All these labels are relatively new, created or widely known in the last ~decade. Each sets prices above the J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Zara level, but below the entry point of the ubiquitous Italian brands like Gucci and Ferragamo. Thus, the term “near-luxury” brands.
They diversify their production across labor markets from China to the United Kingdom, and until recently, mostly sold as core lines of department stores and independent boutiques rather than omnibrand stores.
With growth and prominence comes competition, which is fascinating to spectate. Brands respond to competition by tweaking their products, maneuvering in the market, and attempting to develop prized niches.
In my early years of loving clothes, I shopped for everyday pieces with the bargain in mind, either at Target for $10 t-shirts, or in the sale sections of J.Crew and Diesel. Leathergoods and shoes were, from the beginning, things to splurge on. Hence my vintage Louis Vuitton loafers and wallets.
Slowly, I accepted that investment on any item of wear usually pays dividends in overall durability and longevity, even more so with careful cleaning and laundering practices.
Now, I know Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, and Valentino inside & out, but that knowledge goes mostly unused in practice. I also don’t have the personal budget for them. The brands listed at the top are far more applicable, digestible, and casually consumed in a market like Tampa’s, which is style conscious, but mostly unpretentious.
Our Nordstrom carries most of these near luxury lines, and owes the majority of its sales to them, in contrast to Saks or Neiman Marcus, that thrive on much larger average transaction amounts.
So what do we know about each?
James Perse is one I have intimate experience with. California-based, all made in Los Angeles. High-quality, forgiving basics in earthy tones. Silicon Valley style.
- Made in: USA
- Key pieces: v- or crew-neck t-shirts, sueded jersey polo shirts
- Stores: Nordstrom Tampa Bay, elsewhere in the US including major markets on each coast
Diesel started with Italian jeans in 1978, and then expanded to all genres of clothing, accessories, and shoes. Always cut with a sexy bias, it has been a go-to for Euro club style. Popular in the Middle East, Asia, and Subtropical climates.
- Made in: Imported from Tunisia, China, India (80%), Italy & European Union (20%)
- Key pieces: denim, underwear
- Stores: International Plaza since 2001, key global markets
Helmut Lang: started in 1986, though without its namesake designer since 2005. Originally priced much higher and produced in smaller quantities, Helmut is now owned by theory, while maintaining a very crisp, edgy style that relies on asymmetry, drape, and key colors like black and white.
- Made in: Imported from Asia, Italy for some shoes
- Key pieces: heavy coats, sweaters
- Stores: none locally, available online and in LA, Northeast US
theory: a product of the 1990s and a favorite of the chic office set, more approachable than its edgier sibling but more polished and upmarket than Banana Republic. Covers a wide range of colors, patterns, and textures. Occasionally overpriced, best purchased on sale.
- Made in: Imported from Asia
- Key pieces: button-down shirts, trousers
- Stores: Neiman Marcus Tampa Bay, and evenly sprinkled across the US, Asia, Europe; also a staple in most major department stores
Vince falls somewhere between Theory and James Perse. It isn’t domestically-produced, but it is new (founded 2002), originally based in women’s knits, and now enjoys a healthy following on the two US coasts. The quality is spotty, so best to buy in person or on sale if online.
- Made in: Imported from Asia, Peru
- Key pieces: hoodie sweatshirts, simple tees
- Stores: available locally at London Philips, Nordstrom, & Neiman Marcus; elsewhere at omnibrand boutiques and online everywhere
- Publicly-traded? Yes – “VNCE” on NYSE
GANT Rugger: founded in 1949 in New Haven, CT, and now owned by a Swiss holding company, Gant epitomizes Ivy League sportswear with European sensibility. I remember while living abroad in Bordeaux, I met a Swedish boy who was always Gant-clad.
Rugger is the less brash, more understated, and more tailored version of Polo Ralph Lauren. Classic looks with athletic, sometimes anemic cuts.
- Made in: China and India mostly
- Key pieces: button-down oxford shirts, blazers, trousers, polo shirts
- Stores: sold across the spectrum of store types in 73 countries across the world; also at London Philips
Rag & Bone is another mid-2000s niche brand, originally found in the likes of Barney’s, that has rapidly expanded to offer modern American office wear (suits, shirts, trousers) at more accessible prices than the Italian brands. Recently expanded into shoes, leather goods, accessories, etc.
- Made in: Imported from Asia, some items from Italy, the US, & the UK
- Key pieces: tweed / herringbone blazer, jeans
- Stores: 10 domestic locales + London, Tokyo; all over Nordstrom, NM, S5A, Bloomingdale’s
Allsaints: a cool British import with rock-and-roll style at its core. Very similar in aesthetic to John Varvatos.
- Made in: Imported from Asia, some shoes from Italy
- Key pieces: leather jacket, knit cardigans, boots
- Stores: Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Aventura Mall, Orlando at Millenia, and throughout the country at either omnibrand boutiques or inside of Bloomingdale’s stores
Calypso St. Barth: Caribbean-themed casuals, originating in New York. Also carries housewares.
- Made in: Imported from Asia, some items made in the USA & Spain
- Key pieces: printed & embroidered dresses, white jeans
- Stores: Sarasota at University Town Center, but possible at Hyde Park Village in the future.
Marc by Marc Jacobs: a diffusion brand from designer Marc Jacobs, former creative lead for Louis Vuitton. Playful, cheeky, often strange. Quality is questionable, but designs are provocative, anti-convention.
- Made in: Imported from Asia, Mexico, Peru
- Key pieces: graphic t-shirts, women’s leather goods
- Stores: Savannah, major department stores