The Price Is Wrong

High times at the low end

You know that Dries Van Noten skirt, the one with the splotchy, paint-splattered print and the funny black embroidery that looks like it was sewn on by a six-year-old, the one that's been hanging on a rack in Barneys since July? Well, it's finally on sale now, and there are still plenty of them left, at a whopping 60 percent off. Unfortunately, these dirndls began life with a stupendous, shocking, obscene price of $1900—so even with a second or third markdown, you're not going to be wearing one anytime soon.

But how much do you really care? Not to disparage Van Noten, whom we love, but really, it's only a skirt, not a trip to Europe. And that's the whole problem with high-end designer clothes these days—when prices are so utterly ridiculous, you are forced to ask yourself: how much pleasure am I are really going to get from a $900 cotton blouse, even if the label says YSL?

There is simply no justification for these stratospheric prices (and don't tell us it's a reflection of the euro going up—when the euro went down, we didn't see these prices budge one cent.) The only possible explanation is that these companies have decided to ignore even the upper-middle-class strivers who used to spring once in a while for something really expensive, and simply go after the one-tenth of one percent of the population who don't even look at price tags: those beneficiaries of Republican tax cuts, those recipients of Wall Street bonuses, who can't burn through their money fast enough.

Less cash for mere cashmere at  Lucky Brand
photo: Holly Northrop/hnorthrop.com
Less cash for mere cashmere at Lucky Brand

It wasn't always like this. When Marc Jacobs bags cost $800 (still a ton of money) you could save your pennies, wait for a sale, and when it was more than 50 percent off, maybe splurge. But now that bags are in the four-figure range, who can get near them?

Depressed? Don't be. After all, there is something calming, even soothing, about not being able to afford anything at the tippy-top. No more decisions about what and when and how to buy! No more anguished scrimping and saving!

Which is not say you can't have anything new. Oddly enough, at the same time that hot-label goods have priced themselves out of the market, a whole rush of good things have surfaced at what we like to think of as the lower end of the high end, if you will. By this we don't mean sad department store bridge lines, but the friskier if still hopelessly corporate chains that have surfaced on every high street from Barcelona to Bay Ridge.

On a rainy afternoon over the endless New Year's weekend, we discovered ersatz 1950s banana yellow beaded cardigans at Lucky Brand [luckybrandjeans.com]; wonderful fake Lucien Pinet-Fillet cashmere pullovers sporting sail boats at J. Crew [jcrew.com] (the originals, always among the most obscene pricewise, are for sale for around $2000 each at the Pinet-Fillet shop on Christopher Street, if you'd care to compare); a slew of delightful fake ruffled, beaded, and otherwise encrusted Marni skirts for around $100 at Anthropologie; and creative interpretations of Prada and Comme des Garcons at Zara [zara.com].

Of course, it's easy to forget when you're living in Manhattan and toiling in the trenches of fashion all day long that $150 for a sweater, even if it's a fraction of the price of the uptown version, is way beyond the reach of most Americans. Most people in this country shop at Target or Kmart or Wal-Mart; edgier dressers spice things up with thrift store finds.

It's old news these days that even Richie Riches are salting their wardrobes with less expensive items. But what we found on our visits is that there was nothing sour grapes about it: We actually liked a lot of this stuff a lot. If only they had a more pretentious label, we suspect real longing might set in.

 
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