Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Vera Wang’s Paywall of China Topples

When Vera Wang first opened her Shanghai boutique a few months back, she had way of handling the bridal gown variation of the tire-kicker: she charged almost $500 for the privilege of trying on one of her creations.

Having watched my share Say Yes to the Dress episodes – I swear, I was recovering from the flu – I understand how why a bridal shop (shoppe?) proprietor (proprietress?) would want to impose some type of fee on some of these dress-shopping ninnies. Many of the brides-to-be that I’ve seen appeared to spend more time, and put more thought into, finding the right dress than they did into finding the right man.

If you’ve never seen the show, by the way, I do encourage a look see, if it’s still on. The plot is simple: a young woman, accompanied by a posse that includes some combination of bridesmaids, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, mothers-of-the groom, and the occasional father (with checkbook), brother, gay friend from work (with taste), or fiancé, spends dozens of hours, trying on hundreds of dresses, waiting to be thunderstruck with the realization that she’s found The One. Which is typically at least $1K out of her announced price range. (Which is, of course, why she’s brought daddy along.)

The show is as gross a display of cupidity, imbecility, and manipulation (of the posse, by the posse) as you’re likely to see on TV this side of the Kardashians.

And as for those hapless fiancés who didn’t realize it’s bad luck to see The Dress before The Big Day, the real bad luck in my opinion is that they’re exposed to just what a crazed, out of control, Bridezilla (another wedding show, by the way) has chosen him as the lucky fellow to wear the tux and cut the cake for her.

For Say Yes to the Dress, I recommend the Atlanta version, which seems to take the drama of finding “the dress” to new levels.

This side-trip to Say Yes to the Dress has, of course, little or nothing to do with Vera Wang (other than that I do believe her frocks occasionally factor in as an object of desire or scorn).  My excursion here is to establish at least some bona fides, however weak, distorted, and third hand, with the bridal industry.

And then there’s my professional connection.

I once worked for a company whose CEO/president was Vera Wang’s husband (now her ex). Small enough company that I knew him. (Wish I kept the puky e-mail he sent the marketing team after he fired us when the Short Guys beat the Tall Guys for control of the company.)

Anyway, since Vera Wang is well within my six-degrees of separation circle, I was most interested in her original decision to charge brides a fee to try on her gowns, and in the follow on decision to tear down the paywall and let Chinese bridezillas free range around her boutique.

Local and global media had criticized the surcharge as being discriminatory because it was applied only in China, at the company's Shanghai store, which staged a "soft opening" in January as the company's first bridal salon in the country, a vast potential market as the numbers of wealthy grow…

A company spokeswoman told local media earlier this year that the charge was imposed to fend off copying of the elaborate dresses, which fetch thousands of dollars in the original.  (Source: NBC News.)

Last week, the company “abolished appointment fees,” which were no doubt really insulting to the would-be Vera Wang buying brides.

The fee abolishment does not, of course, abolish counterfeiting, which actually doesn’t require an appointment.

Vera Wang's ivory tulle trains and pinched bodice gowns had already found fans in the world of pirates, with knockoffs widely available on Chinese e-commerce sites for a fraction of the price.

Li, one seller of "Vera Wang style" dresses on Taobao Marketplace, China's largest e-commerce site, says he can achieve up to 90 percent similarity to the namesake garments without even seeing the originals.

A Vera Wang original can range anywhere from $2,000 to over $10,000, but on Taobao some imitations go for as little as $100.

The knock-offs, of course, don’t have the hand stitching and posh materials, but, hey, if it lasts the day... And whose going to notice the difference in the pictures?

China is a major source of counterfeit goods – where do you think most of those “Louis Vuitton” bags that the street vendors hawk in NYC, not to mention all those red-soled shoes for sale on the ‘net come from – so I am sympathetic to Vera Wang’s concern about being ripped off.

My concern is, of course, tempered by the fact that someone who can afford the echt Vera Wang is going to buy the echt Vera Wang. And someone paying $100 for a Vera look-a-like was never going to put a penny in Vera’s pocket to begin with. (If ever there were an argument for creating a downmarket K-Mart version of your “brand”…)

Nonetheless, all this counterfeiting is more than a tsk, tsk. If everyone is wearing a Vera Wang, real or faux, then the currency for the true Veras is debased.

And some “civilians” in the counterfeit wars do end up getting screwed. (If the folks who end up getting screwed, however, think they were going to get a ‘real’ Vera Wang gown for $100 then they pretty much deserve what they get.)

Bottom line: if you’re in Shanghai, and were planning on trying on some Vera Wang wedding gowns while you’re there, the price is now back to right.

What a relief. (Phew!)

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