This week, Greg Chait of The Elder Statesman took home the top prize at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, earning a $300,000 investment, mentorship, and the official endorsement of Vogue.
Chait, who was up against better known designers like Wes Gordon and Suno, is somewhat of a surprise win. After all, the cashmere t-shirts and winter hats for which Chait is known, don’t exactly scream cutting edge design. However, Chait’s focus on creating luxurious, timeless basics is something he shares with another recent CFDA-winning duo: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen who were named 2012′s Womenswear Designer of the Year for The Row. [Chait and Ashley Olsen also used to date. We're just putting that out there.]
The fact that The Elder Statesman’s cashmere sweaters and The Row’s perfectly-constructed t-shirts have beat out the more fanciful and intricate designs of their contemporaries is a telling indication of what direction the luxury market may be headed in–namely, back to basics. After years of increasingly over-the-top runway looks and a lightening fast trend cycle, discerning consumers seem to be searching for items with more permanence–and they’re willing to pay a premium price for it.
While some of these basics might be going for a hefty sum, Jeffrey Kapelman, Co-CEO and Principal of fashion-focused factoring and finance company Hilldun, says the understated, timeless aesthetic is in line with today’s troubled financial times.“Clearly in times of stress people revert to what they are familiar with, whether it’s comfort food or comfort clothes,” Kapelman wrote to us in an email. “So it makes sense that [in this time of financial stress] basics are gaining in popularity today.”
David Wu, a luxury goods analyst at Telsey Group, agrees that the shaky economic environment may be creating greater demand for luxurious basics. “If you look back at the past economic down turn, luxury consumers really gravitated towards inconspicuous consumption.” Which means designer’s over-the-top, ostentatious runway creations were out–and under-the-radar expensive staple items were in. “Since we’ve emerged from the recession, trend and fashion oriented looks are doing better and are actually a major driver of the luxury goods sector, [but] I still think consumers are conscious of the [shaky economic] environment and still gravitate towards more timeless looks that will last longer, and aren’t as ostentatious as they were pre-recession.”
Now, it seems luxury consumers are more interested in buying one expensive piece that will last a number of years, as opposed to buying several trend-oriented items that will look outdated after a season. And, thanks to fast fashion retailers, you no longer need a lot of money to look on-trend.
“Now you can get a lot of your very high fashion pieces through Zara or H&M, disposable trend based pieces that you can replenish season to season depending on the trend,” Wu said.