Why do luxury brands make "ugly" clothes?

Here's everything you need to know.

Welcome to the Level Ups. Modern business news in plain-Jane English.

Today, we cover:

  • Fendi’s latest stunt.

  • Why high-end fashion houses make “ugly” (aka unwearable) clothes.

  • If they’re not meant to sell, why make them?

  • It’s not just about the bag.

  • What it means for the rest of us.

Let’s get into it.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes & 20 seconds.

Fendi’s latest stunt

Fendi released a concept bad that’s quietly gone viral.

Nobody will buy it (it’s not even for sale). This is one big stunt.

It’s a coffee carrier.

You read that right. It’s a cardboard box for carrying Starbucks cups.

They’re not the only ones. Last year, Balenciaga (which has since been cancelled), did the same with their Lays potato chip handbag. That’s right, it was a handbag for $1,800 USD in the shape of a bag of chips.

This is the bag in “lime” flavour, and you are correct. It’s very ugly. You might wonder if they’re making fun of consumers by creating something like this.

$1,800 from Balenciaga, but $3 at 7/11

Why high-end fashion houses make “unwearable” (borderline ugly) products.

Here’s the thing with luxury fashion brands.

Some go so far as to suggest their clothes and runway shows are a marketing expense.

Now, it’s starting to add up.

Stunts will generate attention for their Spring 2024 collection, which includes an entire “ready-to-wear” line (also with its own show).

Ready-to-wear refers to wearable fashion someone can purchase and wear right away (if they can afford it), compared to the high-end art pieces runway shows are often known for.

Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, aka LVMH, owns Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, Tiffany’s (among several others) and is one of the largest conglomerates in the world.

Bernard Arnault, the majority owner, is the third richest man alive (was #2 until recently), and Louis Vuitton alone is ranked the #9 most valuable brand globally.

They know what they’re doing. The coffee carrier is not them “losing it.” It all comes together.

Working at Starbucks in 2030 be like

Now, while the overall look is not bad (I kind of like it), there’s much more to the story here.

But if they’re not meant to sell, why make them at all?

There are a few factors.

  1. General attention (mentioned above).

  2. Focused attention from the “it” crowd.

  3. Storytelling for the upcoming collection.

The first two are straightforward. Do something interesting, and the general public will take notice. Hopefully, it goes viral on social media.

Design a fashion show featuring products the show’s attendees have never seen, and it also gives them something to talk about.

It makes sense since many design houses pay celebrities to show up (and generate even more buzz for their release). It may not be LVMH in every case, but it generally happens.

It’s not just about the bag

Enter our third point, storytelling.

The coffee carrier is a symbol.

You see, Fendi's Spring 2024 men’s line is an homage to its workforce.

  • Staged in their new Tuscan atelier (workshop).

  • Staff were working sewing machines in the background as the models walked.

  • Accessories included work belts, measuring tape over the shoulders, and of course, the coffee carriers.

The coffee carrier is a (slightly insulting) way of paying tribute to the workforce that makes Fendi as successful as it is.

As if the staff can’t do without their coffee. Jokes aside, you see the connection and how the bag is a symbol more than anything else.

What it means for the rest of us.

These high-end fashion shows are about art, not clothes normal people wear.

A celebrity may wear a runway dress or have their assistant bring them a coffee using the Fendi bag. But probably not.

Ultimately “ugly” comes down to taste. And you can’t buy good taste.

  • Crocs are ugly, but they sell.

  • Same with Birkenstocks.

  • Many of us look at what we wore 20 years ago and cringe.

Style, trends, and what’s “in” changes. So to call something “ugly” is not necessarily fair. So, design houses call it “art” and charge fortunes.

Meanwhile, some will never accept paying $1,800 for a handbag that looks like a $2 bag of potato chips (I’m one of these people).

Regardless, luxury fashion is not going anywhere. The major houses are all posting record profits (see LVMH’s 2022 annual report here), and younger generations are all in.

So, expect more stunts like this and more people you know wearing luxury goods.

Just don’t call it ugly. Call it art, right?

Thanks for reading.