Skip to main content

Mass Hysteria?

Today, Patrick Robinson tells the Wall Street Journal he'll never create designer clothes again, saying "I won't take another job in the designer mar

Today, Patrick Robinson tells the Wall Street Journal he'll never create designer clothes again, saying "I won't take another job in the designer market because I just don't believe in it... It doesn't excite me anymore." Mr. Robinson used to head Paco Rabanne. Now he makes Target's summer line, which is very cool but slightly hard to style. More difficult is the headline of the story, Rethinking Expensive Clothes, which wonders whether anyone will pay designer prices when they can get Forever 21 and TopShop. Of course, there is quality to consider, but WSJ fashion editor Teri Agins argues that at the end of the cash register, a dress is just a dress. The full text of the article is posted below. Skim it and let us know - are you over designer clothes? We're not - yet - but we do think the J. Crew mini dress at left gives many spring catwalks a run for their money...

With famous designers creating clothes for mass retailers from Target to Gap, consumers may be wise to ask whether it's worth shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive designer clothes. Patrick Robinson, former designer for such well-known fashion emporiums as Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein and Perry Ellis has lately begun to have a change of heart when it comes to high-end fashion. He no longer has the patience for fashion shows and the inefficiencies of studio design that drive up the price of clothes, without delivering real value. Mr. Robinson, who is about to become Target's sixth guest designer, had this epiphany when he created his Greek-inspired collection in cotton gauze, jersey and khaki, set to debut in Target's 1,400 stores next month. After spending four years as design director for women's wear at Giorgio Armani in the early 1990s, and most recently at Paco Rabanne, the 40-year-old designer was accustomed to having a lot of creative latitude and access to the highest-quality Italian fabrics and workmanship. But in turning out clothes for under $50 for Target, Mr. Robinson was surprised that he didn't have to compromise as much on design and materials as he expected. A-List Names The imperative that high fashion must be expensive is increasingly being questioned as more mass retailers adapt the strategy of commissioning upscale designers to produce special collections for their stores. Mr. Robinson is just the latest name to come to Target, which has had guest stints from up-and-comers Louella Bartley, Tara Jarmon, Paul & Joe, Behnaz Sarafpour and Proenza Schouler. These designers -- who aren't yet household names but who are well-regarded in the fashion world -- produce limited-edition collections that are in Target stores for just 60 to 90 days. Swedish retailer H&M has also caused a stir with collections by Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf. And starting on Tuesday, the Gap will be showcasing a special group of white shirts, priced between $68 and $88, created by critically acclaimed New York designers Doo Ri, Rodarte and Thakoon. Of course, high-end fashion continues to hold sway. None of these designers would have been in a position to be hired by mass retailers if they hadn't first gotten on the fashion radar by way of the runway shows in New York, Paris and Milan. The idea that affluent consumers will suddenly abandon expensive designer duds for mass marketers is highly unlikely. For one thing, mass marketers are limited in how many fine garments they can produce. Target and H&M have concentrated largely on casual clothes in a narrow range of sizes, and quality can be hit-and-miss. They have yet to conquer the highly tailored garments that simply can't be turned out at the mass retailers' prices -- which typically max out at $150. For those who can afford it, it still makes sense to splurge on expensive wardrobe staples such as tailored suits and jackets, winter coats and shoes, where fabric, fit and workmanship clearly make a difference. Most people justify splurging -- say, spending $2,000 on a handbag -- because they will get a lot of wear out of it. "In some cases, the status handbag is perceived to have more value, as opposed to the $5,000 dress that you will wear for one season," says Pamela Danzinger, a New York-based luxury-goods marketing consultant. Still, Mr. Robinson's Target experience suggests it's increasingly worthwhile to browse the discount aisles. Finding the Fabric Mr. Robinson began working with Target last May, when he sketched out a collection of about 150 pieces -- dresses, skirts, tops, pants, bathing suits, evening dress and handbags and scarves. Inspired by ancient Greek goddesses and the "essence of summer," he had all kinds of ideas for signature prints, with faded medallions and gold coin embellishments. He combed through Target's library of fabrics, and when he didn't find the fabrics he wanted, Target came through three days later with suitable alternatives from its extensive sourcing network in Asia. One cotton eyelet fabric from China, in particular, he says was "as good as what I would get in Italy." One lesson that Target had learned beginning with its ongoing four-year relationship with designer Isaac Mizrahi, was to avoid watered-down looks by having too many people involved in the design process. "We don't attempt to design any portion of the line," says Trish Adams, senior vice president, merchandising. During the design process, Mr. Robinson had just one main point person to report to: Sally Mueller, director, marketing planning. "The fewer merchants that work on it, the better," Ms. Adams says. "We don't have 25 people weighing in." Mr. Robinson says the process resembled his experience in traditional fashion houses, where he decided the look of the clothes as well as made major decisions on the look of the advertising. What Target figured out years ago -- and its competitors are now discovering -- is that consumers respond to creative designer, as opposed to brands designed by committees of merchandisers or endorsed by celebrities. "What chains like Gap are learning is that people want to be led by a real designer, even if they've never heard of them before," says David Wolfe, creative director of Doneger Group Inc., retail consultants. A Smooth Ride Mr. Robinson was prepared for the usual trial and error of fitting and redraping prototype samples as they came in from China, a process that usually takes three times to get right, he says. He was bowled over when all 150 samples arrived from China in less than two months, with most garments needing minimal corrections. "It went so smoothly. It was shocking -- you can't get that out of Italy," he says. Now, Mr. Robinson says he is so happy that his collection will reach so many customers, that he is ready to switch the course of his career to design exclusively for the masses. "I won't take another job in the designer market because I just don't believe in it," he says. "It doesn't excite me anymore."

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles