High Fashion Goes Low

In New York this week, the fashion industry elite sat in rapt attention as designers fanned out their fall 2007 collections. But elsewhere in the city, things got a bit more physical.

While some looked, others leaped -- and grabbed, and snatched and perhaps, threw a punch.

Downtown from Bryant Park, the focus wasn't on the runway. It was on the racks of Proenza Schouler's limited-edition collection for Target. The line debuted at a SoHo boutique Opening Ceremony on Feb. 3, the same day Fashion Week kicked off and days before the collection hit Target stores across the country.

"It was a little frenzied because women just made a beeline for the nearest clothes rack and started grabbing things," said Sharmila Achari, a Columbia University law student and one of many people who hoped to get a piece of Proenza. "They had security there -- they were only letting in about 40 people at a time ... People were standing in the cold for at least two hours."

Beyond sheer necklines and hoop skirts, designers and mass retailers are latching onto a new trend -- creating low-cost lines that increase designers' profiles, enhance retailers' images and drive consumers to stores in droves.

Surprise and Delight on a Dime

Proenza Schouler's line for Target is the fifth installment of the store's GO International collection, which spotlights low-end collections from up-and-coming designers. John Remington, Target's vice-president of event marketing and communications, said GO International's philosophy is simple: Give consumers high quality and high design at prices they can afford.

Whether or not the average Target shopper knows the duo behind Proenza Schouler or can pronounce the label's name (Pro-en-za Skool-er) doesn't matter, as long as the clothes surprise and delight.

"Ultimately, what makes the collections very successful is the newness and surprise that we put in front of the guests," Remington said. "Bottom line, a lot of them may not know the designer's name but they just like what they see."

For mass retailers, the goal is to make consumers expect more than solid cotton T-shirts and hackneyed high-fashion rip offs. For designers, it's winning a wider audience.

"It's not about the same old, same old, it's about finding new ways to engage the consumer," said Marshall Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD group, a market research firm. "Being a designer that has the ability to design not only for the upper end market but for the lower end market -- that's true success."

Target has made "design for all" one of their mantras. Prior to GO International, Target partnered with Mossimo Gianulli, Issac Mizrahi and Liz Lange on clothing lines and renowned architect Michael Graves on a home collection. Remington considers the GO collection a logical progression.

"We started out with Mossimo, Michael Graves on the home side ? those are more evergreen," he said. "Now we're feeling that this is an evolution of getting things a little more quickly so that guests are constantly surprised."

With mass appeal comes mass amounts of money.

"You're going to make a lot of money in the low end if you're successful," Cohen said.

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