Hermes walked into a fashion maelstrom this week when it unveiled a pair of hand-finished £335 flip flops with foam sole, calfskin lining, and the sort of simple straps found on sandals costing considerably less on the High Street.
The expensive flip flops join YSL’s £220 white T-shirt as an example of the staggering price designers will charge for basic items. So, how can they justify it — and who’s actually buying them?
Of course, for items like these, most top designer labels will set their prices according to what customers will pay, and what their competitors charge, rather than how much they cost to make. They also have a healthy profit margin of around 65 per cent to maintain.
Hermes flip flops: While these are handfinished and made from the very best calfskin, they look remarkably like a bog-standard pair of flip flops. £335
Yves Saint Laurent T-shirt: Apart from the ‘almost invisible’ YSL logo, there is just nothing unusual or at all exciting about this plain white 100 per cent cotton T-shirt £220
All too often, their branded hoodies and logo T-shirts look akin to items you can find elsewhere for a tenth of the price. When you buy them, you’re paying for the branding — a flashy Gucci symbol or recognisable Burberry pattern.
These new, super-priced basics are different, however, since they tend to be completely plain. They’re not about ‘fashion’, in the sense of obviously wearing a trend or label — they’re about style, cut and quality.
It’s hard to imagine how this applies to a simple pair of flip flops, though. The Hermes ones, described as summer sandals, are made with the best calfskin. For most of us, a pair of Havaianas for about £20 are upmarket enough.
It’s not just flip flops, though. Thanks to minimalist designers including Hedi Slimane at Celine, this autumn’s collections are a roll call of basics, from crisp shirts to jumpers — superior staples that to many look workaday.
But there are plenty of reasons why they cost more — although perhaps not quite that much more! ‘It comes down to the best fabrications, special details, the cut of the garment, and often the hand-craftsmanship, too,’ says Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matches Fashion.
Balmain jeans: Despite being a brand loved by the Kardashians, it is still a surprise that these simple jeans are so costly. Their lightwash denim and the distressed detailing makes them look cheaper than many. £775
Emma Willis white shirt: Boyfriend shirts are very on trend, but I hope that not all 100 per cent cotton styles are quite this expensive! £365
And there is no shortage of customers eager to drop more than £1,000 on a Balenciaga hoodie. Kingham says super luxe basics are some of the best performers on the Matches site.
Most successful luxury brands are headed up by a renowned creative director. Collections are honed in a long design process, as they perfect the drape of a little black dress from Dolce & Gabbana, or the tailored shoulder of a classic Balmain jacket.
And once a design is finalised, the production process will be more expensive than that of a similar High Street design — from the yarns and fabrics selected, to the manufacturing process and the wages paid to each person along the sourcing chain. So, how much should you be willing to spend on a T-shirt, ballet flats or sunglasses — and what makes some worth more?
Joseph liquid twill trousers: As glamorous as black trousers get. (Which is not all that glam…). This pair is made from 100 per cent viscose! £375
Common Projects trainers: Sneakers have become a staple for almost all of us, and Common Projects led the way in keeping them elegant and feminine £325
Balenciaga hoodie: You’d imagine a hoodie at this price would have a fashionable twist, but it doesn’t! It’s 100 per cent cotton — maybe you should head off to Gap! £1,065
Big High-Street stores shift thousands of units made using cheap labour to keep things low-cost, whereas high-end brands such as The Row, with its pared-back designs, use the best materials and only manufacture in their own factories.
Natalie Kingham says certain designers have become known for their expensive basics — knitwear from Acne, well-cut trousers from Joseph, grown-up trainers from Bottega Veneta. For such brands, staples are not just money spinners, they are a key part of their business. The idea is to design a ‘total wardrobe’ that will help their regular customers — fabulously wealthy women from across the world — look perfectly put together.
You may never want to spend £335 on flip flops, but splashing out a bit on well-made clothes built to last can be worth it.
Just be sure you’re not paying purely for that designer label no one’s going to see.
Look at these price tags and judge for yourself.
Maria La Rosa cashmere socks: These Italian-made cashmere mix socks not only come in delicious colours but are also created by hand on antique looms. £60
Loro Piana rain jacket: It may be windresistant, have a waterproof finish and a cashmere lining, but there is no denying that this Loro Piana jacket has a hefty price tag. £2,205
The Row spaghetti strap dress: This brand, founded by the Olsen twins, injects all of its designs with a chic sense of refinement, but this dress is nevertheless ultra-plain, to say the least. £1,420