Hungry for seconds

Diffusion lines, cheaper collections by top designers, are multiplying. Tamsin Blanchard on the temptations of three new labels
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is not enough to make clothes for those who can afford the unaffordable these days. Ever since Calvin Klein's CK and Dolce e Gabbana's D&G, the world's leading designers have produced second lines that sell for around three-quarters of the price of their main collections. When diffusion lines exploded in the Eighties, they were hailed as the answer to all our wardrobe problems. Suddenly, it seemed, the whole world would be able to afford to wear a "designer label" inside their jackets.

This season sees three new diffusion lines joining the ranks, two from New York, by designer Marc Jacobs (Marc Jacobs Look) and another by Isaac Mizrahi (Isaac), star of the forthcoming movie, Unzipped. The other addition is from a relatively young Milanese label, Ter et Bantine (predictably named T et B). Isaac has not yet reached these shores.

The Ter et Bantine label and its new-born sister are the brainchild of the 38-year-old Bolognese designer Manuela Gherardi. So far, it is stocked exclusively by Knightsbridge store Harvey Nichols where the main line has built up a loyal following of women who appreciate its sharp, modern wearability. Look out for black hipster trousers (pounds 110) that have been cut with perfection in mind, and a 100 per cent synthetic snake-print polo top (pounds 99). The T et B range is small, but each piece has been carefully defined and thought about.

All too often, diffusion lines are just an excuse for poorly made, diluted versions of the main collections, with a few T-shirts bearing the designer's name thrown in for good measure. And they are not cheap, just vaguely affordable. But T et B has a look all of its own making it well worth the money.

Marc Jacobs Look is not what most of us would call cut-price, but then by the time his main line crosses the Atlantic, it retails at over pounds 1,000 for a suit. Jacobs' show for spring/summer '96 attracted Matt Dillon, as well as the Sophia Coppola and Donovan Leitch hip young gang. Kate Moss is a close friend, and much of the diffusion line might have been designed with her in mind. It is not a collection for anyone over size 12.

Skirts are little cropped A-line numbers and knitwear is inspired by tea towels, baby blankets, pyjamas and underwear - shrunken and in baby colours - not the sort of thing most grown-up women are looking for. The collection also includes tailored jackets and sporty separates in nylon canvas and denim: perfect if you are Kate Moss, but the prices are too high to attract the shoppers Jacobs wants.

Fellow downtown New York designer Anna Sui's diffusion line is in its second season. Like the Marc Jacobs Look, it is designed to capture the younger market which will, hopefully, be buying the more expensive main lines in the future. And if you're a twentysomething who can afford to spend pounds 370 on a PVC jacket, you're well on your way.

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