Today, you hear the term “hi-lo” thrown around all the time in the world of fashion. A woman who mixes a Zara top with an Erdem skirt or balances her modestly-priced Madewell flats with a luxe Mulberry ‘Alexa’ satchel–this is now considered even more chic than head-to-toe Chanel. A concept that’s likely been around forever, hi-lo style was brought to the fore with the outfit pictured at left: Sharon Stone’s now infamous pairing of lavender Vera Wang silk with crisp white GAP cotton at the 1998 Oscars. Despite Hollywood’s love for high-low, not to mention its prominence among fashion’s most stylish models (check any street style blog and you’ll see runway models mixing and matching Proenza Schouler, J. Crew, and H&M), there were still some holdouts to the trend. Most noticeably, high-end retailers, whose idea of a high-low mix is a slightly less expensive contemporary offshoot like Bergdorf Goodman’s 5F, Barneys’ Co-Op or Neiman Marcus’ Cusp. But last week, two surprise partnership announcements–one between Target and Neiman Marcus, and one between Nordstrom and Topshop–may be ushering in a new era of elite retail tolerance.
Because the Target/Neiman Marcus arrangement is seasonal and will likely end after their 24-designer clothing and accessory collection launches in December, the alignment is less risky. If it works, they might continue; if it doesn’t, nobody will remember after a few months. Essentially, it boosts Target’s retail cred, and it makes Neiman Marcus look on-trend. Win-win. And because the designers involved are all of NM-caliber, none of the pieces, lower price-point aside, will feel inconsistent with rest of the store’s merchandise.
The Nordstrom/Topshop collaboration, on the other hand, involves more risk. With 14 department stores expected to add in-store Topshop pop-up shops this Fall (reportedly, this is a beta phase and there are plans to expand to all 117 stores), the partnership, which also extends to e-commerce, could be harder for both sides to abandon cleanly. That said, the potential for reward is greater. Recently, fast fashion stores like Topshop have experienced rapid growth, while luxury retailers like Nordstrom have stumbled into a revenue rough patch; a marriage between the two could result in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Because Topshop offers fashion-forward designs not always readily available to those in smaller cities and landlocked areas where Nordstroms are located, the value-added for them is clear.
In the end, numbers will dictate whether these retail odd couples stay together. But the flirtation itself is, in our view, a very good sign.