Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A love affair with Alexander McQueen

Last month I blogged about "When frugal becomes cheap." In my article, I talked about how designer handbags, for instance, should be looked at as an investment of sorts -- something that might not give you back ample amounts of capital that, say, a stake in a mutual fund might give you, but the purchase will hold its value nonetheless. (Think of vintage fashion like an antique Porsche -- it never goes out of style and there will always be someone who will pay top dollar for it.)

Well, many people who read my article weren't fond of my designer-bag-as-investment assessment and thought I was trite and fickle to believe "excessive" purchases such as my $350 giraffe-print leather Dooney (which I love, but isn't even that high-end in the first place) merited the term "investment."

Many, like New York Times columnist Cintra Wilson, agree ... sometimes.

"I've never really been able to relate to the idea of vastly expensive clothes, no matter how 'classic' they are, as an 'investment.' I figured this was the language absurdly rich women used to justify obscene purchases they should be punished for," she writes in a recent fashion column.

And yet for all her denial of sumptuous higher-end couture, she still has a "terrible love" for Alexander McQueen's designs, although she avoids the store at every cost because it "crowbars the knees of [her] financial intelligence."

"I was in the shop once, several years ago. In a fit of design intoxication, I plonked down $500 for a perfect black pencil skirt, a reckless expenditure that launched me into nose bleeding panic for months afterward," she writes. "Since then, I have worn that skirt so relentlessly that even with the most conservative math, it cost me about five bucks a session to wear it. It still looks new; I figure that if it doesn’t rot off my body, it will, in a couple of years, officially work its way to being free."

Since her pencil skirt incident, Wilson treads carefully when passing by the house of fashion ... that is, until she visited the Alexander McQueen store in search of something "bangingsome" to wear to an upcoming literary festival in San Francisco and laid her eyes on a $1,235 "Sofia-Loren-Goes-to-Wellesley" dress.

"Never in my life had I crossed the $1,000 barrier for a dress I didn’t get married in. I consider it fiscal suicide ... But this wasn’t a dress: It was the fulfillment of my deepest desires, in wool. For a literary performance, it was the perfect fusion of tweedy respectability and autobahn curves. Elves had tailored it on me while I slept."

Wilson's witty, smart commentary on her latest foray into McQueen land is a fabulous read, if not for the fashionphiles out there, than for the frugalists (or wherever the twain shall meet).

The key with Wilson's article is that she understands that even for the the most haute couture, the purchases are "hard enough to justify in an economy that doesn’t look like an avalanche of scratched lotto tickets; now such purchases are indefensible."

And yet wouldn't you, like her, also succumb to that devil of consumerism on your shoulder, purring into your ear that those $795 black stretch gabardine pants are "a sound investment, inarguably classic. You will wear them for at least 150 years." The same for that wool $1,235 dream?

Even though her "credit cards were banging steel cups against the bars of [her] wallet, and black smoke began pouring out of [her] handbag," she did end up buying the dress -- of course "after much weeping and rending of sensibility."

Why? Because Wilson reasons, "There is no investment more worthwhile than an investment in your own transformation into a better future-self."

Although after that (what some may call) irrationalization unearthed from the consumer abyss, Wilson did tote a karmic punishment all the way out to San Francisco with her when she realized the security tag was left on said dress ... but it's a small inconvenience dealt by the fashion gods when you have McQueen hanging in your closet! [NY Times]

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