Thursday, May 3, 2007

Understanding the Difference

It is a historical fact that I have never tried on a $2000 jacket. It also might be true that I had never wanted to, before, but I don’t know. I do own a tux, and I was married in a linen suit from Yves Saint Laurent by way of Keezer’s, the venerable used clothing store in Cambridge. As I recall, I purchased both on the same afternoon in 1989, for a grand total of $100 (not including tax).

In the nomenclature of niche marketing, I am a cheapskate. Not for plane tickets, you understand. But it would’ve been hard to convince me to spend more money on clothes when I was saving for travel: a dream trip (as yet unrealized) to the Seychelles.

Because Chatav Ectabit aims for a different niche, Sandy and Cliff are not convincing people to spend; these folks already want to spend. In the luxury market, shoppers don’t have to weigh a $500 sweater against $500 in food or even $500 in gold. The trade-offs, if any, occur on a level unfamiliar to Fitzgerald’s “you and me.”

I don’t suggest that everyone who buys from this collection is rich. But I suspect that Tom Cruise, Ellen DeGeneres, Keith Richards, and Meg Ryan (to name a few) might take offense if I hinted that they were short on lunch money.

Here are the facts: these clothes require many hours of skilled labor and are available only in exclusive retail shops, and even then in small quantities. They are therefore expensive, and thus to wear them is undeniably a luxury, requiring at least a minimum amount of wealth, or great thrift and a flair for budgeting.

As demonstrated by my experience at Keezer’s, designer clothing (with some exceptions) has little residual value. Some few might be able to consider such purchases as an investment in image, but the majority are buying a feeling, and at that price, they want something out of the ordinary, something a little bit different even from the adjacent item on the rack, something which, like a striving, human self, feels unique.

Of course, I did not understand any of this until I talked with Cliff. Really talked with him, in a way that might not have occurred in our lives before. When we were kids, we shared a bedroom. Two single beds in a room that bubbled with fish tanks and looked out over a Mobil gas station, marked by the red image of a winged horse, made iconic by Jayne Ann Phillips’ Machine Dreams, published in 1984.

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