Thanks to the Internet and an international obsession with celebrity and all things fashion that has emerged in the past decade, anybody can find out anything they want about high style. And as the public increasingly craved a piece of the action, astute designers started to capitalize by putting their names on accessibly priced fashion. A pioneer of the high-low model, Isaac Mizrahi closed his own business in 1998 but in 2002 launched a namesake collection at Target (sales were estimated at $300 million by 2008) and began selling a made-to-order line to Bergdorf Goodman in 2003. In a 2004 runway show, Mizrahi mixed his Target clothes, like a $9.99 tank top, with his Bergdorf designs, like a $15,000 camel hair suit.
Few stores did the high-low dance as well as Hennes & Mauritz. H&M could have stood for Hysteria & Merchandise when Karl Lagerfeld got into the act, designing a one-off collection for the fast-fashion retailer in 2004. Frenzied crowds stormed the 500 H&M locations where the collection launched, gobbling the goods like piranhas. “This was supposed to last two weeks and it’s over in 25 minutes,” Lagerfeld told WWD. “I’m sorry for the clients because I like the idea that everyone could wear Lagerfeld. Some people bought 20 or 30 pieces in three seconds. Funny, no?” The retailer’s marketing director, Jörgen Andersson, added, “We’ve been operating this business for some 60 years and we’ve never seen anything like it.”
Viktor & Rolf, Stella McCartney, Comme des Garçons, Matthew Williamson, Jimmy Choo and Sonia Rykiel followed at H&M with similar results. When Roberto Cavalli showed up on Fifth Avenue for his turn at the retailer in November 2007, about 250 people had been waiting for hours for a chance to glimpse the man and get their hands on the clothes before they sold out. WWD reported as the designer emerged from his car, he tossed his cigar to the sidewalk. It wasn’t there for long. “I got Roberto’s cigar!” shouted a young woman who had been waiting since 7 p.m. the night before. “It fell down when he stood here. I waited until he walked away then picked it up and put it in a plastic Ziploc bag. I’m going to sell it on eBay.” As for Cavalli, who surveyed the mayhem from a safe distance on an escalator above the main floor, he told WWD, “I feel like a rock star.”