They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery but you’ve got to believe that somewhere (most likely a sun-drenched cottage in Montauk) J.Crew-guru Jenna Lyons is getting a little steamed. I mean, how would you feel if a handful of your rivals decided to pilfer through your carefully orchestrated playbook and copy your every move?
Nnot merely content to shill their shiny up-market wares, consider the Wall Sreet Journal’s revelation that a slew of chains are jumping on the “accessories as accessible luxury” bandwagon and have started lining their shelves with super-expensive handbags.
At Ann Taylor, WSJ discovered a $225 tote, while a python embossed carryall at Talbots will set you back a cool $400 bucks. Even Abercrombie & Fitch has joined the fray, stocking $300-and-up bags alongside its logo tees and flip flops. “The handbag business is a perfect way to signal the aspiration of the brand,” says Christine Beauchamp, president of Ann Taylor stores.
Right. Where have we heard that one before? Oh, maybe back in 2009 when J.Crew launched its accessories salon and began fazing out those canvas boat totes in favor of stylish leather satchels, clutches and carryalls.
For their part, WSJ raises the question of whether the average shopper will shell out for a mall store brand bag that’s almost as expensive as a luxury-label bag. After all, it’s taken years (read: an election cycle and an economic downturn) for Lyons and President Mickey Drexler to re-brand the chain as a legitimate high-fashion alternative. But in blazing the trail and consistently turning out the chic and covetable, they’ve forced a reconsideration of the what and wheres of style, hastening a realization among consumers that a logo does not always a fashion statement make. And more importantly, they’ve made us all demand more — in options, prices, and quality. Now the question is whether or not these copycats can actually supply it.