Covid-19 may finally be what lures high-end fashion designers to Amazon

Amazon has the ok from Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Amazon has the ok from Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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Amazon may appear unstoppable, but there’s at least one segment of retail it has never quite been able to conquer: high-end fashion.

Despite efforts dating back to at least 2012, the company has struggled to lure designer companies to sell directly on its platform. It’s great at peddling basics, which has allowed it to become probably the largest clothing retailer in the US, but not so much at selling more expensive design, where presentation and prestige trump convenience.

The pandemic has offered Amazon an opportunity, however. In the US, as elsewhere, independent designers are facing a nightmare scenario. These are cash-intensive businesses that have suddenly seen sales slashed as retailers close and shoppers cut discretionary spending. Many likely don’t have the capital to survive long. Amazon, which is still drawing hordes of customers, is offering its support.

In partnership with Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)—US fashion’s governing body—Amazon has launched a digital shop selling fashion from 20 independent designers, including well-regarded names such as 3.1 Phillip Lim, Ryan Roche, and Adam Lippes. Amazon sold clothes from most of them already through its Shopbop subsidiary. But the deal adds some buzzy new names to Amazon’s roster, such as prairie-dress pioneer Batsheva Hay, with more expected to follow. And it gives Amazon an endorsement from Vogue and the CFDA—two of the most influential forces in American fashion—as a place to sell.

There’s no guarantee Amazon shoppers will buy a $1,000 metallic dress from Jonathan Cohen or a $9,000 slip gown from bridal designer Danielle Frankel. But if nothing else, it could help to bolster Amazon’s fashion credentials within the industry, which has sometimes looked askance at the tech giant. Counterfeiters have used its third-party marketplace to sell their fakes, causing friction with the companies being knocked off. Upscale fashion companies also sell an image as much as a product, and that image can be lost in Amazon’s vast sea of search results, making a customer’s search for a fancy dress feel like finding the best air conditioner.

Amazon has never quit trying to court the industry, though. It has sponsored New York Fashion Week’s men’s shows, briefly trialed a live show selling fashion, and in March, introduced a series called Making the Cut, hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, who Amazon poached away from the similar, long-running series Project Runway. It featured designers from around the world competing in weekly challenges, the winning look from which would immediately go up for sale on Amazon. The company has also been reportedly working on launching a platform for luxury fashion.

For the new shop, Amazon’s fashion division got Vogue’s help with the merchandising, according to trade outlet Business of Fashion (paywall). The whole project is an extension of a fundraising drive called “A Common Thread” Vogue and the CFDA had recently launched to help struggling fashion businesses amid the pandemic. Amazon is donating $500,000 to the fund.

Vogue editor and fashion’s doyenne, Anna Wintour, expressed her gratitude in a statement. “I’m thrilled to announce this partnership, and want to thank Amazon Fashion, not only for its generous support of A Common Thread, but also for so quickly sharing its resources to aid American designers affected by the pandemic,” she said.

Amazon is probably grateful for her support, too.