Monday, November 8, 2010

High-End for the Masses?

Let me apologize in advance if this is inappropriate, but it's something I've been musing for a while.

If you were to ask 10 random people on the street to name a favourite luxury brand, you'd get a pool of more or less the same answers - Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, etc.  Same for cosmetics - Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden.

But if you go to a more specialized group of people - those who take time to study and acquaint themselves with the style and beauty landscape, you'll hear different answers.  These people (hopefully) can acknowledge that the above are all great brands in their own right; that like any other design house has both hits and misses.  The thing that sets these people apart is that they can name designers whose value is held solely in their design ability, not their brand value.  People like familiar things, which is why brand value and goodwill are important, but if an unknown designer can be successful and sell clothes without the support of the masses...that says something.

Despite all that, I can't help but admire the business model of a certain mass luxury brand: Coach.

Luxe MassNylon Handbags - Marc Jacobs vs Coach

Personally, I am no longer a Coach consumer - they used to have some great things which I still use, but I have not purchased a single Coach item since 2002.  For me, I purchase clothes, shoes and bags that feel special, but anonymous.  Maybe it's because I've worn a uniform for most of my life, but I can't stand it when people can identify my clothing at a glance.

Coach has managed to retain it's luxury brand yet sell to an insanely wide audience.  Their price points have lowered to a more affordable level, but not so much that the general population doesn't feel "special" buying a Coach item.  That's the appeal in luxury, isn't it?  That warm sensation of finally attaining something different - something you can't get every day.  They've also maintained a certain opulence about their freestanding stores that makes the average buyer feel like they're receiving special treatment, that they are indeed, experiencing something decadent.  It's just so clever, no?

The same hasn't quite been achieved for beauty.  Make up falls quite squarely into two categories:  high-end or drugstore.  Long has waged the battle between the two, with professional opinion and science to support both.  How about a mass luxury brand for make up?

They've just opened their flagship store in Manhattan on Broadway.

It's the makeup equivalent of Coach.  I'm serious.

The cosmetics are not half bad - reasonably pigmented, a wide and sensitive array of colours, sleek packaging, etc.  All the finishing touches of a high-end cosmetic brand.  No, not even that - all the finishing touches of a make-up artist's brand.  That being, you can tell that it's not extremely high quality make-up: I bought a lip pencil and it broke in half after I left it in my purse for a few days; the colour doesn't stay on and the nail polish stained my nails like nothing else, even with base coat.

I can see this line appealing to exactly the same people who buy Coach merchandise - it's a fun shopping experience; the sales people are so attentive and knowledgeable and the stores are so all black jet and sleek lighting (not unlike MAC stores...)

A true, high-quality, exquisitely detailed cosmetics company?  Not so.  But for someone looking to splurge without splurging - found it!