Toothpaste, the new Jenny Offill novel, an eight-pack of paper towels—and throw in a prairie dress?
Amazon announced today that it is partnering with our neighbors-in-non-pandemic-times Vogue for its Common Thread initiative, an effort to support American designers struggling as a result of the novel coronavirus. As a result, the Everything Store will sell pieces by designers like Batsheva (responsible for the prairie dress phenomenon), Gigi Burris (who made Mahershala Ali’s formal Oscar beanie in 2019), and Tabitha Simmons, as well as a small selection of menswear by 3.1 Philip Lim, Ryan Roche, Jonathan Cohen, and sunglasses designer Krewe. The effort is officially called “Common Threads: Vogue x Amazon Fashion,” and Amazon will also donate $500,000 to the A Common Thread fund, which Vogue established in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) earlier this spring.
This represents a major victory for Amazon, which has long struggled to forge a relationship with the luxury industry. There’s just something about a place that sells “everything” that suggests it wouldn’t also sell “the most special things”—do you really want your $625 Ryan Roche cashmere T-shirt to come from the same place you buy your bulk toilet paper? Is the place designed to give you what you need at the lowest price really the best place to hunt for things you want, when price is no object?
But Amazon’s struggle to sell luxury goods goes beyond the psychological. Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of ur-conglomerate LVMH, publicly said earlier this year that he would not sell on Amazon, in part because the company uses a marketplace system that allows anyone to set up shop and sell basically anything—making it a kind of wild west of products, where brands may have little authority over the seller of their product. “Brands will have all kinds of products available on Amazon” without a reseller agreement, “and there’s nothing they can do to stop it,” Sucharita Kodali, an online retail analyst at the consulting business Forrester, told me earlier this year.
Of course, this new partnership circumvents those issues, carving out a separate marketplace within Amazon’s site that merchandises, say, $495 Philip Lim track pants, $95 Adam Selman boxing shorts, and a $1,895 Edie Parker marble chess set into an “At-Home Style “edit. The effort adds a layer of do-gooder consumerism that solves one of the major issues facing brands right now: what to do with the extra inventory that retailers either haven’t accepted because of COVID-related store closures, or that designers are simply struggling to sell? With most brick-and-mortar stores closed and almost half of Americans isolating themselves at home, Amazon is now dominating retail sales, and analysts believe consumers may not reverse that trend when the lockdown ends, even as the company faces troubling accusations of firing employees who have spoken out against working conditions.
Indeed, Amazon’s latest overtures towards the luxury industry have been more promising than the fits and starts of the past decade. Those efforts include this year’s streaming show Making the Cut, a Project Runway for the more fashion-aware age. The show’s shoppable documentary format seems like an attractive model for emerging and even established designers to effectively market collections, especially as the industry rethinks the feasibility of fashion shows. Arnault’s comments came in response to reports that Amazon is planning to launch a luxury e-commerce effort that will exist apart from the Amazon website proper—and it seems more and more likely, especially with this initiative, that brands will find that offering appealing.