What would Carrie Bradshaw do?
One of the defining television shows of this decade was the HBO series "Sex and the City." A prominent feature of the show that focused on four women in New York City, destined to make it through life and the trials and tribulations they encountered as they got there, was its fixation on consumerism. Lead character Carrie Bradshaw was known for having a penchant for quite sexy and quite expensive shoes. The Jimmy Choo brand was a conspicuous example of her desire.
I am certainly no women's shoe aficionado, but seeing a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, with their beautiful lines, vibrant colors, and imposing heels, exude sensuality even before a woman steps foot into them. A leisurely stroll to the Jimmy Choo boutique at South Coast Plaza in Orange County reveals nary a markdown, where an $800 pair can almost be considered "modestly priced." Given how pricey Jimmy Choo's are and the clientele that patronizes the brand, I find it quite fascinating H&M, the Swedish mass-market clothing retailer that aims to bring high fashion at affordable prices, and has teamed up with the likes of Madonna, has now gotten into bed with Jimmy Choo for an exclusive line of clothing and shoes. No wonder literally hundreds lined up at Beverly Center in Los Angeles on a recent Saturday (as well as other H&M locations around the world) to be among the first to get Jimmy Choo apparel at such bargain-basement prices (relatively speaking of course).
As the line between what is considered high and low end culture is continually blurred, I wonder what this means for brands like Jimmy Choo? While very expensive, fashionable shoes are not high culture in the classic sense, they are considered to be a consumer item reserved for those with more substantive incomes. The natural question for me then becomes whether or not the Jimmy Choo label becomes sullied by this excursion into mass-appeal? Will customers more familiar paying prices four or more times as much for their goods become suddenly turned off by a product lending its name to the mass-market of consumers? Perhaps the choice of H&M and its cache as a fashionable yet affordable retailer lessens the blow. On the other hand what would the effect be had they decided with a Target or even Wal-Mart?
The idea of collaborating is not entirely novel. Mass retailers have teamed up with famous names before. Target and Isaac Mizrahi. Sears and Cheryl Tiegs. K-Mart and Martha Stewart. In the late 1980s Chrysler Corporation attempted a bold collaboration of its own with Italian luxury nameplate, Maserati. (Cadillac had an "Italian" car of its own with the Pininfarina designed Allante). Chrysler executives figured they would have instant hit with a relatively rare "halo" car. The car, called the Chrysler TC by Maserati, may have been by all accounts an Italian roadster, unfortunately it looked almost identical to its Chrysler LeBaron cousin. Within a couple of years, the collaboration was a long forgotten memory and it would be another decade before Maserati graced American shores once again.
While these names were able to give their respective brands a certain level of fashion cache, the H&M/Jimmy Choo collaboration takes the effort to a strastospheric level by broadening appeal without appearing to damage the Jimmy Choo brand.
A cynical view of this idea of a heirarchy of consumer goods was espoused by philosophers Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) when they discussed what I believe they saw as a sort of duplicitous behavior by the producers of mass culture to get us all to buy into a true pecking order among products. Once again turning to the auto industry, we saw a profound example of this in General Motors. For decades the automaker was successful with a strategy of that could be described in its simplest form as "brand engineering." Was there that great a difference between Cadillac and Chevrolet? Perhaps one could try and make an argument. But what about Buick and Oldsmobile? However subtle, GM worked the idea that one moved up the chain of makes almost to perfection and in-turn GM had a market that at one time hovered at 60% of all cars sold in the United States.
In some ways the H&M/Jimmy Choo pairing is a modern take. Getting Jimmy Choo apparel from H&M is sort of like Jimmy Choo lite, broadening the reach of the brand without tarnishing the core. Technology can receive a good chunk of the praise as it has helped to blur the distinction between low end and high end products in ways unimaginable a generation ago. The ability of science to transform plastics to represent much finer materials has broadened the possibilities for designers as well as marketers.
So, what would Carrie Bradshaw do? I'm pretty sure she and her girls would be camping out with the masses in front of H&M and gleefully figuring out what to do with all the extra money they saved.
Well, I gotta scoot...