Mary Katrantzou’s A/W 2014 collection was a distinct move away from her previous digital print heavy work. The queen of print instead sent some serious embellishment down the runway, using handmade textiles and vivid embroidery - to great effect. The collection was strong, elaborate and beautifully put together. And, after a scout around the Moda Operandi website, where you can pre-order pieces from the collection right now, it’s obvious it’s also incredibly expensive.
In August last year there was plenty of talk online, in print and I’m sure in the real world about the dramatic price increases at luxury houses like Chanel and Hermes. BOF pointing out that the Chanel 2.55 bag now retailed at the same price as the Hermes Kelly bag. Well the same price it was a decade ago, because the Kelly bag had by mid last year nearly doubled in price itself.
Luxury prices have historically consistently outstripped increases in inflation, more then twice the rate according to BOF. And while the raw cost of materials like leather and cotton, increases in wages in manufacturing countries like China and the ongoing costs of advertising in glossy magazines and maintaining store fronts in exclusive real estate markets no doubt contribute to increasing costs for luxury houses. There is another factor that Burberry basically confirmed last year when it said that it would raise prices to appeal to wealthier customers. A idea that sounds very much like the Veblen theory of goods.
The Veblen theory of goods basically says that the more expensive something is, the more people buy it. Seems contradictory, but quality is generally associated with price. The old adage that you get what you pay for springs to mind. Which certainly explains how luxury fashion houses can consistently increase prices and still make record sales.
What has any of this got to do with Mary Katrantzou’s latest collection? To put it bluntly, Katrantzou’s latest collection is not cheap. Not to suggest that previous collections were. Pieces from Katrantzou’s S/S14 and Resort 14 collections on Net-A-Porter range from $480 Australian dollars for a printed jersey tee to nearly $3000 Australian dollars for a Satin Twill dress in her signature vibrant prints. But on Moda Operandi, Katrantzou’s A/W 14 collection features prices that range from $4500 Australian dollars for a embroidered crew neck top to $50,000 for a heavily embellished dress. A significant increase in price. And while the work is also significantly different, and brilliantly done I might add, it illustrates an interesting phenomena in the fashion industry. That is the upward motion of prices. Prices that customers continue to pay.
Which points to the concept of status consumption, that being the purchases you make based specifically on brand name, prestige or the status that comes with owning luxury products. Visual social media like Instagram and the explosion of the blogging world has in no small measure contributed to the desirability of luxury brands. And to the concept of status consumption. There are more then 6 million pictures with the hashtag Chanel and a staggering 88 million with the hashtag fashion on Instagram alone. Fashion is indubitably big business, with the luxury fashion market worth around $160 billion a year.
Luxury houses and designers are, of course, entitled to price their products however they like. And more often than not, the workmanship, fabrics and construction far outstrip that of any fast fashion retailers. But if more and more brands follow Katrantzou’s and Burberry’s lead, and the Veblen theory, and increase prices to attract wealthier customers; customers looking for status and exclusivity and the prestige that comes with luxury brands, what exactly does that mean for the fashion industry? The demise of the middle market designer? The ever widening gap between fast fashion and high fashion?
How high is too high?