The past few years have seen the rise and rise of more affordable new labels from high-end designers, as consumers become increasingly conscious of both cost and overdressing, and the younger market becomes more lucrative, writes Georgina Safe.
When Collette Dinnigan launched her Enfant range of childrenswear in 2006, grown-up fans of the pretty cotton dresses were quick to request adult versions.
”When I started Enfant, my customers kept saying ‘I wish you’d do that in an adult size’,” Dinnigan says.
”But a lot of the cotton dresses we tried to do for mainline we couldn’t get at a good price because of the smaller quantity, so I’d end up wearing a lot of the samples and people would continue to ask me for them.”
”The lengths are shorter, the focus is on embroidery rather than beading and it’s not so much occasion wear. It’s more everyday pieces you can throw on for lunch or to go to the beach,” the designer says. ”It’s not a cheaper version of the mainline at all. I would describe it as the younger sister because it’s quite different and more youthful in feel.”
That younger sister is now snapping at the fashionable heels of Dinnigan’s premium line, with its first delivery last month to Net-a-Porter’s British and American websites selling out within a single week.
”They ordered a reasonable quantity too,” Dinnigan says. ”And since we’ve had the seal of approval from Net-a-Porter, we’ve had inquiries from great stores around the world. It really shows the power of the site.”
It also shows the new power of diffusion labels – more affordable collections from high-end designers. They are no longer just cheaper after-thoughts of existing ranges but formidable aesthetic and economic forces in their own rights. Take Brisbane brand Easton Pearson, which launched EP by Easton Pearson in 2009 in response to demand from existing stockists such as Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Browns in London and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong.
”Our buyers were telling us that young women were desperate for our clothes but couldn’t always afford them,” co-designer of Easton Pearson, Pamela Easton, says.
But she too says EP, which includes cute stripey separates and colourful print jumpsuits, is not just a less-expensive version of Easton Pearson.
”It has a younger spirit … with bold lines and colours,” she says.
Appealing to the lucrative youth market is not the only reason designers are embracing their own diffusion lines.
Earlier this year, Dion Lee founded his Dion Lee Line II range of soft shirting and precise tailoring to provide a more classic alternative to his eponymous brand, which consistently attracts industry acclaim for being directional but can be difficult to wear on a daily basis.
”There is so much development that goes into my mainline collections that it made sense to have something simpler and more pared back,” Lee says.
”The other exciting thing is that the mainline can now be much more focused. In the past couple of years I’ve found it really hard to have the right mix with my ideas, which can be overwhelming, and still have a commerciality to my product. I’m excited to be able to make [mainline] a tighter and more resolved collection in the future.”
Eveningwear designer Alex Perry launched his Alex Perry Executive collection earlier this month in response to a gap in the market he had identified for affordable career clothing that would also take its wearer from her desk out to dinner.
”I have a lot of clients who are lawyers, architects or bankers that work in a business environment and it’s been increasingly difficult for them to find clothes that are suitable for work that don’t look totally like work wear,” he says. ”It doesn’t relate to my mainline as far as fashion goes, it’s just about really beautiful suiting and dresses and blouses for work.”
The group executive of fashion and beauty at David Jones, Sacha Laing, says international diffusion brands such as Marc by Marc Jacobs and See by Chloe have enjoyed ”phenomenal” success at his department store, prompting DJs to bring local versions on board, including Collette by Collette Dinnigan, EP by Easton Pearson and Alex Perry Executive collection.
”We introduce new brands in response to what our customers are looking for and I think the demand here is due to the accessibility of these labels,” Laing says. ”It’s not necessarily a price-drive outcome, there is also a difference to what the mainline and the secondary label are trying to achieve.”
Myer has also introduced diffusion labels by its existing brands where the designers retain creative control but the difference is Myer bankrolls them itself as part of the department store’s focus on growing private labels – or house-brand – products.
”That whole area is performing really well for us because the customers love the brands and love the look but it’s making it more affordable for them,” the group general manager of fashion and accessories at Myer, Judy Coomber, says.
Jayson Brunsdon, Wayne Cooper and Karen Walker are among the Myer designers who have gone into partnership with the store to produce less-expensive secondary collections, which include Wayne by Wayne Cooper, Hi There by Karen Walker and NF by Nicola Finetti.
”They can take advantage of things like our supply chain and economies of scale that allow the product to be more affordable but with the same quality of make,” Coomber says.
Brunsdon began working on his Jayson Brunsdon Black Label for Myer late last year in response to a vacant space Myer had identified within its stable of diffusion brands.
”They saw a gap for something with a sense of luxury that would appeal to a more mature woman rather than a girl in her teens or 20s but that was still very well priced,” Brunsdon says.
”It’s a difficult thing to do on your own because in order to get the volume you need to make it offshore. So when Myer came along I thought it was a fantastic opportunity.”
The arrival of Jayson Brunsdon Black Label in Myer stores around the country last month has proved a godsend for the designer, who says his new brand is ”a really great safety net in this environment, because it guarantees us an income as a company when women are spending more frugally on fashion”.