NYC's Derek Lam for eBay: Crass or Classy Collaboration?
Luxury minimalist designer Derek Lam recently designed a collection exclusively sold on eBay, which he released during the most recent New York Fashion Week.
Economic-minded blogs and publications seized on the line as an indication that eBay is trying to shed its reputation as an online flea market and steal market share from new product retailers. However, we’re more interested in what this says about the fashion world and its fraught relationship with the internet.
Anybody can see that while fashion magazines were considered authoritative style guides five years ago, style blogs have stolen attention, and street photography has now become a viable profession; but despite the shift in public attention and dwindling advertiser interest, fashion magazines have changed surprisingly little.
Many designer labels don’t even sell products on their websites, and many magazine websites seem to exist only to promote sweepstakes. And although a small handful of celebrity bloggers considered “highbrow” regularly get featured in print publications and asked to create ads for major labels, the vast majority of them are considered sub-professional. Although designers will send bloggers free samples for web giveaways or just to model, they’re seldom associated with major brands.
Part of the reason might be that designer brands are, by definition, anti-street and anti-DIY. Designer advertisers are fashion magazines’ biggest sponsors, so the fashion world, which is notoriously nepotistic and which resembles an empire somewhat in its internal structure, is at some level incompatible with the democratic mentality of the internet.
Nevertheless, in spite of this growing divide, some younger designers have seized on the opportunities to use the internet to blur these lines. Alexander Wang has publicly stated that the internet “made” him. His best-selling line, “T by Alexander Wang,” was supposedly created in response to internet demand, particularly in China. Other brands that have achieved commercial success seemingly overnight (such as Jason Wu, the makers of the dress Michelle Obama wore to her husband's inauguration) seem to have done so as a result of internet enthusiasm, although that data is hard to track.
However, what’s unusual, even unprecedented, about Derek Lam’s upcoming collection is its democratic nature: individual pieces were crowdsourced before going into production — meaning that eBay viewers’ votes determined items were ultimately produced (also making it easier for the designer to assess demand before manufacturing).
In some ways, it was a brave move on Derek Lam’s part: it attests to a belief that his products speak for themselves, and it’s also strong evidence of his commitment to meeting his fans’ needs. However, if the designs ultimately produced are chosen by masses, it raises the question: what do we need designers for? What’s the difference between a crowdsourced Derek Lam t-shirt and a Threadless bestseller? By exposing his creative process, does the designer lose his haute credibility?
One thing is clear: the label is navigating a fine line that the fashion industry has wisely given wide berth before now. What's not clear at this point is whether Derek Lam has placed his line at the fashion "frontier," or just exposed it to the risks that the whole industry has been working to avoid.
The big question: Will the internet change the face of fashion — or just deface it?