THE BLOG

Designer Brands: It's Time to Start Selling to Your Real Customers Not Imaginary Ones

28/10/2015 10:18 GMT | Updated 27/10/2016 10:12 BST

The models get ever younger, the clothes get ever more eye-wateringly expensive and mostly the 17-year-olds can't afford the designer wares that they are clearly meant to aspire to...

Flicking through the current edition of Vogue, I was forcibly struck by the fact that the Designer ads which cluster at the front of the magazine are, with one or two exceptions, totally out of synch with the demographic that can afford their price tags, as they feature very young, very thin models who, if they weren't earning mega-bucks on modelling assignments would be at school, at college or in low-paid jobs.

Let's look at the facts: according to market research firm, Mintel, UK women aged between 50 and 69 buy more designer fashion and luxury goods than any other group, while the over-55s also control about 80 per cent of the country's wealth - a pot that was estimated to be worth £6.4 billion in 2014. To quote the report: "For those women with disposable income, it's frustrating when the fashion industry doesn't deliver."

Other research from 2011 notes: "The retail market for over-65s, which is currently valued at £37-billion, will be worth £64-billion in 10 years. This sector will be boosted by a change in spending habits and a population increase, with the number of 65- to 74-year-olds expected to rise by 28 per cent."

As co-founder ofSoSensational, a fashion website for older women, I would like to urge these designer brands to have a serious rethink; to pay a little more attention to their real potential market and a little less to the 18-year-olds, who will admire their designer clothes and then buy the tributes in Zara or River Island.

I know it is all about aspiration, but who are these brands trying to encourage to desire their wares? If it is actual customers, why do most of the ads feature exquisite but dishevelled 13-year-olds when, with a few exceptions (perhaps the tiny band of rich, young yummy-mummies or actresses living in Notting Hill or Primrose Hill) the demographic which can actually afford these clothes is the over-50s.

Yup, we know we are not as pulchritudinous or aesthetically pleasing as these exquisite child-women. And, yes, we know the camera doesn't love us as much, but how profoundly insulting is it to the real customers, as opposed to the hypothetical (or non-existent) ones is it to pitch your merchandise at girls almost young enough to be our grand-daughters when it is we who can afford and may wish to buy your clothes. Or is it, that you are so focused on selling to the yoof market that you are prepared to totally ignore the economic evidence. Or is it that everyone working in the ad agencies is so young, they believe that every woman over age 50 is too offensive to be seen?

I do know, by the way, how the industry works. How, apart from the glossy ads featuring 15-year-olds, there are the freebies, which are sent to the leading fashion editors and top bloggers to generate the editorials and blogs which help to stoke up the urgent desire for ownership. And, yes, I know it is all part of the Capitalist construct designed to make us crave more and more consumer goods, and yes, I know SoSensational is part of that construct, albeit a minnow among whales. But if profit is the prime motivation (which, I think, we can safely assume it is), you might expect that more designer brands would have noticed that the Older Consumer is the one they should be trying to woo, and before whom they should be prostrating themselves.

But no, by featuring these child-women in their ads and as the models on their websites, they go blithely on, targeting a market that does not really exist. Or, are they hoping that by making the 20-year-olds aspire to their brand, the 55-year-olds will follow? It seems to me that the leading designer brands cling on to the wild hope of discovering a 20-something demographic that can actually afford their collections and peripheral merchandise, with the same tenacity as Gloria Swanson's character in Sunset Boulevard clung to the wild hope of one last starring role.

And, yes, I also know it is all about selling fragrance, eyewear and to their own considerable surprise, handbags. [It turns out many women, across all ages and demographics, are prepared to shell out eye-wateringly vast sums for a piece of instantly recognisable arm candy...

The phrase "instantly recognisable" is, of course, crucial to the exercise... If you are a brand which produces simply beautiful, elegant bags, you will sell a few (via slow burn editorial from the few fashion editors with taste and via word-of-mouth), but produce an eye-catching, highly distinctive bag (with a very prominent, very visible logo) and, literally, every 20-something on the planet, will want one.

Of course, they will be making copies in Bangkok, Shen Zhen and Hanoi in milliseconds, but enough young women will be prepared to fork out for the real thing for that not to matter. And a plethora of copies even helps to make the originals more desirable...]

And, yes, I know there is a younger demographic for Designer brands in Russia, China and India. Well, market to them using pre-pubescent girls, with pleasure, but please remember that the economic factors are different for the UK, Western Europe and North America, that older women are the demographic with money to spend and please treat us accordingly...