As if it were the day after Thanksgiving, consumers gathered in droves outside of Target stores and online shoppers set their alarms for the 6 am launch of Missoni for Target, the collaboration between the low-price retailer of the masses and the Italian luxury knitwear designer whose signature clothing can often bring in $1,500 an item. The result was not a population of satiated customers; rather, the mayhem that ensued was indicative of the desire to superficially break free from the financial doldrums that many still find themselves in.
The Target website crashed, leaving those early risers to weep over their high-octane coffee while piecing together a wardrobe of previously worn clothing for their coming weeks at work. The droves that charged into the Manhattan-based temporary store were pushed back six hours into the release, nearly two and a half days before the pop-up was scheduled to shut down.
Those who successfully checked off the items on their wish list walked away happy, but their victory seems pyrrhic. In other words, you get what you pay for. Genuine Missoni products, which are known to go “for $595 to $1,500,” are priced as such because they have a reputation for lasting. Products that carry the Missoni name but are priced drastically less are almost certainly going to have a shorter shelf life. They most probably will not disintegrate in the next few weeks or months, but the item will ultimately have to be replaced sooner rather than later. And, therein lies the problem: the quest for less-expensive items can very well lead to more expenses in the long run when the original product needs to be replaced — something that foresight suggests is not fiscally responsible in tighter economic times.
This is not meant to suggest that we should never go shopping – ironically, the economy can’t recover if we don’t — but Mayhem for Missoni indicates that the possession of a name brand-embroidered tag is as important as it was before 2008, even if the products are “cheaper versions of their fashions for lower-end stores.” Moreover, the distribution and purchase of Missoni for Target epitomizes the conflict between how we wish to be perceived and our refusal to accept reality. In other words, our person and purpose have been defined by what we wear, and what we wear is intended to showcase our rise from the depths of economic hardship.
In all honesty, I can’t blame people for wanting to treat themselves to something new. There’s something psychologically satisfying in reinventing one’s self with a new sweater or pair of jeans. At the same time, this clamor for lower-end products with a recognizable name also prophecies our further inability to resurface from the recurrent financial dips of the last two years.
What I mean to suggest here is that the recent trend of frugality and cost-consciousness is merely a veneer that thinly veils consumers’ desire to showcase their ability to spend once more. A sniff of luxury that causes such a melee might suggest that consumers will be eager to reinvent themselves when any luxury brand concedes to the demands of the market – particularly around holiday season. Corporations have a responsibility to their stockholders, and smaller businesses have as their primary focus the goal of making a profit. It seems plausible that the reduction of quality to peddle a name would successfully entice consumers to go beyond their means to satiate their desire to adopt a status created by fetishized merchandise. Businesses can’t be blamed for this, but consumers shouldn’t be pitied either.
The most telling, and potentially most unnerving, element about the recent run on Target is the blatantly predatory actions that appear increasingly endemic in a society that values status. In what feels reminiscent of trying to find U2 tickets to Madison Square Garden on the day of the show, consumers lucky enough to have purchased some of the Missoni line from Target are now regurgitating their items (roughly 38,204) on Ebay for inflated prices that elide previous discounts like scalpers asking for $200 and a firstborn for upper-upper mezzanine seats. While these bids still fall short of the original prices, there’s a modicum of parasitic psychological warfare geared toward the consumer who can’t afford typical Missoni prices, but who is willing to dig a bit deeper for “cheaper fabrics” in an attempt to establish, or re-establish, a social standing.