When the cultural zeitgeist that is Sex and the City emerged from the annals of TBS re-runs and came to the big screen this past summer, millions of women rejoiced as Carrie Bradshaw finally tamed Mr. Big. It took six seasons of romantic uncertainty to get him there, but Mr. Big — Carrie's equities-trading white knight — triumphantly said "I do," and committed to a fabled life in a sprawling penthouse on Park Avenue.
Let's fast forward to October. The real estate bubble has burst and, assuming he worked at Lehman Brothers, the perennially slick Mr. Big probably lost his job, with its hefty bonus and town car privileges. The couple, like millions of other Americans, is forced to consider major lifestyle changes: will they have to move back to Carrie's matchbook of an apartment? Will Carrie, burdened by financial illiquidity, be forced to (gasp!) stifle her love of couture? Similarly, what will become of SATC's real star: the retail industry?
We know Carrie will stay fabulous; unlike most, she is willing to forgo food to afford a pair of Manolos. But ever since the Titanic band's somber rendition of "Nearer my God to Thee" became an appropriate soundtrack for Closing Bell on CNBC, people from every economic tier have found themselves desperate for relief. Barack Obama and John McCain may have taken to rolling their shirtsleeves à la Huey Long in order to gain economic confidence from "everyman," but the fetters of the financial crisis are tighter than ever.
In these times, it seems as though fashion is the most careless way to spend one's sparse pocket change. Surprisingly, however, the fashion industry elite — not disingenuous politicians — have emerged as the real saviors for the fledgling retail industry by creating diffusion fashion lines. The diffusion line has existed in its present form since 2006, but in light of the current economic climate, this retail model has never been more relevant. In order to create diffusion lines, major fashion labels enter into partnerships with budget retailers like H&M, the Gap and Target to design limited edition, economical apparel. While the prices are thrifty, the apparel's designs remain on-trend and true to each label's aesthetic; Jonathan Saunders, who — like designers Luella Bartley, Rogan Gregory, and Erin Fetherston before him — is headlining Target's Go International collection, gained inspiration for his feminine, color-saturated skirts from the same abstract expressionist painters that influenced his 2008 runway shows. Similarly, in 2006 H&M commissioned Viktor & Rolf to create a line that boasted their signature, ultra-tailored tuxedo jackets and vests.
And the trend packs astounding clout: when Roberto Cavalli designed for H&M last November, fashionistas swarmed H&M's Manhattan flagship and gutted the store in under 30 minutes. Target's Go International diffusion lines sell out consistently, and pieces by design luminaries like Gryson have gained accolades from fashion publications worldwide. Overwhelmed by online orders and the lack of a store in Manhattan proper, Target has decided to open pop-up shops across the city.
Purchasing apparel from diffusion lines does come with a caveat: the craftsmanship of a $10 sweater obviously won't rival that of its more pricey counterparts. In fact, like most purchases at H&M, the odds of a limited edition Viktor & Rolf for H&M dress making it an entire season are about the same as finding a serious relationship during freshman NSO. However, by increasing traditional diffusion prices, brands like Rei Kawakubo's edgy Comme des Garçons promise exceptional quality in its line for H&M.
By giving the average consumer access to designer labels, the fashion industry (notorious for excessive prices and pretension) has shown unprecedented brand responsibility and egalitarianism. Cheap and chic, indeed.