LONDON, United Kingdom — There's been quite a lot of talk about value lately. But what does value really mean, and how are different consumers evaluating their purchases?
Dunhill recently held a private sale in a discrete space in a Mayfair alley with some deeply discounted prices. It's something many luxury companies have been doing to help shift stockpiles of their products in a way that doesn't damage the brand. It's easy to tell why most of the products are on sale at such low prices. There are flaws of some sort in the knitwear or the trousers are poorly cut or the print is ghastly. You tend to find these kinds of overstock products in available many replicates, in all sizes, proving they were of no interest to anyone at full price.
But sometimes, you come across something that seems one of a kind, special, and only available in one size: yours.
At the Dunhill sale, my eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful pair of brown shoes. On a shelf filled with many other more mundane styles, these ones stood out because of the yellow coloured laces and a perfect shape. On the bottom, they said 'Hand-Made in Italy' and had a pricetag of £75. I could scarcely believe my eyes and figured they must have been used on a mannequin or for visual merchandising, because although they were a tiny little bit worn, they had no apparent flaws and there no others like them. I slipped them on and they fit. Even at their normal retail price of over £300, they would have been well worth it.
Since then, my Dunhill shoes have become something of an obsession, a rare purchases in these lean times. For me, they represent the best kind of value—a combination of great design, excellent quality and especially now, a price that didn't stretch the bounds of belief, even with the Great Recession spending brakes on.
Contrast this with a savvy Italian friend of mine who also had a very emotional encounter with a pair of shoes. Admittedly her taste and style have sometimes outstripped the budget her fashion salary allows, but this is a sharp fashion consumer and one who knows value when she sees it.
When she first saw Christian Louboutin's peach peep-toe heels with a flower corsage on the shelf at Harvey Nichols, she went into the kind of frenzy that all great designers ultimately yearn for: to create an emotional response within real customers. But when she turned the shoes over and she saw the £847 pricetag, or almost 1000 euros, those Great Recession spending brakes kicked in and the purchase was stopped cold in its tracks. She loved the corsage shoes so much that she took a photo of them on her feet, but she couldn't bring herself to buy them because they didn't promise to deliver any lasting value.
"In Mantova," her hometown, she said, "people make 1200 euros on average per month. I can't justify spending that much money on shoes, especially with this crisis." What's more, a previous pair of Louboutins she had bought during sunnier economic times have not stood the test of time. She complained that the quality was no good and that the inner sole had been glued and had fallen out. In other words, they did not pass her value test and this is one shopper whose memory is long.
Then again, at the newly revamped Joseph store in Notting Hill, some customers are still spending huge amounts of money on women's shoes. Balmain's crystal-studded sandals by Giuseppe Zanotti are retailing at an astounding £1300, or about $2000, and barely stay on the shelves before they are snapped up by fans of the uber-hot brand led by Christophe Decarnin and Emmanuelle Alt.
There was only one pair of those Balmain sandals left at Joseph on the Friday of Easter weekend. Two of the three pairs were bought almost immediately as the shoes hit the shelves, both by foreign customers, and one of these by telephone from Beirut. They are already sold out on Net-a-Porter.
Apart from their fashion currency, another reason why the Balmain shoes are so hot is because they are already collectors' items. If you hop on a plane back home to the USA from London, you can sell them on eBay for $2800, allowing for a neat $800 profit.
Now that's value of a completely different kind altogether, but it still shows that some customers are still willing to spend some serious cash on fashion shoes. Value, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
Imran Amed is Editor of The Business of Fashion