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At theOutnet.com, the well heeled can click off with (relative) bargains

May 10, 2009|Emili Vesilind

The recession hasn't just changed how we shop; it has altered our expectations of how much things should cost. Deeply slashed prices have become the norm, and even affluent shoppers are looking for -- and expecting -- stellar deals.

So the launch of theOutnet.com, a new discount designer website from the Jimmy Choo-shod minds of Net-a-Porter, couldn't have been timed more perfectly.

The no-frills site -- a virtual sale section for the full-priced Net-a-Porter -- offers top-drawer designer women's clothes, shoes and accessories up to 60% off (though markdowns can occasionally plunge to 80% during special sales).

More than 200 designer and contemporary labels are featured -- a blockbuster mix of high-profile names including Stella McCartney, L'Wren Scott, Fendi, Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen, and cult favorites such as Vanessa Bruno, Roksanda Ilincic, Jovovich-Hawk, Milly and Graeme Black. Items are searchable by brand, genre, keyword and color.

Prices are significantly below retail but still slightly higher than at deep-discount outlet malls such as the Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon. A Rick Owens cream-colored coat is $745, down from $1,490, while a Marc Jacobs' shoulder bag is marked down to $837 from $1,395.

For most, especially in this economic climate, pulling the trigger on a $2,300 Chloe shift dress (marked down from $4,060) is a pipe dream. Still, there are splurge-worthy pieces for the masses, including a K by Karl Lagerfeld cashmere cardigan for $219, a 3.1 Phillip Lim sundress for $250 and Anna Sui ballet flats for $188.

But then, theOutnet isn't out to woo the masses. Its audience is niche: affluent, female designer-apparel junkies. Its selection is lean, mean and even less accessibly priced than that of Bluefly, the progenitor of discount designer shopping websites.

Most of the merchandise is kicked down from Net-a-Porter, one of the most high-end designer shopping sites (think $2,000 Balmain jeans) specializing in current-season merchandise. "We're also sourcing specifically for theOutnet and working closely with our brands," said Stephanie Phair, director of theOutnet, which is a division of Net-a-Porter that functions as a stand-alone company.

The site's fortuitous timing in the marketplace is merely coincidental, insisted Phair -- though the luxury goods sector has been hit especially hard by the recession. "Any mature business has an outlet," she said, "and Net-a-Porter has operated in the luxury retailing industry for nearly a decade. We have built it for the long term, and it's here to stay."

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emiliink@yahoo.com

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