Apple Edition vs Haute Couture
by Debra Scherer
As critics and enthusiasts battle it out for the bragging rights of correctly predicting the outcome of Apple’s continuing foray into the new digital lifestyle business, many on both sides of the argument have come to the conclusion that the gold watch program and the $10,000+ price tag is pure marketing.
The thinking is that the ever more opulent Apple retail stores and this new pricey wearable is the company’s breakout from tech and positioning as a luxury brand. So much so, that the comparison has been made to the practice of being able to scale large quantities of lower priced, or more attainable goods, such as lipsticks and scarves, by creating an aura of exclusivity through the practice of haute couture.
While a very few brands like Chanel or Dior can certainly capitalize on this plan, where they begin with a long history of creating one of a kind pieces that could cost more than an expensive automobile and then trickle that aura of opulence down, the idea doesn’t make as much sense when a brand tries to imitate the plan but in the opposite direction.
Yes, everything from the incredibly opulent ‘starchitect’ designed flagship boutiques, to the science fiction level sublimely staged haute couture presentations shown exclusively to special clients, high profile editors, journalists and correct celebrities are intended to conjure a fantasy and to provide visual fodder to be used in the sales and marketing of other more attainable and easily available products that the masses can devour at Christmas and Valentines Day. It also works well for the ever more expensive accessories and leather goods businesses where the same magic potion of the exclusivity of haute couture can be a very compelling reason to spend thousands of dollars on a bag. But to compare this soon to be exercised strategy of the Apple watch to the dance of the couture houses shows a great misunderstanding of fashion by the tech industry.
There are two problems I see with this strategy. First of all, besides the “skin” of the watch, which is in this case is gold, the inside, the mechanics of the product, are identical to the $300 or “ready-to-wear” version, if we use the couture terminology. Whereas with haute couture, there is an enormous difference between, lets say, a dress from the ready-to-wear, or the “walk in the store and buy it” version and the haute couture. If one ever had experience with true haute couture, the way it is constructed, the materials used (wait, those pearl buttons are actually pearls?) and the fact that the dress is truly made just for you, the difference is very clear. And I don’t mean what the actresses on the red carpet call “couture” or when they claim the dress was “made for them.” I’m talking about months of fittings, each stitch done by the hand of a specially skilled artisan, every pleat, every jacket weighted, every sequin carefully chosen and a level of customization that is a bit more intense than being able to choose between a few colored straps.
For instance, if the dress was short in the show that doesn’t mean you can’t have yours any length you choose, any color, any fabric, a different sleeve and most importantly, a guarantee that no one will ever show up to the gala in a similar style. Those things are openly discussed and planned from the moment you go to your first fitting. So over all, the difference in quality and attention to customization is so far and above the most expensive ready-to-wear, it almost justifies the $150,000 price tag.
The second problem with the comparison is that Apple, though its market has been in the more upscale level of comparable products, is still a brand born in a quasi attainable field of consumer availability. Though the once tech only brands have officially become free of being called only tech, they still have a utilitarian purpose, and the call to create new apps to work on the watch platform only underlines that. The big question everyone is still asking about the watch and certainly the gold watch at this point is,”what do I need it for?” pointing to the product’s need to continually appeal to the utilitarian function of technology in our lives. So the answer must be that the gold watch would be Apple’s jump into the game fashion has been playing since couturiers first went into the perfume business a hundred years ago. The problem with this strategy is that the haute couture came first, the mass products followed once the brand established its luxury product as its essence. I’m not sure it works in the opposite direction. Think Target for Neiman Marcus, or Theysken’s Theory for that matter. Dior works on a lipstick, but I’m not sure I would want my foie gras coming from McDonalds, no matter what the price. One thing is for sure, no one gets fitted for a Chanel gown and asks, what do I need this for?