Friday Column | Russians, Recession and Really, Really Expensive Jeans

Balmain S/S 09 ad campaign, courtesy of Balmain

Balmain S/S 09 ad campaign, courtesy of Balmain

LONDON, United Kingdom If one wanted an indication that nothing is ever going to be the way it was in luxury, this was the week to watch.

Forget about Karl Lagerfeld’s paper accessories at the Chanel haute couture show (a gimmick if there ever were one.) Consider instead the dichotomy of two of the most interesting items in this week’s fashion news.

First, that Tom Ford is bringing out jeans with a $990 price tag in the midst of the credit crunch. Why so expensive? Well, they’re made from Japanese selvage denim, which means they won’t fade or shrink. And they have an 18-carat gold button. (Note to anyone tempted: Dior Homme has Japanese selvage jeans for $777, if you can live without the gold button).

Tom is not alone. The uber-hot French house Balmain is selling jeans for $2685. How do they justify that price? “There are so many processes, the dyeing, the washing, the fraying,” the house’s muse Emmanuelle Alt explained to The Telegraph’s Sarah Mower. “You know, it is all made in France.” (Another reason may be that the Tom Ford jeans are for men, while the Balmain ones are for women and women are more used to this kind of sticker shock.)

There is apparently a waiting list for the Balmain jeans, but insiders know that retailers can easily create a “waiting list” buy simply buying just one pair at wholesale.

There was also some very disturbing news for Luxury retailers looking to Russia for growth. Women’s Wear Daily reported yesterday that the Manolo Blahnik shop in Moscow has closed. Note the deliberate use of past tense. It’s finished, over, shuttered, gone. Next to go are Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, both only 18 months old.

When a friend of mine in international sales for a US designer told her boss that the Russians were canceling orders, the CEO asked what all the fuss was about, not realizing the credit crunch crosses its national boundaries.

Which does beg the question: Who is going to buy those jeans?

Some Russians may still be shopping, but they are the ones who spend lots of time abroad. Maybe that’s the reason for the “waiting list” for the Balmain jeans at Browns? One thing is for sure, I’m betting that you won’t find them on the sale racks. I doubt there was a big enough production run of the pricey jeans to warrant drastic mark-downs.

In the end, the executives running Balmain and Tom Ford probably don’t care much if the jeans sell or not. They’ll end up in the archives and on the balance sheet the jeans will prove to be worth their weight in free PR.

Lauren Goldstein Crowe is co-author of a book on Jimmy Choo to be published by Bloomsbury later this year