It began with the designer collaboration. Topshop led the way with the likes of Christopher Kane and Celia Birtwell, and the rest of the high street was quick to follow suite. It seems to make sense from everyone’s perspective: the designer gets to sell in larger quantities, the chain profits from the designer’s reputation and the fashionably-minded customer purchases high end pieces at low end prices. Or at least that’s the theory. Because ever since the student-friendly stores got a taste of the other side of fashion, they’ve been reluctant to climb down from the top – not in terms of the clothes, but the cost. We’re becoming increasingly acceptant of being sold garments that don’t have the price to match. But if the high street is changing shape, does this mean changing customer?
The high street has its own, in-house version of the designer collaboration. Most shops are now offering capsule collections that tap into the exclusivity of designer one-offs without the fancy label, but with the fancy price tag. This results in being charged in excess of £100 for a polyester dress coated in a shedload of sequins. Despite their grand claims, these kinds of collections always disappoint – their aspirations towards a pseudo-designer aesthetic inevitably fall flat, resulting in a try-hard assortment of ‘fashion’ pieces that don’t have a place amongst rails of jersey basics and inoffensive separates. No one goes to H&M to spend £200 on an evening gown – if you have that much in your pocket you head to net-a-porter. But it seems that the student’s middle ground is dissolving, as in the process of punching above its weight the high street has ratcheted up its mainline prices.
Yet taking the problem outside doesn’t quite solve it either. This month H&M announced the launch of a luxury chain, ‘& Other Stories’, due to open its doors in 2013, joining Cos as another of the budget brand’s independent projects. However, the luxury high street store is only really suited to those with a luxury bank balance – essentially, your loan won’t cover it. Chains such as Whistles, Reiss and Karen Millen are favoured by the glossy magazines as the go-to brands for featuring ‘cheap’ clothes that look suitably expensive. But realistically the mental battle between buying one incredible jacket or a month’s accommodation (and that really is the choice) will see the accommodation win. The high street seems to have forgotten its place.
Once the domain of the well-dressed student, it served its purpose by providing fast fashion at affordable prices. Primark et al are no substitute for the high street of yesteryear, failing to fill the gap between the worryingly inexpensive and the woefully expensive. The reality is that there is no space for grand ambitions in the brand identities of shops that trade on the basis of making the unattainable, attainable. High end on the high street is a nice idea, but it’s the type of equality that doesn’t work in practise.
PHOTO/Salon de Maria