I read an interesting piece in the New York Times not too long ago. Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, an associate professor at USC's Price School of Public Policy, took on the topic of the changing consumption trends in a piece entitled, The 21st Century Silver Spoon. Currid-Halkett addresses the fairly obvious: the top 1% like to travel by private jet (even though this "fact" is slightly incorrect, as the percentage of individuals that an afford a Gulfstream or even a G5 rental is smaller than 1%); they value education; and they have nannies and grounds keepers. She also touches upon the role of the rise of fast fashion, and I quote: "[t]the rise of fast fashion - H&M, Forever 21, Armani Exchange - has made runway looks available for $30 rather than $3000." I'm not taking issue with this statement, aside from the fact that a runway "look" will often cost you upwards of $3000. Moving on ... "Knockoffs are so credible it may seem almost foolish to buy the real thing; 'fake' fashion culture has made clothes an unreliable indictor of social class." This is a troubling notion for many reasons. Knockoffs are so credible it may seem almost foolish to buy the real thing? Really?
Saying that "[k]nockoffs are so credible it may seem almost foolish to buy the real thing," implies at least a couple of things. One: that knockoffs can be credible in the first place. Knockoffs (aka garments and accessories that are mere copies of others' original designs) are legal in the U.S., as design piracy is not punishable by law, but describing them as "credible" is a bit of a stretch. In connection, this statement implies that the fast fashion copies compare in some way to their original counterparts. When was the last time you saw a fast fashion version of a Balmain dress that was "so credible"? Or a copy of a Celine coat that even remotely rivaled the real thing? These questions are not exactly up for debate, as the answer is almost never. Fast fashion garments are inherently meant to be worn for one season and subsequently discarded. The quality of the garments and accessories alone makes this quite clear. Instead of the fine materials that are sourced for high fashion wares, such as the house-farmed crocodile skins, Mongolian cashmere and raw Japanese denim, fast fashion items are created from polyester, rayon and the like. And don't get me started on the difference in cut and construction, as well as the origin of manufacturing. Thus, to say that the two compare, even in terms of their appearance alone, is mind-boggling.
Moreover, I understand what Currid-Halket is getting at when she says that "'fake' fashion culture has made clothes an unreliable indictor of social class." Essentially - you can "look rich" for a fraction of the price thanks to fast fashion. However, I'm not sure that statement is not entirely accurate either. Sure, everyone likes a good look for less, but: 1) It seems that Currid-Halkett is operating on the assumption that there often much confusion between a Givenchy sweater and a fast-fashion copy; and 2) it seems that she focuses too much on the "luxury experience" purchases of the top 1% that she forgets about their fashion-related shopping habits. Are these individuals regularly trading in their Chanel tweed jackets or Burberry trench coats for ones from H&M? Are they no longer shopping at Bergdorfs and making monthly trips to Forever 21, instead? If there is anything to be learned, it is that sophisticated shoppers willingly trade more for less, shopping expensive, quality pieces (which you simply are not going to find at a fast fashion retailer) and keeping them for more than one season. This is not to say that everyone doesn't need a Zara blouse every now and then, especially younger consumers, but whether the consumption patterns of those shopping high fashion are drastically changing in favor of knock-offs, don't believe the hype/speculation.