Taking in the atmosphere at a recent Fourth of July barbecue, Jaye Hersh noticed three well-heeled women with outfits that smacked of the latest hip mix of low- and high-brow fashion.


They paired shirts by Xhilaration and Mossimo, affordable mass-market brands found at Target Corp. stores, with $600 shoes and $300 jeans a clear sign that Hersh's latest endeavor, selling Target Couture clothing and accessories, was on the right track.


"There are no rules any more," said Hersh, owner of the Pico Boulevard boutique Intuition. "You have (fashion designer) Isaac Mizrahi, who has merchandise in Target and in Bergdorf Goodman."


The Mizrahi formula is now familiar: put a flashy, upscale designer's goods in a general audience retailer and wait for the customers to be wowed by items classier than most mainstream stock. It's an approach practically invented by Target, or what its customers often call "Tar-zhay."


Hersh's twist has turned the formula on its head.


Instead of haute couture designers selling to culotte-clad customers, it's Target and other mass-market brands that are making inroads into exclusive racks at boutiques and tony department stores where they once were barred.


Hersh's Target Couture features handbags, jeans, belts, necklaces and other items sporting Target's famous bull's-eye logo in different sizes and places.


"It was just something that has never been done before. There is a buzz going on about, 'What is this?'" said Hersh, who's not the only one on to something.


Mass brands wanting to bolster their chic credentials to appeal to stylish consumers with high disposable incomes include El Segundo-based toymaker Mattel Inc., which recently put Barbie Luxe duds into pricey and hip Lisa Kline and Fred Segal Flair shops. Clothing designer Anna Sui, handbag company Not Rational and accessory maven Judith Leiber have worked on Barbie Luxe items, which cost from $40 for a T-shirt to more than $2,000 for some Leiber designs.


And Van Nuys-based Bratz doll producer MGA Entertainment Inc. has signed a deal to create Bratz Couture for boutiques in the fall.


"It does, of course, help with brand awareness," said Ross Misher, chief executive of Brand Central LLC in Los Angeles, which manages the Target Couture brand. "It is a way to further associate the bull's-eye (logo) and (Target's) brand with fashion."

Hollywood hopes
Hersh shops at Target and had for years for her two children, who are now adults. And she believes her customers a savvy and celebrity-driven lot are frequently found in Target aisles, searching not only for laundry detergent and toilet paper, but for clothing as well.

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