Capsule Collections: High Fashion and Low Prices. Hell, Yes.

All rights reserved by Daria Angeli
All rights reserved by Daria Angeli

According to today’s Women’s Wear Daily, the latest addition to the sublime Vera Wang’s portfolio of decidedly non-couture designer items is a cosmetics line featuring makeup and color, skin care, bath and body products, and beauty accessories Kohl’s plans to introduce by spring 2012. Her Simply Vera line debuted there in 2007, is a consistent performer, and a very important part of Kohl’s retail strategy.

As a female with an eye for Chanel and a bank account for discount, the proliferation of capsule collections by marquee couture designers and celebrity/designer-types makes me all warm and happy inside. Until I try to actually acquire these high-concept, low-cost gems and find that there are women who wait in line overnight to get their hands on these clothes the day they debut. My meandering path to the store means there’s exactly one item left, in XXL, and in a color that makes me look nauseated and/or consumptive.

H&M only came to my part of the planet last month, so I missed out on Karl Lagerfeld, Madonna, Viktor & Rolf, Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo, Roberto Cavalli, Comme de Garcons, Matthew Williamson, Sonia Rykiel, and the just-unveiled Lanvin capsule collection.

However, I have a few pieces from Target that have held up surprisingly well, and consistently garner compliments: a Jean Paul Gaultier trench coat, an amazingly well-cut black sheath by Isaac Mizrahi, and a mesh wrap dress by McQ Alexander McQueen.  No luck even getting a glimpse of Rebeca Minkoff’ second handbag collection, William Rast, Zac Posen, and those early couture/discount pioneers, Stephen Sprouse and Fiorucci (I shopped both of these stores when they were NYC-only, ultra-hip boutiques, and I dressed like Debbie Harry).

The audience for couture has always been minuscule in relation to pret-a-porter, and utterly microscopic in relation to the majority: Women who regularly haunt clearance racks at TJ Maxx and Steinmart, or shop consignment. And while I see 7th-grade girls sporting REAL Louis Vuitton bags in my neighborhood (I make it a sport to spot fakes, and I am GOOD, people), the rest of the fashion-buying audience has, by necessity, champagne tastes and Boone’s Farm budgets. So, I happen to think it’s cool that the names and designs I see in Vogue, et al., that are only purchased by (or lent to) celebrities and socialites, trickle down to those who are fashion-conscious and a bit lighter in the purse.

I have plenty of female friends who either don’t give a s**t about what’s in style, take a feminist stance against clothes that are designed for male titillation (heh, I said titillation), or are too busy having lives to care much beyond, “Is this black shirt the same color black as these black pants?” I used to be embarrassed to admit I cared about fashion, but it became hard to hide my already half-decade addiction to both Rolling Stone and the fashion glossies when I showed up for the first day of high school in full-tilt Annie Hall. Yep, hat. Tie. Vest. Humiliation on an epic scale. I had to move to New York to start dressing the way I wanted.

Clothing is an expression of emotional and intellectual forces; not caring how you look or what you wear says just as much as if you obsess over the same. I use clothing as armor, as an expression of my (brief) moments of whimsy, to radiate feminine menace, to declare I’m a surf widow, to expose my tattoos for the shock value, to convey I’m a cool mom but not your friend, to reflect my inner life in an external and frivolous way, to be taken seriously in a room full of guys in suits. If it’s in you to follow fashion, why shouldn’t there be great stuff in your price range? Congrats to you if, in this economy, you can sweep through the name collections at Saks and not look at price tags. The rest of us will wait for the next announcement from H&M, and queue up accordingly.

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