It was the brand’s founder, Melanie Press, previously of labels such as Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs, who conjured up this holy grail. Overplaying it? Me? Of cardigans? Her vision? “I love a borrowed-from-the-boyfriend classic. There’s nothing more effortless than something we can snuggle into over all our fashionable stuff,” she says. Or, indeed, over our pseudo school uniform stuff. There are two equally covetable versions, one beige on beige, the other burgundy on grey (£290), and a black take to come next month.
Some of you will understand why this cardigan is as costly as it is. I know because I regularly hear from Times readers about how pleased they are to be introduced to small, responsible British brands, and because I also hear from those brands as to what a phenomenal — often game-changing — response they get from you as a result. These labels are charmingly wrong-footed by how many orders they receive, by how far afield those orders are flung (there’s a superlatively well-dressed reader in Singapore, to give one example) and by how orders start coming in minutes after an article goes online, even if that’s 1am UK time.
I know that others of you will find this price preposterous. This, I would posit, is because it has been all too easy since the introduction of the fast-fashion production model in the 1990s to lose sight of how much buying well, in terms of materials and working practices, costs. If we are serious about being more responsible consumers, we need to become better at understanding what buying consciously costs; better at spending more on less — far, far less. And actually, whether you like it or not, that more may well be far, far more.
A new book, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothesby Dana Thomas, is a sobering read, especially for a fashion journalist whose inevitably hypocritical position is to advocate the aforementioned less/more equation while flagging up what’s new and affordable.
“In the United Kingdom in the 1980s,” Thomas writes, “one million worked in the textile industry; now only one hundred thousand do.” And “all the while apparel [fashion] and textile jobs globally nearly doubled from 34.2 million to 57.8 million”. Which brings us to the next part of the equation, the people doing the work in developing nations, of whom “fewer than 2 per cent . . . earn a living wage”. That’s before we get on to the environmental costs. Read my review of Thomas’s book in the paper this Saturday if you need further elucidation as to what the true notion of paying a high price might be.
I think fashion is too important a form of self-expression and self-empowerment, too great a source of joy and life-enhancement to be disavowed. We just need to become more sane about how we enact our embrace.