With price inflation and high fashion inextricably mixed — to the tune of 15% per annum, despite austerity — can the concept of ‘investment fashion’ really be justified? Or is it just a swindle for gullible buyers, asks Rose Mary Roche.
The fashion industry eulogises the benefits of adding to our already ample wardrobes with “investment pieces”, but does the concept of “investing” in fashion really stand scrutiny?
If the definition of an investment is money you put into something which is expected to increase in value, can you really apply this logic to clothing? If every piece of fashion starts to depreciate as soon as it goes on your back, can you compare a portfolio of stocks and shares to a pair of Prada shoes or an Hermès handbag?
More importantly can you ever recoup your original spend on a handbag, pair of stilettos or designer dress? Is the term investment piece a flimsy excuse for extravagant consumption?
A revelation last year that Chanel pricing increases on average 15% annually, (in 2014 the price for a medium-sized Chanel 2.55 flap bag went up over €350, nearly doubling the 2008 cost), certainly suggests that inflation and high fashion are inextricably linked.
You could buy the quilted handbag for €1,250 in 2005 and now they sell for €3,550. So if you have the funds and can justify spending thousands on Chanel, you will ultimately save money by buying now rather than later.
The RealReal, one of the premier online luxury resale stores in the US, released an iPhone app in 2014, RealBook, which gives customers data on how much individual designer items are worth, on the resale market.
It seems that even before they buy, some consumers are calculating how much they can sell an item on for when they tire of it. All labels are not equal when it comes to their resale appeal — while niche labels can be problematic, global fashion brands including Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, are all bankable.
Items with a classic design pedigree such as the Chanel 2.55, the Hermès Birkin or luxury watches from Cartier and Rolex will sell at a very respectable percentage of their original price, if not in excess of it, for particularly rare or limited edition items.
So how to reap the best investment from your expensive purchases? There are two approaches: Selling speedily, perhaps within season, while the item is still in mint condition and has cachet or, waiting until your item has acquired a vintage pedigree, which could take up to 20 years, plus.
Contemporary clothing sometimes has to be steeply discounted to sell, while accessories generally are more popular as they withstand wear and are non size-specific. Shoes typically have a lesser resale value unless they are virtually unworn.
Packaging such as boxes, dust bags, etc, make the buyer feel like they are purchasing a “new” item while maintaining pieces carefully (stuffing shoes and bags, folding knits, storing delicates in garment bags), all help to keep the value of an item at a premium.
Even with the best care, it is challenging to make a genuine profit on a piece of fashion unless you never wear it or it’s archived until it’s a vintage investment.
So, is the best style dividend obtained by repeated wear and pleasure from your expensive purchases? In our mother’s and grandmother’s day, items bought and kept for special days such as Sundays and high holidays, while probably the most expensive in their wardrobes, were ironically the least worn.
Nowadays we have a more utilitarian approach to wardrobe investment — we expect the high-spend items to return the greatest level of wear and to “earn” their way. If buying discrete, timeless and expensive fashion gives the best return then what do the experts invest in?
Arnott’s Director of Fashion and Beauty Deirdre Devaney says: “Investment fashion is key wardrobe staples that suit the individual’s shape and style and that will last a number of years. We all love to have fun with fashion, but a true investment piece should always compliment the wearer and easily translate from season to season.
“For me, investment in a great winter coat is a must. Neutral colour and great fabrics, such as wool and cashmere, can last for years. When investing, think of key wardrobe foundations such as a fantastic coat, winter leather boots, day to play dress and stunning leather tote.” She cites Peter O’Brien, Coach and Longchamps, as favourite brands.
Juliet Ledwidge, whose boutique JuJu won a Best Boutique in Ireland award in 2014, explains: “I think an investment nowadays can be anything from a beautiful bag to a tailored jacket or coat.
“I recently invested in a beautiful black and navy Celine Bag, that I know my daughters will want when they are older. I have also invested in several Joseph Tux Jackets that are beautifully cut and which I take out season after season, as they are timeless.
“I believe the intelligent and stylish woman of today invests in pieces that she loves and will wear regularly, such as cashmere knits, silk blouses and scarves, and the ultimate wardrobe essential — the black dress.”
There are consumers who delay instant gratification to buy with long-term gain in mind. At the highest level of the market, are those who buy couture and designer fashion in the same way other collectors buy vintage cars, fine art and rare wines.
Christies have a department dedicated purely to “vintage couture and luxury handbags” where business is booming, while Kerry Taylor, the UK’s premier vintage auctioneer, has sold pieces that belonged to British royals, Hollywood superstars, aristocrats and super-models for eye-watering sums. She advises in regard to auction pieces: “They should be in good condition and unaltered.”
Provenance is invaluable too. If an item has been worn by a style icon, such as Wallis Simpson or Audrey Hepburn, it will add a zero perhaps two, to the price. She cites distinctive, unconventional and original designers, including Nicolas Ghesquière, Hussein Chalayan and Christopher Kane, as worthwhile future investments to buy now.
Laura Barnes, of designer consignment boutique Ruby Ruby in Dublin, who sells pre-loved designer clothes and accessories, has seen consumers increasingly looking for value: “One upside of the recent recession is that women got smart about shopping. Spending money stopped being an activity in and of itself. Women everywhere are looking for value.”
An expert in the resale potential of items she advises: “My definition of investment fashion is an item of clothing or an accessory that is beautifully made and has a timeless design.
"If you add the financial dimension to investment then you are looking at some of the leading labels such as Chanel and Hermès who produce beautiful, timeless, well-made clothing and accessories.
"One must be careful, however, all fashion companies try to be trendsetters and produce collections that will not stand the test of time. Fashionistas need to distinguish between items (investment pieces) and one- season wonders no matter what the label says.”
Today as the fashion cycle gets shorter and there are more collections every year, being educated about what you buy is not only smart but also cost effective. A purchase that costs more may deliver better long-term value than the disposable wear and throw piece that appears to be a tempting bargain.
Ignoring fashion fads and choosing pieces you love now and will continue to love for seasons to come is the intelligent and most sustainable way to shop. Invest in enduring timeless style essentials and defy fashion’s mercurial mood and you will have the dividend of looking eternally classic and chic.
As Yves Saint Laurent observed: “ It is about style not fashion. Fashions come and go but style is forever.”
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