Is the Prep Retrenchment Upon Us? 


First came the demise of C. Wonder; then Gap announced it was killing Piperlime. Don’t forget Abercrombie’s shambling corpse, either. And now, all Kate Spade Saturday stores are going tootles and the sporty spinoff is being swallowed by the broader brand. Are preppy retailers DOOMED?

(Probably not, because preps are tenacious and will always be with us, like very crisply dressed cold sores.)

Women’s Wear Daily reports on Kate Spade’s call. Saturday was created as a younger, kickier alternative to the company’s usual products, available at a (supposedly) lower price point. Their stuff is pretty cute! But the company is closing its freestanding Saturday stores over the next few months; the separate website will stay up in the meantime, but the line will eventually be folded into Kate Spade proper. So the company will continue its aggressive push to expand, but with broader offerings within one brand as opposed to more brands. Which seems a more focused approach, frankly.

It’s a similar story with Piperlime, launched in 2006 as Gap Inc.’s attempt to compete with Zappos. But they opted for a more niche feel (sell all the Rachel Zoe you want, that fucking lime logo fairly screams “let’s get a summer share in the Hamptons, omg”) and it worked, to an extent—as Bloomberg Businessweek outlines, they carved out a loyal audience and a fair bit of fashion cred. Because advertisements admonishing against wearing sweatpants in public are appealing to a very specific segment of shoppers! But don’t let all those navy cardigans and bright-white button-downs at the flagship fool you—Gap ain’t here for anything but mass appeal and big big money:

Size matters at Gap, which pulls in more than $16 billion in annual revenue, and the company explained its decision to kill Piperlime last week as a way to focus on its bigger moneymakers: Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, Intermix, and its namesake brand. With less than $100 million in annual revenue, Piperlime represented less than 1 percent of Gap’s total revenue—and a potential distraction for incoming Gap Chief Executive Officer Art Peck.

That incoming CEO already has plenty on his plate—the company just announced a bunch of restructuring to “intensify the brand’s customer focus,” which included showing creative director Rebekka Bay the door and eliminating her position entirely. Which sounds scramble-y! And so THWACK goes the guillotine.

Meanwhile, once proudly snotty Abercrombie just got a Bloomberg Business feature on how poorly its schtick has aged, and God only knows what’s happening at American Eagle. (Both brands having made their names on a diluted prep aesthetic for #teens, who’d now rather look like some Kickstarter success story.) The only thing more cyclical than fashion generally is adolescent fashion. Just ask somebody at Delia‘s, oh wait, you can’t, the teens devoured them and moved on to Forever 21.

Then, of course, there’s C. Wonder, with its bright green doors, third cousin once removed on their mother’s side to Piperlime’s green logo and website styling. The Palm Beach to their Bar Harbor. Or would it be the Nantucket to their Martha’s Vineyard? Whatever, scrape up an Astor and ask her.

But Vineyard Vines, Brooks Brothers and Tory Burch continue to chug along like Great Aunt Cookie’s yacht. Maybe the real lesson here is that you better keep it simple and expensive. Don’t try fiddling with lower price points or experimenting with the wrong kind of “young” and “fun.” Carving out some weird, loud space in the middle ground is easier said than done. Once you’re firmly established as a preppy go-to, you can afford to try a Lilly Pulitzer for Target.

Photo via Getty.

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