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High fashion aims low -- pricewise

More designers are producing lower-priced lines. Where the best deals are.

By Karen Datko Feb 24, 2010 12:21PM

This Deal of the Day comes from Diana Ransom at partner site SmartMoney.


What’s new in high-end fashion? Even more designers are going after the low end.


On Saturday, French knitwear queen Sonia Rykiel released a new collection for H&M that offers women’s and girls’ pieces for anywhere from $5.95 to $69. The week before, Narciso Rodriguez -- he designed the dress Michelle Obama wore in Chicago for Barack Obama’s first appearance as president-elect -- introduced a collection specifically for sale on eBay. Such moves follow on the heels of Dolce & Gabbana reducing their prices by 10% and 20% last summer and Nicole Miller creating a lower-priced line for J.C. Penney -- and stretches back to 2002, when Isaac Mizrahi and Karl Lagerfeld began designing secondary collections for Target.

This isn’t just about flagging sales and the stalled economy, says Kathryn Finney, the founder of trend- and sale-tracking site The Budget Fashionista. Such partnerships allow designers to raise their profile with middle-market shoppers and potentially branch out into desirable categories such as jewelry and home goods. In a sense, “high fashion is finally realizing where the customer is,” she says. “It’s not that they aren’t buying luxury, but, rather, shoppers today are thinking more about what they are buying and why they are buying it.” 

When investing in these spin-off fashions, be sure to check the quality. They will not always be made from the same caliber materials as the higher-priced lines. Because the names of the designers are well-known, they also tend to run out quickly. Often the retailers use the lines as loss leaders, to lure shoppers into stores, where they end up buying other merchandise.


How can you find designer wear for less? Here are some places to look for new designer duds on the cheap:


Department stores. This time last year, slowed customer traffic and sales prompted Standard & Poor’s to lower the credit ratings of the department-store sector -- landing Macy's and J.C. Penney into junk territory. In response, Penney began a designer offensive. Among the collections it rolled out: Nicole Miller, Charlotte Ronson, Fabulosity’s Kimora Lee Simmons, Michele Bohbot of Bisou Bisou and Allen Schwartz of Allen B. Starting this fall, the company will tout a new exclusive, with the original Liz Claiborne and Claiborne Brands. But the arrangement has history; those labels will replace Liz & Co. and Concepts by Claiborne, which Penney has carried since 2007.


According to industry reports, Macy’s is in talks with Madonna to release a contemporary women’s collection that would include apparel, accessories, footwear and lingerie. The store declined to comment on the arrangement, but it wouldn’t be the pop star’s first foray into designing. In 2007, she co-produced a moderately priced line of separates with H&M called M by Madonna.


One catch for many of these designer lines is that they are produced in limited quantity. Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, is set to debut a diffusion line from American designer Zac Posen called Z Spoke. Due out this spring, the contemporary sportswear line (items start at $78) will appear alongside brands such as Elie Tahari, Tory Burch and M Missoni. You can preorder Posen’s designs now on the Saks Web site, but the store will only be receiving six deliveries a year.

Off-price retailers. Target and H&M have been two of the more aggressive retailers signing up designers, and both have been especially keen on using limited editions or one-offs to get customers in the store. “Once it is sold out, it’s gone,” says Jennifer Uglialoro, a spokeswoman for H&M, which just launched the Rykiel line over the weekend. Next up in the Target stable: Zac Posen, clearly busy since he also has a new line out for Saks at the same time. Posen’s line for Target, the Go International Collection, will be sold in stores and online starting in April. Shoppers can also find items at Target by Jean Paul Gaultier.


Wal-Mart increasingly is getting in on the high-fashion action, as well. Shoppers can now find collections there from designers including Norma Kamali, who produces a line of layered, body-clinging looks for the big-box operation. There is also a new line, launched last summer, by BCBG designer Max Azria and "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus. Called Miley Cyrus & Max Azria, the line consists of tops, pants, graphic T-shirts and shoes; about 90% of the items sell for $12 and below, according to Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa Hill. Be an attentive shopper. These items aren’t couture. So, take special care examining their quality, as off-price fashions are often mass-produced and made with inferior materials.


Online stores. Another reliable source for off-price designer wear is online-only retailers. These outlets, too, have been expanding their reach. Last week, Narciso Rodriguez launched a collection for eBay that will be sold exclusively through the Narcisco Rodriquez for eBay Store. Norma Kamali, too, is selling a collection sold through eBay. But bargain hunters might want to stick with Kamali’s Wal-Mart line, since it is less expensive than the eBay one. That’s because the eBay collection has a “more designer feel” than the line offered at Wal-Mart, says the designer.


And elsewhere on the Web, online sample sales sites are growing. One new area: men’s fashion. Both Rue La La and Gilt Groupe recently began offering men’s premium fashions, accessories and some lifestyle items at a discount. But Finney from The Budget Fashionista points out that often the deals these sites peddle aren’t all that great. “Some sites have been known to raise the prices so the discount looks more attractive,” she says. Another Web-based fashion forum, but for women, is’s, an outlet for discounted designer fashions, and no membership is required to purchase.


Related reading at SmartMoney:

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