Mizrahi, Lagerfeld Confirm Style’s Newfound Egalitarianism

Once upon a time, a typical Kmart customer might have lost the jackpot if a game show host asked her to name three couture designers. Or, an affluent yuppie might have elected to drive an American car rather than be caught shopping at a discount store. Not anymore.

The rise of the branded department store and success of cross-over designers heralded the beginning of the end for those days. Now, top international designers are making a point of permanently terminating that old-style caste system.

Isaac Mizrahi, who championed the changing nature of fashion (and fashion buyers) with the launch of his Target clothing line last year, took another chance in June on his mass-market line (dubbed “masstige” for its elevation of mass goods to prestige style). The risk-taking Mizrahi blended pieces from the Target line with those from his custom-made Bergdorf Goodman couture line and sent the resulting ensembles down a New York runway. Considering that the audience was definitely more of a Bergdorf than a Target demographic, the rave reviews signal the demise of the style-must-cost-more attitude.

At the same time, one of the legends of European fashion—Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld—has announced his intention to follow Mizrahi’s lead and design his own line of clothes for discount chain H&M. This is perhaps an even bigger leap toward style egalitarianism than Mizrahi’s much-publicized Target partnership. While the American Mizrahi was, at the time, without his own “house” or fashion line, Lagerfeld represents one of fashion’s most prestigious lines and the long traditions of European haute couture.

What does this mean for retail jewelers? Consider this: If a couture clothing customer is interested in buying clothes based on style instead of price, and a consumer on a Target budget is interested in fashion-forward designs, both groups are ripe for accessibly priced fine jewelry that’s well-designed and fashion-conscious. In fact, the exploding popularity of pieces that integrate precious materials with lower-priced leather or that combine sterling silver with diamonds is evidence that the trend is already here.