Jimmy Choo for H&MWhat are we buying when we buy a luxury good? Are we buying a brand name, a well-made product, or an item to ensure that others think a certain way about us when they see it? For most high-end consumers, it’s probably some combination of those options.

Many customers would claim that they buy only for the quality that these products provide, but the reaction of some customers to the recent announcement of Jimmy Choo’s collaboration with H&M seems to run contrary to those claims. Some people were excited to see what the partnership would create, but many Choo loyalists voiced the opinion that the brand was losing something by creating a temporary line for a low-end retailer.

Choo’s fans aren’t the first to scowl at the idea of their favorite label creating an inexpensive product line, and they’ll be far from the last. What seems to be unique about this occasion, though, is that Jimmy Choo is the most broadly known brand yet to dabble in mass-market, low-price retail. So far, many small or independent designers have used the tactic as a way to broaden their name recognition and, potentially, their customer base. Choo, though, is a brand with a pretty clear image in the minds of most women with any sort of fashion consciousness or desire for expensive shoes.

So what happens when a brand with a large following and a seemingly healthy business decides that they want to dabble in the desires of Middle America? Well, according to Robin Givhan of the Washington Post, it means that luxury as we know it is dead.

Which seems like an incredibly histrionic reaction indeed. In the economic predicament in which we currently find ourselves, any number of writers have predicted that an unending list of occurrences are what really marks this mythic “end” of aspirational consumer goods. Why this one is any different than the others? I have no idea.

What I think it does, though, is bring up some nasty truths that luxury customers would rather push out of their minds. If I had spent thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars of my earnings on Jimmy Choo shoes in my life at $500-700 a pop, the reality that Choo can make an attractive (if likely to be lower-quality) pair of stilettos for less than $100 would definitely be unpleasant. If the steep price tag isn’t necessary, why have their customers been paying it for so long?

But does acknowledgment of the often-astronomical margins on handbags and shoes mean that all customers will suddenly abandon the goods that they know and love? I seriously doubt it. Most reasonable consumers have to realize that the construction of an average high-end handbag doesn’t cost anywhere near four digits, and I don’t think that Jimmy Choo making a couple pairs of cheap shoes is going to inform anyone of this fact that wasn’t already aware of it on some level.

Image may be a slightly bigger problem than economics, though. Luxury customers, no matter what they say, are often in the market for exclusivity as much as they are for a new bag. And if anyone with a local H&M (or Target, or TopShop) and a spare $50 can have something designed by their favorite brand, then the status implied by sporting a pair of Jimmy Choos is suddenly in limbo. And if Jimmy Choo is doing it, then are there that many brands out there that wouldn’t consider it? Probably not.

Only time will tell what, if any, lasting impact this will have on the luxury industry, but despite all the hubbub it’s causing among Jimmy Choo’s fans, I’m still dubious. If they were introducing a permanent collection of pleather shoes, then the impact would probably be more palpable and long-lasting. As it is, the collection is a small group of products that will only be sold in H&M’s largest stores in their largest markets and will probably be completely wiped off the shelves by the end of launch day. It provides a lot to talk about for people like us, who are in the business of talking about such things, but it’s likely to be little more than a blip on the radar screen of the larger fashion industry.

Things don’t change overnight, and cheap shoes will not fell the decades-old luxury industry as we know it. A price reset among traditional luxury goods is already somewhat underway, as we’ve discussed previously on this blog, and some women probably do need to reevaluate what they’re trying to accomplish by buying a small fortune’s worth of shoes or bags. But the marketplace forgets things like this rather quickly, and a recession-era olive branch to cash-strapped consumers won’t reflect poorly on the brand in the eyes of fashion history. And when women are looking for the sexiest pair of stilettos they can find, they’re not going to exclude Jimmy Choo on principle for long, and probably not at all.

  • renee

    I was home one day and flipped on “The Price is Right” and to my shock they were bidding on Jimmy Choo shoes!! What? The contestants were bidding $200-400 for 3 pairs. What is going on? Is Choo trying to appeal to the masses or is TPIR trying to upgrade its audience? I understand they’ve had Gucci and Burburry,etc…

  • victoriaj

    Interesting timing of the article for me…I am just about to invest in some LV bags….all my life I never considered buying luxury goods – first I could not afford it, then now that I can, it’s not in my value system…at least I thought it wasn’t..but as I get older, and with the massive onslaught of thousands of fashion choices, I am tired of constantly shopping! So my mantra now, is buy good and buy less. Maybe more costly to start with, in the end probably a better investment.

  • http://graduationday.wordpress.com Amanda Mull

    My constant feeling about things like this that you should buy what you love if you feel the price is reasonable for the item and you can afford it. The idea of “reasonable” is going to vary for everyone, and people should tailor it to their own circumstances. And if you love the item, you shouldn’t worry about what others might be buying or how much they might be paying. Ever since I’ve started looking at things with that attitude, I’ve been buying less and really enjoying and using what I have bought. And hopefully, more women will start to look at their purchases that way because of the recession, and things like a temporarily cheaper Jimmy Choo line won’t matter.

  • hect

    i do not think true luxury is dead , the idea of a mass market luxury brand has been growing and the scarcity of product no longer makes it a luxury item ,and to keep up with demand brands are starting to make and produce things that may not go with the original values that said brands were founded upon but i think that true luxury is in the brands more specific and particular areas of expertise luxury in this sense will continue as long as they respect them eg. chanel couture or hermes leather products manolo evening shoes or louis vuitton trunks that is where luxury is found in the core and founding products of each brand yet i stand firm in this one point true luxury is not dead !!!!!!! its only buried deep down in each luxury brand i have to agree jimmy choo at HM may be hard to accept but to me its harder to take in things like gucci plastic shoes or pucci at an outlet store that is where the nature of true luxury goods goes to die.

  • janis

    I am very disappointed that Choo has decided to do this. I have been a fan for years and own quite a few bags and shoes by Choo. I will be curious to see how the line does, tho.

  • Emily

    I work for H&M and love high end desingers! I think in this economy and with the mindset of today it is a very good thing. It means everyone can have a little piece of luxury without having to break the bank. I don’t think that it takes away from the designer at all. Think of it as what marc jacobs has done with his marc by marc line. Or the new leather burberry tote for a steal and $500! Designers are feeling the economy too. They want to keep doing what they love and providing for those who love what they create. I can think of no better company I’d rather see a designer collaborate with than H&M!

  • bagpoor.blogspot.com

    i remember being shocked when Isaac Mizrahi debuted his collection for Target, but now that a ton of high-end designers are doing it…who cares? in general i agree with amanda and victoria…buy what you like and try to purchase investment pieces instead of trendy, fad items.

  • purly

    I’m a bit disappointed to see designer after designer put their names and stamps of approval on items that are of so poor quality.

    A few times now I’ve gone to Target to check out a line, only to discover that it lacks the essential luxury that defined the brand for me.

    If these designers are serious about producing cheap luxury items, they should be looking to Michael Kors as an example. His MICHAEL like is both cheap and high quality.

  • Mary

    Didn’t Chanel or Lagerfeld design for H&M years ago? The product still collects $$$$ on Ebay and has not diminished the worth a bit. I see it as smart-they introduce a beginning market consumer with a tiny(ish) pocketbook to the brand and they will go for the real thing if they have the money later on, if the cheaper product was made right. Remember-some of the Target collaborations tanked because they fell apart right away. Chanel still trolls around making a killing and is still high end. The only way this can possibly hurt Choo is if it is treated as a cheap collaboration and no quality is put into the end product.

  • B

    You get what you pay for. I am sure the quality of Choo in H&M cannot be compare to the real deal. I think those so call designer shoes @ Target were over priced, with awful quality. Just becuase they put a designer name on the shoes doesn’t doesn’t mean they are designer quality. a cheap shoes still a cheap shoes with name or no name.

  • Rashida

    I think it’s a great thing to do. I mean it’s good for sales and in this troublesome economy, people want to buy luxury but they cannot afford it. This gives people hope makes them feel good and the companies make money!

  • eorchid

    If high-end designers decide to do moderately priced lines for the mainstream shopper, so be it. I would love to see people dress better overall and this helps just a little bit, I’m all for it!

    Access is key to improvement in everything from education to health care, why not fashion?

  • 19yearslater

    If buyers really buy for quality luxury is surely not dead. Share the love.

  • flower

    I guess they need this market to survive the current economic situation. If its profitable for the company why not. I would rather have a company or brand that knows how to survive than to have them closed and declared bankrupt and end up with nothing at all.

  • Anabelle

    To underscore MARY’s point: Karl Lagerfeld’s collaboration with H&M did wonders for the mass retailer, and in no way diminishes the status – or the sales – of the highest-end Chanel brand. The same for Roberto Cavalli (another rather established designer). As a matter of fact, these brands received very high-profile PR in such printing power-houses as Vogue. It helped bring attention of the younger audience to a brand that is mostly known for the two-color ballet flats, 2.55 bags and boucle ‘older ladies who lunch’ suits, and put a hip and edgy spin on it.

    Furthermore, when you are buying Jimmy Choo, you are not buying Jimmy Choo for H&M. The brand is lending its design and creative vision, but the contribution stops there. The quality of craftsmanship, the leather/suede/snakeskin, the stitching, the seams, the lining, the customer support for broken hardware or even upkeep – you do not and will not ever get it at H&M. That’s what you pay $600/pair or $2000/bag for at the JC boutique. And it will continue to be that way.

  • dierregi

    I remember when the Cavalli line hit H&M stores. It was sold out by lunch time on the first day. I strolled around the shop around noon and saw a few women (would not call them “ladies”) still queueing to pay a truckload of stuff each of them had selected.

    I seriously doubt they even knew what they were buying, and I am pretty sure most of that stuff ended up on eBay at the end of the same day. Moral of the story: this designers thing at H&M seems a crazy speculation that has nothing to do with buying less (or better quality) at lower prices.

  • Jen

    It is beyond me how anyone can be upset about this. As the past has shown, these collabs didn’t make the real deal any less special – I’d argue the opposite way, it makes much more people aware of a Designer brand, and of course it gets people more interested in it. Since these items sell out super-quickly, it’s not like everyone has them, and those who own an item from the high-end line will most likely get much more positive reactions, because people now know the brand.

    But most importantly, after all, it is *just fashion*. Fashion should be about expressing who you are, not what you earn. True style comes from picking the best out of everything, and that includes highstreet stores just as much as Designer brands. Choo and H&M could be just another great find.

    And if you don’t have any other thing to complain about than your favorite Designer “selling out” – lucky, lucky you.

  • tadpolenyc

    great article, amanda! i completely agree with every point you made.

  • Tara

    Sometimes it’s kind of a let down. The look is sometimes there but the quality can be so awful, that you forget how great the designer is. Anya Hindmarch for Target.. the worst bags. They looked cute, but when you touched them it was just a big letdown. The same with the McQueen line. Some of the Target GO designs have been great and quality has exceeded my expectations. I loved the Tracy Feith for Target. The fabrics were great.

  • Mandy

    It doesn’t bother me. People buying Choo at H&M or Mizrahi at Target surely can’t be expecting the same quality they get with those designers’ boutique lines. Yes, they are buying the exclusive name, but I think most people get that there’s a big difference. I certainly do not have the same quality expectations with a $1K bag as I do with a $30 bag. I actually struggle a bit more sometimes when looking at both a designer’s high end and mid-priced lines, as the quality differential is often not as clear.

    I have also understood that many of the lower end lines actually help designers fund their higher end, but often not as financially lucrative, lines. I think this was the case with Mizrahi when he started at Target, but I’m sure it’s not the case in all circumstances.

    Those who can afford the high end and high quality will continue to buy it, IMO.

  • Empress

    Remember the Gryson bags at Target? Those were horrendous. Why should I pay for a lower priced bag at a lower quality? Then I heard about quality issues at the “regular” price. I was completely turned off. There was only a slight difference with Anya Hindmarch, the style was there, but again, the quality was not the same as its boutique counterparts. I’ve been burned by designers before (purchasing an expensive bag only to have it fall apart a few months later). So I guess it’s up to the individual. I think part of the reason I buy a designer bag is because it is designer and not everyone and their grandma has one. If my favorite designer decided to pair with Target, I think I might not buy the brand again… I’d be a little upset at paying $500 for a style that’s now available for $50. I’d feel cheated.

  • papertiger

    Jimmy Choo is one of designer name brands I don’t own. I wouldn’t wear the shoes if you gave them to me. Jimmy Coo hasn’t designed the shoes for years, he wanted nothing to do with the company and now concentrates on his couture line. The whole Jimmy Choo thing is a sham, as are the resurrections of Biba, Ossie Clark and Halston. Herve Leger are only Max Azaria BGBC and nothing like the quality of Leger. Jimmy Choo is all hype.

  • cathealey

    I’m disappointed to see Jimmy Choo go down market. I hope he pays attention to the quality. I’ve seen some designers go down market and still maintain their cache. Vera Wang’s home goods at Kohl’s are nice. It’s less risky for a clothing designer to launch a low end home good brand than for a designer to launch a cheaper version of their luxury goods. Anya Hindmarch and Target is an example of how not to go down market.

    I saw the Anya Hindmarch bags at Target, they were dreadful. Before seeing Anya’s bags in Target, I really loved her brand for the look, the quality and attention to functionality. The Target line was cheap pleather. It looked like something only a blind old lady would carry. I tried one of the bags and it was almost unusable. One of her bags was on clearance for $12.00. How she could put her name on something so alien to her brand’s values, I can’t understand. I’ll never consider buying her brand because of the Target experience.

    Here’s hoping Jimmy does this right. Anya didn’t.

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  • Albert

    Your comments about Anya Hindmarch make a lot of sense and highlight the way its business is run in a clever revenue maximizing way. A true brand should always be about quality that the customer can rely on (and justify the margin busting prices). By the the way I had a negative experience w one of Anya Hindmarch mainline bags purchased at full price from a flagship store. The product was made from unsuitable leather and started to fall apart almost immediately. I was given a run around by customer service for about a year before a credit note was issued without an offer of a decent discount on the current stock. How does it make me feel about the brand? Bottom of the food chain.