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Designer Collaborations Make Fashion Accessible

What happens when your favorite designer teams up with a major chain retailer? Mass chaos, that’s what! If you’re a Missoni fan, you might remember when they collaborated with Target to create a collection of affordable designer duds. Not only did the stores get ransacked immediately, the online traffic was so overwhelming that it caused Target’s website to crash. Clearly designers and retailers are onto something good.

High Fashion Goes Mainstream

It’s no secret that in recent years, high fashion designers have gained a lot of attention from us regular folks. Anne McMurray of Tactic, a branding and design firm, explains, “I think that fashion has been gaining more interest from a larger group of people as they've gained more voice. With the advent of fashion bloggers, Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw, Project Runway, The Devil Wears Prada, the red carpet obsession, Pinterest, the publicity that NYFW has gained, and the opportunity for designers and brands to individually interact with consumers and enthusiasts on Twitter, the world of fashion has entered into a larger conversation.”

The average consumer may not be able to afford a couture Vera Wang wedding gown, but she would definitely check out the more moderately priced collection for David’s Bridal.

“I doubt I'll ever walk a red carpet, but I can tell you where I'd get the dress, given the chance and the funds—and millions of women can say the same,” says McMurray.

Quality Counts

We asked McMurray why these collaborations between high-end designers and large retailers are so successful.

“I think I'd like to say that it's so popular because there is some genius involved, and people are drawn to good design,” she says. Though measures are taken to make production more cost-efficient, the integrity of design must remain intact.

The manufacturer has to find ways to cut costs, like using less expensive materials, simpler techniques and mass production, but a high quality is usually maintained. For example, when Target introduces lines designed by the likes of Missoni or Jason Wu, the prices are a fraction of what the designer duds would usually cost, but are still priced above Target’s usual fare. By pricing the products a bit higher, they can still maintain a good quality.

Label Crazy

Of course, most fashion and design fans will admit that labels count. We want the signature Missoni print on our handbag to stand out. We want the Christian Siriano label on our wedge heels, even if they are from Payless.

“I think that another element of it is simply status. Even though it's being sold at a giant retailer, there's still that brand value attached to it,” says McMurray.

This could be a major part of the reason why the limited production designs have sold out so quickly. Many customers buy up the stock and sell them for a profit on auction sites like eBay. When a designer label is involved, the demand can be incredible.

The Challenges

These collaborations are not without their challenges. High fashion designers are accustomed to having few cost considerations. Most of the elite designers have access to the most luxurious fabrics and high quality production techniques. Their typical client may be wiling to spend an unlimited amount of money for the perfect dress or suit. The constraints of sticking to a budget create a unique challenge for these designers. They want to create a product that will sell, but they don’t want to put their name on something that is poorly constructed. Striking a balance of affordability and quality can be challenging.

The retailer also faces the challenge of marketing the products. They want consumers to be attracted to the innovative creations and designer labels, but not be daunted by slightly steeper prices. They also must carefully consider which designers would be a good match for their store. For example, Target probably won’t be collaborating with a line of Vera Wang wedding dresses anytime soon. Women simply aren’t looking in Target for gowns.

“Even though these products are available at big retailers, they're often still more expensive than what those patrons would normally see there, so the marketing involved will have to center on how these products are valuable because of the design involved,” explains McMurray.

There is also a matter of logistics. Going back to the example of Missoni for Target, the web traffic was higher than expected, causing Target’s website to crash. This resulted in lost sales, not just of Missoni items, but also any of Target’s online offerings.

“The challenges are that the retailer needs to be prepared for a high volume of sales in a short period of time, so they need the resources to be able to handle it,” says Mary Jo Miller, academic director of the Fashion program at The Art Institute of Atlanta.

Retailers Rejoice

Despite the challenges, the advantages to retailers of collaborating with these high-end designers are great. When they introduce these designer lines, they may be attracting a new set of customers that didn’t frequent their stores before.

McMurray goes back to the example of Vera Wang: “With her White by Vera Wang line, not only does she have the opportunity to sell more dresses than before, David's Bridal is getting a whole new set of clientele: those that want a Vera Wang but can't afford her more expensive line, but may have not been interested in the dresses David's Bridal offered before.”

A fan of a particular designer may visit Target to check out the Jason Wu collection and leave with a cart full of paper towels, a magazine, and some last minute groceries. The retailer benefits by attracting more consumers and often a new demographic of consumers.

“It elevates the reputation of the stores because now people can get clothes from a high-end designer at an affordable price. All of a sudden, Target has become an important retailer in the fashion game,” says Miller.

Designers Win Too

So how exactly do the designers benefit from these collaborations, especially when they are significantly dropping their prices? Just like the major retailers, the opportunity to offer their designs at a lower price can attract an entirely new customer demographic to their brand.

One reason why designers may benefit is because of a slow economy. “It boosts their sales in a slow economy because people have less money to spend on clothes these days,” explains Miller.

But that’s not all. “I think the biggest benefit to designers is that they get to share their passion for design, and hopefully inspire that passion in others, gaining a bigger base of loyalty,” says McMurray.

Fashion bloggers and magazines are already talking about Target’s impending collaboration with Neiman Marcus, which is slated to hit the shelves just in time for the holiday season. According to The Huffington Post, the collection will include 24 CFDA designers, like Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Marchesa, just to name a few.

If you check out the promo video for the Target and Neiman Marcus collaboration, the designers are genuinely excited to get their designs out to a larger group of consumers. They are excited by the challenge of creating great design at a lower price point.


Anne McMurray, marketing associate of Tactic, a branding and design firm, http://www.tacticmarketing.com

Mary Jo Miller, academic director of the Fashion program at The Art Institute of Atlanta.