Millennials and Gen Z's obsession with premium mediocre fashion and brand perception
Choosing the right fit
"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months," said Oscar Wilde. And looking at the fashion industry today and the countless trends we follow, one could say he was right. The world of luxury fashion is a constant chase. For many consumers, it's either the need to collect or the obsession of being the first to own the latest trends. But if art and fashion are so abstract, then why do so many only go for the ones with Gucci or Supreme sewn onto them?
My schoolmates, for example, would rock up to lecture halls dressed in Gucci sliders or Alexander McQueen sneakers — I kid you not. This was something that was always so... perplexing to me because since when did luxury became a day-to-day product worn so carelessly? And though they were decked out in the most fashionable brands, they ironically looked super unfashionable, always retaining the same look that felt all too safe.
While these items are considered the pinacle of fashion to most, they are actually a smart marketing concept for brands who are looking for a way to sell "aspirational" luxury to the general public. Termed "premium mediocore" by blogger Venkatesh Rao, these are your entry level products that are so basic, they're easy to throw on even for a trip to the supermarket. We're talking about a $20 canvas baseball cap that is now worth $200, just because the word Balenciaga is emblazoned across it or a $350 cotton t-shirt with the words Givenchy on the front.
Priced at the mid hundreds, it seems kind of affordable for luxury goods. Granted, they're still not cheap, but it's not money that a middle-class consumer couldn't afford to set aside either if they really wanted them. The strategy is to lure people into buying clothes, shoes, accessories, and bags to satisfy the need to be associated with the brands. Luxury then becomes more than airy hope. It's attainable (which is ironic because that defeats the point of luxury), and the best part of it is that everybody around you now knows that you're wearing something designer.
There is a reason why "premium mediocore" fashion is made to be so easy to spot. These items are usually adopters of the brands' logos, displayed conspicuously in a clear, bold font. It is a call-to-arms, per se. "To signal their allegiance to a tribe or cause," says Milton Pedraza, founder and chief executive of the Luxury Institute; a way for consumers to identify themselves with the brand and create an impression when worn.
This is not a new phenomenon, but its occurrence now and the need for these showy pieces can largely be affiliated to social media. Because that's all we know — to create a seemingly perfect life through perfect pictures. That's what we see from the influencers and celebrities we emulate. We watch them rake up likes and comments when we see them in flashy designer gear, associating popularity with conspicious designer goods. Every picture you post on your feed is designed as a way to show off your personal branding, and who wouldn't want to be associated with some of the most trendiest and luxurious brands in the world as well as the celebrities who endorse them?
Most of the time when celebritities are wearing high quality and exquisitely crafted dresses and suits, we don't even think of the designers behind them. Sure, those Gucci kaftans by Alessandro Michele look lovely. But would the general public care if they couldn't tell it was from Gucci? Many of our first exposure to designer brands tend to be when we see a celebrity flexing, and through that association, we think that's the only way to enjoy luxury goods too.
To truly indulge in designer items is not a slice of cake that everyone can enjoy. But if you're privileged enough to be able to do so, one should invest in the ones that offer the quality and concepts the brand prides itself on. The history, heritage, and craftsmanship that these houses spend years perfecting. These "premium mediocre" fashion goods that are so widely purchased does not offer any creativity or individuality in the way you dress, and frankly not worth the hefty price tag for the kind of artistry (or lack thereof) either. In fact, the money saved could go to an independent designer whose pieces could showcase the kind of individuality you would like to display.
So the moral of the story is, take the time to set your own style. Hushed, loud, or unconventional, think about what is it you love about a brand before falling into the illusion of democratised fashion. A style that puts out your creativity at the forefront, more so than the brand's.