By Schuyler Mack
The word “classic” is a noun that means “a work of art of recognized and established value.” In the fashion industry, many agree that a classic is a brand that has withstood ever-changing style through the trends and seasons.
For example, the unmistakable Louis Vuitton print has withstood the test of time. Women have passed coveted Louis Vuitton pieces down by across the generations.
In addition, some argue that, like a Louis Vuitton bag, a true classic must be a high-quality luxury good, designed to withstand daily wear and tear.
Courtney Cursinger, an SMU junior, says that her mother has defined “classic” for her as something that both a girl and her mother recognize. “If three generations of women know what it is, admire it, and want to own it, then it is a classic.”
Unfortunately, the desirability of classic items also has a downside. For example, a hand-crafted Louis Vuitton bag may take hours to stitch together. That’s why 99 percent of the “Louis Vuitton” items sold worldwide are knockoffs. Currently, China has a monopoly on the market for fake luxury goods. The Chinese have created an efficient system in which these items can be easily purchased and shipped worldwide.
This raises the question: Is the mass marketing of luxury items and brands really about a quality purchase intended to last a lifetime as well as make a style statement? Or is it about the hyper-obsession with excessive opulence, in addition to a yearning for status and boasting rights?
Building a Birkin
A generation ago, when our mothers were toting — or wanted to be — the acclaimed classic Hermes Birkin bag, the process of acquiring one was far more difficult than it is today.
Before phone and online purchases brought the world to our fingertips, one had to locate a Hermes store in the vicinity. This alone eliminated 78 percent of the country. Once inside the store, it was at the discretion of Hermes to determine if you were “worthy” of these bags.
If you were one of the chosen few to pass inspection, your order was put in a queue to be made in Paris, with a minimum wait time of three years. These bags were truly appreciated by the women who were willing to not only pay, but also wait for these coveted items.
Maria Skinner, an SMU junior, says: “My mom still tells the story. It was 1990, and my parents were living in Colorado. I was not even born yet. On a trip to New York, my mom fell in love with Birkin bag. When she returned home, she tried to find one, but could not,” Skinner says.
“My mom did some research and learned how exclusive these bags were. On a future trip to New York, she went back to the store, and they gave her the runaround. Finally, she was ‘approved’ and years later, she got the bag.”
Today’s market is much different than the one faced our moms. Anyone willing to blow their savings on a 15K tote can walk into a well-stocked Hermes store and purchase one.
In fact, many studies show that today, the majority of women will save for months and cut their budget in other ways just to blow their paychecks buying status symbols. It as if they are silently saying, “Look what I can afford.” So, is this what defines a classic? Or, should a classic be a moment in time like in 1984 when the Birkin was released and owned by the distinct few?
The coming of a classic
In order for an item to become popular enough to make its mark in history, there has to be a movement that propels it forward. For instance, Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahnik lined closet in Sex and the City, after which the designer’s name was launched, making the shoes a staple on every fashion-eager woman. Or, in a different case, Anna Wintour’s decision to spotlight Jason Wu in Vogue as the young designer to watch, leading to his career catapult and the design of Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown.
There is a defining moment in every fashion brand that separates the coveted label from the rest, thus resulting in escalating prices and market demand. Once an item is labeled the “it accessory,” almost instantly, every celebrity will demand the item and girls around the county will have it on their wish lists. Does this new demand, however, make that particular luxury article, for example the Chanel 2.55, a style statement or proof of the owner’s social position? If it were really about quality and love of brand, half of China’s industry would not be made up of knocking off big-name design houses for a fraction of the price.
Big-name designers have now learned how to corner every end of the market. This has made it possible for almost any individual to leave a store with some token of merchandise. While a tourist might enter the daunting Fifth Avenue Prada store intending to simply browse, it is often difficult to leave empty-handed.
After all, it is relatively easy to justify buying a simple key chain or card holder plastered with the Prada logo. Surprisingly, small sales like these are what actually keep the stores meeting quotas. And who knows, one day that simple keychain might actually be considered a classic!