Since I donated a lot of my clothes earlier this year, I was a little nervous to open back my fall-winter bin (remember I hadn't worn these items in two years), especially now that I'm going back to work soon. It turned out that there were still several OK/good pieces in there, which I only had to complement with a few key things (killer jeans, a black blazer with just a little stylish edge (a cute and quirky lining that peeks through when you turn up the sleeves), a professional-looking skirt, one great pair of wool trousers, maybe one or two daydresses that can double as tunics...)
I ended up buying most of these at Benetton. I'm not sure what brought me back to this store I hadn't been to in years (trips to Italy excepted), but I've been a fan ever since I was about 12 (there even used to be a store in my remote hometown). My budding fashion sense started to take shape in the late 80s, and at the time it one of THE labels to sport if you aspired to be a preppie (along with Polo, Lacoste, and Vuarnet mostly).
I had since abandoned them, mostly because after I started paying for my own clothes, there were a good number of years during which it was inconceivable for me to spend, say $89 on one item. I'm a bit of a bargain hunter when it comes to clothes, and although it's still always fun to be so, I don't think it served me really well over the years. I purged my closet after 1-developing a wariness of bargains and their various "hidden costs" in the last few years, and 2-becoming so fed up of the blahness of my style and the way my cheap clothes start looking much less appealing after just a few washes. So suddenly, spending about $500 on 6 or 7 items that were all GREAT didn't seem so expensive as much as a great value for clothes that can go with everything and last for years. I mean yes, that's still a lot of money but this shopping spree was a one-time, particular situation (having to build my wardrobe again, but trying to do it smarter than how I shopped before).
I'm glad I went back. Their current collection is pretty nice! The clothes didn't immediately speak to me, but after a few minutes of browsing the store, it all seemed to click and I 'got' it. This was everything I was aiming for. Definite style that does not scream for attention but still subtly makes a statement, just a hint of European flair, great colours (this has always been their big strength) and rich fabrics/textures, obvious quality, a flawless fit, and a polished but not stuffy look.
Here are the skirt (thin leather belt as a bonus) and the pants (herringbone and in pale grey as opposed to this dark shade) I got (along with a gorgeous printed silk blouse and a teal cowl neck tunic):
Funnily enough, I also made a friend when the (very gay, no worries M) store manager/stylist and I somehow connected and spent over half an hour talking about fashion, the brand, and even work-life balance (the one his twin sister strives to have with her kids, anyway). He told me that unfortunately, Benetton has lost quite a bit of market share here in recent years, and the company even had to lower its prices. Why? Because of new low-end retailers (he mentioned XXI, H&M) that lure their target customer away with their shockingly inexpensive clothes. Benetton's position here in North America is a little different than it is in Europe, I think, where it's a bit like the GAP, with lots of jeans, t-shirts, sweat pants, etc. The niche they have tried to carve here is
He thought it was so bad the brand image just keeps lessening over the years, because they do have a really nice product offer... But he was right: not only the store in my hometown is long gone, but there are now only two stores in Quebec. Do you remember how edgy and controversial and out there they used to be with ads? They had gone a little far, but now they've just left the marketing landscape altogether. "What's that about?", I asked my new friend. "Well, it's working so well for them in Europe, and the North American market is so tiny in comparison, that they don't care. They don't let us do anything... I can't even conduct my own local campaigns or even maintain a Facebook page. It's like they keep the stores alive just so it looks good to have all of these worldwide locations."
Isn't so sad, someone who really believes in the potential of what he sells and really wants to make things happen but is being denied the tiniest initiative? It made me reflect on my shopping habits a bit, and try to see "pass the bargain" even more. And even though I probably won't stop buying a few things from H&M, XXI and especially Joe, I really need to remember that quality trumps low prices every time. The guy even told me he went to a conference recently, where he was told that the trend would be for an increasing polarization of clothing retailers, with lots of low-end, lots of very high-end, but very few middle-range shops. And if these all disappear, where will I, and all the women like me, find their clothes?
What do you think? Are you seeing this happening?