Financially Fashionable

Regular readers probably won’t be shocked to discover that this week’s column started its life as incoherent scribble on the back of a coaster.

It wasn’t a beer-sodden piece of cardboard at the local, however, as on this occasion I was attending the VIP bar at a fashion parade.

I understand that as a young stockbroker attending an A-list event I am a walking cliche but my fleeting detour to high society provided valuable insights into how the other half lives.

Unaccustomed to fashion, much less celebratory after-parties with beautiful people, I was clearly out of my depth.

Case in point, upon hearing that the booze was complimentary, it took me every ounce of strength to fight back my primal instincts that were instilled in my university days of “free beer Friday” and get loaded on the house.

No, this was a dignified event – full of fashionistas, air kisses and the occasional Big Brother contestant, who I may add were taking full advantage of the free-flowing booze, knowing full well that next year their only chance of attending was to serve behind the bar.

Looks can be deceiving

A friend, a veteran of the party circuit, confided to me that although many of those in attendance looked (to quote the movie swingers) “money”, looks can be deceiving.

Despite, or perhaps because of, spending the equivalent of a month’s mortgage repayment on a designer piece, more often than not their accessorised designer handbags were overflowing with credit card bills – as they say in the ads, priceless.

I actually enjoyed the fashion parade, although the models looked like they hadn’t yet hit puberty – or eaten in the lead-up to the big event.

My only qualification for attending an event like this is that I’ve watched the mockumentary fashion movie Zoolander, and I wasn’t disappointed – there was plenty of blue steel-inspired pouting.

Selling their soul

To my untrained eye, the fashion differed little to what graces the catalogues of Kmart or Target. Yet back at the bar, a lady explained that what I didn’t appreciate was that fashion is an extension of art, and as such the designer’s creations were a piece of his or her soul.

I had no real comeback to this, mainly because I was wearing a jacket that had been tailored for me in Thailand.

I’m not sure how much of his soul was included in the price, but given it cost me 1000 baht (about $35) plus a packet of cigarettes for altering the sleeves – known universally as the Marlboro Light Thailand Tailor Tax – it can’t have been too much.

Herein lay the true genius of fashion. While I may never fully appreciate the creativity and artistry that goes into making a one-of-a-kind designer piece, I am in awe of the industry’s ability to re-create itself every season, and in the process influence the masses to part with their hard-earned to keep up with the latest look.

Making it mainstream

Businesses could learn a thing or two from fashion houses when it comes to marketing.

We’ve all no doubt seen a trend go mainstream; one day you’re at the pub and you see a girl in Ugg boots and assume she’s been drinking too much from the drip tray, the next day everyone seems to be wearing them.

Pondering the concept of mass marketing and profiteering while in a room of beautiful models and free booze is perhaps a true mirror to my personality.

Dress to impress

That aside, I started to understand that for the designers the big bucks aren’t made in the one-of-a-kind collection pieces that often look completely stupid – we’ve all seen the fashion shows with models walking around in tin foil with a tennis ball taped to their heads.

Success on the catwalk brings them the credibility in the fashion world as the new “it” designer. This provides the opportunity to put their brand on mainstream clothes for the masses – expensively labelled T-shirts, underwear, jeans and, in the case of the too-cool-for-school fashion label Donna Karan (DKNY), it extends beyond clothes to perfume, sunglasses and even homewares.

While these designers specialise in avant garde chic, they’re anything but cheap. And while you’ve always been able to sleep in your Calvin Klein underwear, you can now sleep between his (high-priced) sheets.

Branching out

This is the era of the lifestyle brand, where you too can live the life of former Calvin Klein model Kate Moss (substances sold separately of course).

Now we even have car companies that are turning full circle and getting into fashion.

For those of us who want to live the exclusive lifestyle, BMW – no longer content to merely make cars – has now diversified into bicycles.

While I can see the transportation link, I’m still trying to get my head around the BMW brand being emblazoned on clothing, sunglasses, luggage, even kid’s toys. Even more of a stretch is BMW home loans.

In fitting with the brand perhaps they only offer million-dollar mortgages for McMansions in pre-approved suburbs.

Maybe in the future the rest of us will be forced to take out a Hyundai home loan for that low-status brick veneer in the ‘burbs.

Fashion marketers have become experts in creating desirable images – from the models they use to the prices they charge – which reinforce the perceived exclusiveness.

It’s therefore not surprising that so many brands are extending their consumer realm, and in the process offering a neatly packaged lifestyle experience to cater for every premium purchase. Brands are used by people as a way of showing others their status – which is why they’re commonly called status symbols.

Yet today anyone with a credit card is able to surround themselves with the trappings of wealth.

I might not be much of a fashion critic, but experience has shown me that the people with the most on show tend to be the ones with the least dough.

Tread your own path!