Where to Find Designer Labels for Less

Susan Scafidi in Forbes, March 03, 2009

Media Source

Looking to trim your fashion budget but not willing to give up your favorite name brands? You may not have to.

Designers like Doo-Ri Chung, Alexander Wang and Bryan Bradley are offering lower-priced collections, often dubbed diffusion lines, this year. But there has been a stigma among designers when it comes to diffusion lines, causing many to keep mum about rolling out the wallet-friendly collections. Designers are also more apt to call the collections "extensions" or "secondary lines" of their main brands.

Despite the lack of publicity, lower-priced designer fashion lines are on the rise. Prada rolled out its Special Stones collection in the fall. The line includes jewel-adorned handbags, clutches, wallets and shoes, which retail for between $510 and $1,750. That contrasts with the main Prada line, where bags can run upward of $2,000 and shoes average $700.

Last month, British label Preen launched its Preen Line, with prices from $128 for a T-shirt to $440 for a dress. Dresses in Preen's main line retail for about $1,060 while tailored pants sell for $930.

Are these new low-cost lines driven by the recession? A spokesperson for Alexander Wang says no. Wang's new T line, which includes T-shirts for $76 and dresses for $89, is merely an extension of Wang's brand, she says. A stretch mesh dress from his main line is $796, while a silk tank top is $295.

Whatever the reason for the lower price points, consumers will benefit.

Chung's low-priced line, Under Ligne, will consist mostly of jersey and leather daywear ranging from $395 to $475. By contrast, a silk blouse from Chung's main collection retails for $745.

Others like Monique Lhuillier are not starting diffusion lines, but rather incorporating a few pieces that will retail below usual prices into its main collections. Lhuillier is adding several dresses with price points of $2,500. Her evening gowns typically retail for $3,000 to $7,000.

"These diffusion lines are no longer just for the contemporary, younger customer who can't afford the real thing," says Michael Fisher, menswear editor at Stylesight, a trend forecasting firm. "They have become an extension of the main line. It's a great way to get quality without spending your monthly rent on a sweater."

Department and specialty stores are excited about the prospect of adding new quality merchandise at less expensive prices to the sales floor. Saks, which currently carries secondary lines from Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith, Dolce and Gabbana and, most recently, Alexander Wang, says it has seen a positive response and an impressive following for these lines.

"It would make sense that in our current economy more designers are looking to expand their range of merchandise and offer a more affordable product to a different consumer without detracting from their primary line," says Eric Jennings, Saks' vice president and men's fashion director. "Also, we have customers who may only purchase one advanced designer piece, who can purchase multiple pieces at the diffusion level."

Diffusion lines are not new. Giorgio Armani introduced Emporio Armani in the '80s, followed by D&G by Dolce & Gabbana, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Gianni Versace's Versace Jeans Couture.

"Donna [Karan], Calvin [Klein] and Ralph [Lauren] may be known for their high-end designs, but they made their real money with their diffusion lines," says Susan Scafidi, fashion law professor at Fordham Law School. "These lines helped support their creativity and financed their fashion empires."

What's new are the outlets in which designers are selling their pieces. When Karan launched DKNY in the '80s, it was available in department stores on a different floor from the main Donna Karan collection. Now big box retailers like Target and H&M are promoting capsule, or limited-time collections, from designers like Thakoon.

But take heed, those lines sold at H&M and Target are not equivalent to the secondary lines launched by designers and available at high-end department stores. "While both may bear the designer's name, it does not mean the quality is comparable," says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at the Doneger Group, a fashion and retailing consulting firm. "Shoppers just need to be aware of what they are paying for."