A similar trek is being more figuratively taken by other high-end designers as they reach out to a broader demographic with new lines and more democratic marketing tactics. Moving outside of the traditional lux space is newly acceptable as fashion fuses mass with class.
There are practical reasons for the shift. While the luxury market is growing double-digits, with Neiman-Marcus leading the retail pack, designers are competing for limited space. High-end designer collections represented only 7% of the $165 billion in total U.S. apparel sales last year vs. 55% for mass and 38% for mid-sector or bridge lines, according to the NPD Group.
Isaac Mizrahi's successful jump from couture designer with a single line at Bergdorf Goodman to everyman designer with his Target collection has prompted a slew of copycats. That trend shows no sign of abating as consumers-even the most elite-begin to mix-and-match high-end and low-end items (a fact the October issue of Vogue will address). Among the recent examples are Oscar de la Renta with his moderate O Oscar line for retailers such as Dillard's and Macy's West and Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld with his collection at H&M.
Sam Shahid, president-creative director of Shahid & Co. said that once such efforts could "kill your name." Now, the lower-end efforts enhances the image of a designer.
NPD Group Chief Analyst Marshal Cohen agreed, cautioning that "you have to remain true to your core upper-end consumer base with quality, service, style and imagery. If you abandon that, your brand will migrate downward and stay there."
That's why Mr. Kors later this week will also launch his luxury looks at an invite-only fashion show inside Fashion Week's tents.
Alyce Alston, VP-publisher of Fairchild Publication's W, said that while many marketers are creating more modest secondary lines (in the case of Mr. Kors, she said, only enhancing his longtime philosophy of making clothes for real women) "you still see in their marketing that they're aiming high. It's a slippery slope. You can trickle down but you sure as heck can't trickle up."
Watching Carolina Herrera's show last week, Raul Martinez, CEO and executive creative director at fashion agency AR, noted that Ms. Herrera "remains true to her essence as the new voice for the luxury, socialite market"-as the glamorous gowns in her collection and Ivana Trump in the audience attested. But, he said, "that strategy trickles down to help build sales of her less expensive fragrances and new moderate line, CH." The CH line is being expanded into new lifestyle stores that include baby clothes and home furnishings.
Certainly such a multi-segment strategy is not new for fashion designers. Ralph Lauren has for more than a decade successfully navigated a variety of brands that run the gamut of price ranges and products, as have many others. Neil Kraft, president of KraftWorks, said that for years big name designers' "real business" has come not from luxury items, but from lower-price items bearing the design label but affordable to the common consumer, such as Chanel's perfume or Calvin Klein's underwear. In the past, however, designers were more subtle about those efforts.
According to Mr. Martinez, such extensions are being pushed more than ever by designers who can now more overtly acknowledge that "all women want a piece of them."
Such a recognition drove a shift in creative recently for AR client Versace, whose outrageous sexually charged image campaign has been brought down to earth with product-driven ads featuring more realistic women. "It's still aspirational, but it's a much more attainable image," Mr. Martinez said.
Perry Ellis has gone even further. In a recent advertising spread in W, the designer paired with NBC to offer "Perry Ellis Fashion 101-the basic rules for dressing in style" featuring stars of NBC shows wearing the designer fashions. Such a tactic might seem more natural to mass brands like the Gap or Kmart, but in fact those retailers are aiming to mimic the style of high-end designers. Using the same fashion photographers and buying ads in high-fashion titles, the mass merchandisers are also taking advantage of the fusion trend Glamour VP-Publisher Bill Wackermann dubbed "masstige."
"Once there was a time in marketing when you could look at a consumer and see she would shop in a certain store and buy certain brands based on her household income," he said. "Today there is a democratization of style where consumers pair a $10 Target T-shirt with a $1,200 jacket from Saks." Fashion designers now are looking to sell them both.