainable to the masses only when reinterpreted and reworked from cheap materials in a factory somewhere in the Far East. 

But what I don’t get is how, despite the economic downturn, the fashion press and retailers seem to think it’s quite reasonable to sell and promote ordinary, work-a-day items at quite ridiculous prices.  For example, have you tried buying jeans recently? Since when did Levi’s jeans – the epitome of 'work wear' and a byword for democratic clothing - become so expensive? An average pair of Levi's jeans will set you back £80 these days. Yes, I know you can pick up a pair of skinnies for about the same price as a sandwich in Primark, but the point is not that cheap alternatives do not exist, but that all along the fashion chain some seriously dubious pricing mechanisms are at play. Look at the ongoing fashion for 'premium' denim. Just what makes it 'premium'? How can a piece of cotton crafted into a pair of trousers justify a price tag of upwards of £150? 

Just today I was flicking through Red magazine when I came across an article about parka coats. I love a parka coat as much as the next man, but it is not a high fashion item. It is a practical, winter staple, not a feat of designer engineering. The coat featured in said article cost £676. Yes, it was made of wool, but REALLY?? The coat was teamed with a cotton shirt at £270, a pair of jeans, £148 and a bag at - wait for it - £2,410. Total cost = £3,504. Granted, the bag was by Louis Vuitton, but it was JUST A BAG. How can a bag cost £2,410? Even if made from the finest Italian leather and hand crafted by the angels themselves is there really anyone out there in full possession of their faculties who believes this pricing to be acceptable? Obviously this is perhaps an excessive example but is anyone else a bit bored of fashion mags aimed at the 30-plus demographic assuming we're all investment bankers with £70k salaries?

Over on the high street excessive pricing is equally rife with quite average brands whacking out mass produced, poor quality products at disproportionately hefty price points. The prices in the more upmarket high street retailers (French Connection and Reiss spring to mind)have been creeping up for years now and not in a way that is in line with inflation, while quality has often deteriorated. And that's the point I'm making, in a round-about way. I am quite happy to pay good money for something that is designed and made well. I am not a fan of the Primark model and hate the excessive consumption incited by the 'pile it high, sell it cheap' modus operandi. And of course there are plenty of retailers meeting a good middle ground and servicing ordinary consumers perfectly well. I just think there are also an awful lot of brands and people working in the fashion industry who have got a very skewed idea of the average person's spending power. It would be good if those working on the fashion glossies and wider fashion industry recognised this from time to time.

What do you think? Comments welcome below...


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