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Elizabeth Landers | The Clothes Make the Woman

Recessionista no more?

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 02:03

With the Dow reaching a five−year high last Wednesday and the recent sequester hoopla, the state of the economy is of global importance. The fashion industry was hard−hit by the recession, with designers like Adam Lippes quietly shuttering their doors a couple of seasons ago and editors’ perks evaporating. It felt suddenly inappropriate to wear ridiculously high heels or flounce intricate brocades. High−low dressing had been on the rise, but exploded as fashionistas and socialites alike bragged about their Reed Krakoff bags paired with J.Crew cashmere twinsets and Kate Spade rhinestone studs.

Although head−to−toe design a la Nan Kempner and C.Z. Guest may never make a full comeback unless draped upon Hollywood’s sleekest celebrities, designers are not shying away from the uber−luxurious novelties of decades past. And it’s happening in less conspicuous places than one might imagine.

Handbags have always held their value and style quotient as a sound investment. How else would Hermes continue to charge $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000 for Birkin and Kelly bags? Leave it to the teenyboppers turned bona fide tastemakers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen to add serious clout to their clothing empire with an almost unattainably luxe bag collection. At the end of summer in 2011, the duo unveiled a collection that included a $39,000 crocodile backpack. A brown−drawstring type, this was not the kind of bag that resembled the glossy red carry−alls of Birkin’s past. The girls outdid themselves in December 2012 in collaboration with artist Damien Hirst. The hand−painted black crocodile bags gathered a cult−following pretty quickly, though in reality the bag looked like Dots candies placed in neat rows on a black backpack. With a $55,000 price tag, the collaboration begged the question: art or fashion? The irony lies in the fact that this bag remains devoid of any shiny metal button or printed logo. Only the true fashion snobs and art critics would know the price of the bag.

Bags aside, clothing has been hitting jaw−dropping prices as well. To be expected, designers like Versace offer the usual mega−expensive fall fare with red leather moto jackets priced at $7,650 and Salvatore Ferragamo’s more subdued wool jackets at $4,000. These brands, however, can command this price in the marketplace. As top−tier, storied designers, their ready−to−wear collections set the mark for trends worldwide for the next season. But what about less−established brands like Thom Browne and Proenza Schouler — not household names, but hot commodities within the fashion industry? Thom Browne’s fantastical collection, shown in New York last month, featured a $22,000 full−length gray beaver coat with matching gray lace sewn into many folds of fur. It resembles a furry cobweb. Proenza Schouler’s fall collection, a sharp black−and−white rendered in exotic skins, is currently being sold on top−of−the−line trunkshow site Moda Operandi. A staggering 14 pieces in the collection are over $10,000 each — granted, many of these are ostrich wrap skirts and embroidery feather skirts.

Fashion is built upon the notion of finding the next big thing, being ahead of the curve before the trend trickles down to H&M. But with the trickle−down trendsetting turning into trickle−up from streetstyle, are these relatively unknown designers and their pieces going to rise in value, or fall in a few decades? It’s impossible to say, but judging by the Women’s Wear Daily’s note on The Row x Damien Hirst backpacks, which people were already carrying at the official launch party, and the fact that $9,000 Valentino gowns on Net−a−Porter.com bear small gray−type “Sold Out” notices, the country may not be completely standing on its feet financially, but in fashion, the demand for the most over−the−top sort of expensive is strong and people are buying.

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Elizabeth Landers is a senior majoring in political science. She can be reached at Elizabeth.Landers@tufts.edu.

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