Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why High End Labels Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg?

Last year, as I and a few friends flipping through the pages of Harper's BAZAAR and Elle's past issues, we marveled at the ready-to-wear pieces created by John Galliano, Christopher Bailey of Burberry and Diane Von Furstenberg to name a few.

Suddenly, a friend popped up a question that has been boggling in her mind for years - why do designer clothes have to cost at least an arm and a leg? That's a good question, I thought and I think it's just the right time for me to explain why does it have to cost your arms and legs just to buy a pair of Ve
rsace leggings, which doesn't look luxurious at all.

A common belief among the normal non-fashion people is a designer wear is costly because of the brand and the designer's repertoire, plus the different monetary rate between one country and another. Well, I do agree with the monetary thingy but if you say, the price of goods are also determined by the brand and designer's repertoire, I think that is slightly untrue. Do you know why a Dior floral print blouse costs RM4500.00 while the same blouse with same pattern print from ZARA costs a mere 90% less than the real thing? The answer lies in the craftsmanship of the product.

Everybody knows that ZARA clothes are mass-
produced and were done by machines at their factory somewhere in Spain so that is why they are cheaper and considered as an alternative to those who can't afford those dainty pieces or not even dare to step into Dior's Avenue Montaigne boutique. Now since we know the factors that make ZARA clothes cheap, lets move to Dior. Do you know why Dior or Hermes or Prada are damn expensive? It's because these brands have their products done practically by the human hands and not by machines as what ZARA or MNG or GAP did.

Basically it took days to sew a blouse together and if the blouse needs to be embellished with sequins or hand-painted (remember the green pintuck sleeved Dior gown Charlize Theron wore at the Oscars a few years back?), than it might took at least a month to complete the entire thing.

While most clothing companies prefers to cut their manufacturing costs by moving their manufacturing operations in sweatshops of the develop
ing nations like China, Cambodia, Pakistan or Costa Rica where labor cost is cheaper (thanks to the excessive and inevitable child labor) compare to Europe or North America, the fashion bigwigs like Chanel or Gucci need to retain their exclusivity and quality because the items produced are not in a massive scale of a million pieces and above.

Therefore, Dior clothes are entirely made in France, where the income tax rate is a hefty 50% and the sales tax near 20%, by a group of experienced and dedicated seamstress and milliners who have mastered their arts for ages while shoes and handbags were manufactured in Italy, also by skillful Italian leather craftmasters.

For your information, the Dior seamstresses or milliners aren't just tailors or hat makers but they are considered as artists
due to their capability in assembling the pieces together to create a magnificent creation. Do you know that to make a couture gown, it takes more than one seamstress or seamster called Petite Mains to have it done?

Now let us take a look on the cost. You need to know that a cost to conceive a whole collection can soar up to millions of dollars and this is not a child's play. Types of frabric used, the embellishments if needed, the designer's fee and the labor cost are the main factors you should account. Once the whole collection is completed, you must add the cost of promotion and distribution until you can come up with a suitable price range. Many people aren't aware of this and due to their lack of awareness, they turn to the fakes which are much more cheaper and sometimes, look as genuine as the real thing.

Take Louis Vuitton bags for example. Everyone loves Louis Vuitton bags and would part their limbs even for just a small Keepall bag. As I have said earlier, people tend to assume that a Louis Vuitton bag costs RM5000 because of the brand name itself and should they go to Paris, they could get the same bag at lower price compared to buying it locally.

Well, for your information, Louis Vuitton goods are actually cheaper here compared to Paris and other cities due to our duty-free status imposed on all luxury items and as I said, it's not the name that made it hefty but the craftsmanship.

To conceive a single keepall, it takes more than a painstaking 24 hours of handstitching and of course, the method used is different than the stitching method we have learned at fashion school. Since the keepall is exclusively made in Louis Vuitton factory somewhere in France, and not in India or Indonesia where cow hides are cheap and so is the labor factor, the bag is not made by a mere factory worker.

Instead, it is conceived by a master craftsman who have learned and mastered the craft for ages either through formal or informal education that he received. If we include the craftsman effort into the account, plus the creative effort of designing made by creative director Marc Jacobs in conceiving this bag, then it is appropriate for the marketing people at Louis Vuitton to mark it up high.

Now you know how the trade works so therefore, try to refrain from buying imitated goods because buying a genuine thing can be considered as an investment. Not only the quality is superb, the artistic values and the history of the brand itself are an added value. In other words, you could be buying and at the same time appreciating the legacy that has been around since the last 150 years.

*Photos courtesy of and

2 fashionistas wrote ...:

luwitolundi said...

Good analysis about couture items, although... there's one thing that's still bugging me. You actually mentioned in the beginning when you said 'leggings.'

I understand that couture items or bags require hours upon hours of meticulous craftmanship. But what about items that are obviously not handmade?

For examples basics (t-shirts, leggings, socks) or eyewear (not including the ones made from pure titanium and god-knows-what rare materials and diamond encrusted). Why would they cost so much? I think in this matter, they purely cost that much due to the brand.

Maybe I'm wrong? or right?

Fab site you got though :) I still can't figure out why the M'sian government made luxury items tax free.... but hey, I'm not complaining.

Shaiful said...

Hi Luwitolundi...

Thank you for the interesting comment. Actually for leggings or t-shirts, what makes it highly marked up is not just the brand but the material used.

Usually a designer will use higher-grade material so it will last longer. Yes, t-shirts and leggings aren't handmade but it's all about materials anyway.

Well, the reason why M'sian government made luxury goods tax-free is to attract more tourists to shop here. In Malaysia, you only pay tax for KFC or McD but not for a Levi's Jeans or Gucci bags.

That is why Malaysian price is 30% cheaper compared to Japan and Japanese tourists keep coming back to shop here.