Discount lines by top designers (known as “bridge”, “mass market” or “diffusion” lines) were once a novelty, but in recent months? It’s become a fashion trend all it’s own. While the lines are being created by designers these days as more of an economic survival tactic (in this economy, $600 ostrich skin platform wedges just aren’t moving like they used to), some designers—like our imaginary BFF Isaac Mizrahi—pioneered the movement as a way to get stylish options to the fashion-loving masses.
Whatever the motivation, the consumer (that’s us) reaps the benefits—meaning designer duds at price points that previously relegated us to sub-standard fashion choices. And while not all designer budget lines are worth the cash—some of the GO! International lines at our beloved Target, for example, have been highly forgettable—there are some bridge and diffusion lines that deserve a place in your regular shopping rotation. Our top discount designers are below.
16 Great Discount Designer Lines
Norma Kamali. While we’re almost afraid at this point to mention the “W-M” word, we’re still going to include the Norma Kamali line at said big box retailer (ahem, Walmart on our list. Because, quite frankly (and we don’t think anyone’s arguing with this), the line is fab. And this isn’t Kamali’s first venture into budget fashion—she’s previously designed a line for Spiegel. Kamali’s a successful budget designer because a) she puts out pieces that are versatile, mix and match, and exceedingly wearable (the Wal-Mar line is primarily black, white, red, and animal print basics), and b) the quality doesn’t suffer just because it’s a “budget” line (which isn’t always the case).
Isaac Mizrahi. Obviously, Mizrahi is generally regarded as a recent pioneer of this particular fashion genre, and he led the charge with his revolutionary partnership with Target five years ago. We have consistently loved Mizrahi for his luxe looking designs (it’s all in the details, which some designers sacrifice when they go “budget”) and his classic party and even bridal offerings on the cheap. Sadly, this season is the last for Mizrahi’s Target partnership (a fact that still makes us break out in a cold sweat in the middle of the night)—but we’re pretty sure there’ll be plenty of Mizrahi for Target offerings in the clearance rotation for a little while longer . . .
Michael Kors. MICHAEL Michael Kors (available at Macy’s) is one of those bridge lines that falls (unlike the Kamali and Mizrahi ventures) just above the true “budget” category ($70 for a casual flutter sleeve top still ain’t cheap, no matter how you spin it). However, the collection is perpetually on sale (which makes us wonder why they bother with the retail price at all, but that’s a whole other post), so we can usually pick up pieces for more than half off, regularly. Kors, of course, knows how to design items for the real woman (read: practical and wearable instead of logo-splashed and gimmicky).
Vera Wang. Okay, we admit it—Vera Wang’s line for Kohl’s (Simply Vera) has under-whelmed us to a certain degree. It’s the inconsistency that bothers us, but on the upside a reasonable amount of the items boast Wang’s take on modern classics and her feminine sensibilities (but we’ll skip the cheesy long sleeve logo tees, thanks). The prices, too, can be a little inflated, but like the MICHAEL Michael Kors line at Macy’s, the lines seems to be “on sale” more often than not.
Marc Bouwer. Marc Bouwer is known in high-fashion circles for his bold, flowing, glamazon dresses, but in the budget world? M by Marc Bouwer —exclusively for QVC (it’s not just for your grandma anymore—well, not completely), features a collection of apparel including tops, pants, coats, and dresses. Many of the pieces feature his hallmark draping, but not the high-end prices. Still, we wouldn’t probably bother to spend $60 on an embellished knit top (budget? not so much), but if you’re selective, a Bouwer-designed dress for, say, under $50 make it worth including here.
Kenneth Cole. Kenneth Cole Reaction—best known for coats, footwear, and handbags, but also including a selection of apparel—is well-regarded for both men and women. The line actually has it’s own retail outlets, but as for other sources, we find apparel selections at Dillard’s and Nordstrom, while coats and accessories are available through Macy’s, Piperlime, Endless.com, and Bluefly.com, among others. While the Reaction line could be accused of lacking any real fashion inspiration (the line doesn’t exactly set off the kinds of style fireworks we crave) it’s a good source for the kind of solid, wear-for-years foundation pieces you can build on.
DKNY (Donna Karan). Donna Karan calls DKNY the “pizza to the (Donna Karan) Collection’s caviar.” While we don’t relish thinking of our wardrobe as filled with the fashion equivalent of anchovies, we don’t mind entirely if it means access to hip, urban clothing at prices we can afford (and we never quite got the appeal of the whole fish egg thing anyway). The fact of it is, of course, that the upper end of DKNY is STILL out of the budget realm as we define it (meaning that $125 for a cotton stretch shirt—cotton!—is akin to a criminal act) but on sale, the line offers cute quality designer pieces at prices we can actually stomach. (DKNY is also one of the latest linesto opt out of a Fall 09 Fashion Week show at Bryant Park: read more at WWD.com)
Nicole Miller. JCPenney’s is not what we’d call a fashion mecca (though it is pretty darn affordable) but if you know what lines to look for, it’s worth a stop. Take Nicole Miller—the designer has long featured a collection at the mid-level retailer, including separates and handbags. We like that Miller brings her bold patterns to her JCP line, but wish for more of the fab dresses she is known for in her high end collections.
Doo Ri. Okay, not actually a budget designer yet, but it’s all in the works as we reported last month on a Doo Ri Diffusion Line on the way. And we’re not even sure budget is the right word, with pricepoints ranging from $80-$475. But we’re willing to reserve judgement until the line actually debuts (which has been reported, in the typically vague fashion world, er, fashion—as “sometime” this year).
Zac Posen. Likewise, this one is in the process . . . but Posen has confirmed that he’s working on a diffusion line of “lower priced collections”, to be preceded by a signature fragrance.
Betsey Johnson. Yep—sensing a trend here?—a Betsey Johnson diffusion line is also in the works—we don’t have the details, but Johnson’s rep confirmed this much last month: that BJ is planning a “limited-edition design collaboration with a retailer that will likely launch in the fall.” We (and others) have speculated H&M or, in our wildest designer fashion fantasies — Target.