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Affordable couture: It isn't an oxymoron

September 07, 2012|By Susan Carpenter
  • The Reciproque designer resale boutique in Paris is one of many sources cited in the book "Affordable Couture."
The Reciproque designer resale boutique in Paris is one of many sources… (Jemi Armstrong )

We’ve all seen it, and we all want it: The most premium, couture fashions from the most exclusive of designers. Yet most of us, covetous as we are, cannot afford it. Or can we? According to the authors of the soon-to-be-released book “Affordable Couture” (Vivays Publishing), the high end is accessible to everyone. You just have to know how to source it. We caught up with co-authors Jemi Armstrong and Linda Arroz to talk about some of their secrets for finding couture on the cheap.

All the Rage: Isn’t it really just a small percentage of people who can truly afford couture?
Jemi Armstrong: No. Normal women can go out and get couture or high-end designer clothes now if they just know how. A lot of this started when I came home with a $1,500 pair of Manolo Blahnik knee-high black suede boots I bought for $87 at Nordstrom’s Rack. You can do this. Women can look really great and have really beautiful things and do it without a lot of money.

All the Rage: Where’s a good place to start looking?
Linda Arroz: The first thing anybody can do is Google and look for flash sales, or online pop-up stores. They’re temporary online offers private to members only. There’s usually no charge to belong to the group, and you get first dibs, which is actually the name of one of the greatest sites of all.

All the Rage: How about resale?
Linda Arroz: In Santa Monica alone, there are multiple resale shops within walking distance. You could do your own walking tour. If you really want to get into this, you’re going to everything from thrift to resale to high-end vintage resale couture shops like The Way We Wore.
Jemi Armstrong: Timing is everything. In Paris, there’s a store where the designers take their samples. It’s called Reciproque, and it’s a block long. There’s rack after rack after rack of stuff that is samples, and it’s all designer stuff. So there’s a brand new Jean Paul Gaultier jacket that’s $250, but originally it was on the runway for $3,000. In L.A., after the Academy Awards, actresses bring their gowns to resale shops.
Linda Arroz: The stars can’t wear clothes like we do. Once the star’s been photographed, that’s it for that dress.
Jemi Armstrong: Every single season a celebrity may have 25 or 30 pairs of Manolos she sends to a resale shop.

All the Rage: Affordable couture isn’t only about consignment, though. You can also buy it new, right?
Linda Arroz: Absolutely. There are Premium Outlet Malls all over the world, many of which have outlets for luxury brands. Loehmann’s has its Back Room, which is where the high-end designer goods are. In the L.A. area, there are two Premium Outlet Malls within an hour of the city. A lot of companies have started making their own products for their own outlets, so while the style is the same, the fabric is different. In Milan, one of the six shopping cities we cover in the book, designers have their own outlets. In Italy, you can go to the Prada outlet.

All the Rage: What’s driving the desire for couture?
Linda Arroz: Reality TV, "Project Runway," "America’s Next Top Model" and all the celebrities on the red carpet have created this interest. TV shows like "Downton Abbey" are driving sales of vintage clothes through the roof. A few years ago, a lot of the museums started to do these retrospectives of designer collections.

All the Rage: Is the interest in couture in some way a reaction to fast fashion?
Linda Arroz: I think women are really frustrated by fast fashion in spite of the fact that it’s really exciting that a lot of designers are doing things for H&M. These clothes don’t last. You wear them a few times, throw them in the washer, and they fall apart. There’s an awareness of the difference now. Years ago when we discovered we could go to Target for our basics and buy an investment piece at Barneys or Bloomie’s, that opened a lot of people’s eyes that you could mix these price points. And then moving forward, women are looking to develop their own personal style, and they don’t want to look like cookie cutters. They don’t want to have the outfit that was on every floor way in a department store and are collecting and buying clothes that are very unique.

All the Rage: In the book, you walk readers through the history of couture, key pieces for a woman’s wardrobe and couture care, which can be challenging. What do regular women get out of wearing couture?
Linda Arroz: The book points out how couture is constructed. The clothes feel so good on your body, they can elevate your self esteem.
Jemi Armstrong: There’s a paragraph in the book about the Masonic handshake. It talks about how when you walk into a room wearing a Margiela jacket, you’re instantly accepted by everyone in the room who’s in the know.

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