Have Another Sip of Target’s Kool-Aid

Across the country, discount fashionistas are weeping tears of regret.

This week has been pretty eventful. For one, I, faced with a few days off from my day job, took the opportunity to travel back to my hometown of Green Bay, WI. For another, Target released its Missoni for Target collection, which created such an insane demand that it crashed Target.com, leading the New York Times to muse that sometimes a store can create “too much of a buzz.”  Now these two events may, at first glance, seem to be completely unrelated, but exploring the latter has actually been enhanced by the former. Let me explain.

Those of you who are not from the northeastern portion of the Midwest may think that there is not a big difference between Wisconsin, where I grew up, and Minnesota, where I now begrudgingly live (I get crabby when I am cold)—but there is. Most of these differences can be traced back historically, as most things can, to the origins of the laws, cultural institutions, and customs of the area. While Wisconsin leaned heavily on Germanic and Irish settlements, in Minnesota, Scandinavian culture was the stronghold. In contrast to Wisconsin’s ridiculous drinking culture and laid back, “I don’t give a shit” Midwest non-pride, Minnesota is psycho about their drinking laws and over-run by what Minnesotans like to refer to as “Minnesota Nice” and what outsiders refer to as “passive aggressive bullshit.”

So what does this have to do with fashion? Well, to be honest, not much. The fashions of each state tend to be along the same lines, depending on what part of the state you are in. People tend to favor bad mall and department store styles, with looks being a bit more diverse and trendy in urban areas.* One thing that Minnesota can claim, however, that Wisconsin cannot, is that THEY ARE THE BIRTHPLACE OF TARGET.

Minnesota.

Wisconsin, in contrast, is the birthplace of Shopko, a far inferior discount department store.

Wisconsin.

I am fairly unsure of Target’s hold on the rest of the country outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but here, Target reigns supreme. As we didn’t get a Target in Green Bay until I was in college (and now we have two!), I was relatively unaware of the store until I went to visit friends in Minnesota when we were in college. I couldn’t believe how cool their dorm decorations were! Then we went to Target where they purchased said dorm decorations! Suddenly, I was lulled into the Target coma, by which I was inexplicably drawn to the huge red bulls eye every time I needed something like toothpaste and would find myself, an hour later, with a cart full of crap I didn’t really need but was so cute that I had to get it.

Over the years, however, my relationship with Target (who, I am told, thinks of me as a “guest”) has waned, and certainly has had its ups and downs. Now that I live in the actual nexus of the Target universe, I can’t get away from it. Target employs a lot of people I know, many of them actually working in the creative departments; the corporation basically owns downtown and now has that nifty new Twin’s stadium named after itself that we are all paying for with more taxes; it likes to meddle in my state’s politics, like that nasty time they supported gay-hater Tom Emmer in the most recent governor’s race; it is also the only place where I can get Archer Farms spanakopita, which I am addicted to, and I maintain is the only reason to continue going there for my toilet paper.

Due to this major presence, people in the Twin Cities are obsessed with Target. I once witnessed an exchange between two people in which one asked where the other one got their shoes and she said, proudly, “Target!” The other person (who wasn’t from Minnesota) remarked that it was strange how Minnesotans were always so proud when something they were wearing was from Target. Which is funny, because it isn’t actually from Target, it’s from China.

Don’t get me wrong. Minnesota has blessed us with many great things. Like Prince.

This makes me feel funny.

And Nut Rolls.

Salty and sweet—a delicious Minnesotan treat!

The thing that really made Target stand out for me, as a small simpleton from Wisconsin, was how the shit they sold was actually cute. As opposed to the terrible, ill-fitting clothes I wore from Shopko as a child, Target always had trendy stuff for affordable prices. Then they did the whole thing with partnering with designers to create capsule creations. While I didn’t really care about this, I did think that the idea of high fashion designers spreading their genius to the masses to be a bit redeeming. I mean really, they were spreading the FREEDOM of fashion, after all.

One problem with this—the collections were/are, in my opinion, often rather ass-ish. I think that Target itself was starting to realize this and, for that reason, started holding off on doing pairings with major Middle of American-recognizable designers and then did that whole thing where they relaunched old designs from past designer/Target collections. THEN there started to be murmurings about something great and wonderful happening at Target—they were teaming up with MISSONI!!!!!

Okay so Missoni does that zig zag shit and some of it looks really good. I was totally unimpressed with the ads though—no matter how many attractive models they had parading around sets that resembled streets in Europe, the actual merch just looked…crappy. As my friend Sheila stated, “it looks like something Exhilaration ripped off of Missoni.”

Nice scarf.

Needless, to say, I was not dying of anticipation the day of the Missoni for Target launch earlier this week. Apparently, however, I was in the minority. That night I stopped by Target on my way home from work to get my spanakopita fix and was surprised to see the racks where the designer collections are displayed totally bare. Like not even the XS or XL left. This confused me. Maybe it was due to the fact that sites like Targetsavers.com were advising “guests” to buy any items that you like “right away. You can always return it later, but if you go back to get it it will most likely be sold out.” Apparently this demand wasn’t/isn’t just because people are coveting the Missoni-knock offs of Missoni for themselves. The same website that advised shoppers (ahem, guests) to buy up whatever they liked of the collection did so in part because “a lot of people are buying Missoni goods at Target then re-selling on eBay.”

Naturally, I figured that the reason for this obsession must be because of that weird Minnesotan-Target connection, where the actions and happenings of the corporation are seeped into the blood of the people. Intrigued by this hypothesis, I decided to visit a Green Bay Target, several days later, to test my theory.

One Missoni for Target item that I think is kinda cute.

While there was still some merchandise left, the majority of it was actually kids’ clothing moved to the women’s racks (which I thought was troubling). Or perhaps it was just for very, very small women? Maybe. There are not many of those in Green Bay. I did witness, in the shoe aisle, and at said racks, two instances of normal looking women feverishly trying stuff on, willing it to fit. One of them was shoving this particularly ugly pea green with purple trim sweater in her friend’s face, exclaiming that it was “So cute!” and that was the one she wanted.

"So cute!" Really?

Am I missing something? Granted, I feel a little discombobulated every time I return to Green Bay, as though I don’t quite fit into the general sentiment around these parts, but as I just explored, this rampant belief in the beauty of this Target-Missoni line was even worse in Minnesota.

So what is going on here?

A big draw seems to be the very fact that Missoni designed OVER FOUR HUNDRED clothing and household items for Target customers (GUESTS). You can get a Missoni bike, Missoni rainboots, Missoni neckpillows!

Missoni patio furniture!

With this huge Missoni for Target collection, there is something for everyone. Still, I am not sure what the actual appeal is of the line. The marketing doesn’t seem to be that impressive, nor do the actual pieces fill me with joy and awe. The 25-foot-tall moving, tweeting Marina doll they installed outside the New York pop-up shop just seems straight up creepy.

Does this make you want to buy stuff?

While Target has benefited from designer collaborations for years now, the rampant success and demand for this Missoni line raises a lot of misgivings I already have regarding high fashion.

First, there is the question of why people are eating these items up, especially when the Missoni style has been copied by cheaper manufacturers like Target for years. Why is it that the second that a designer puts their stamp of approval on something, even when it isn’t even exclusive, that awesome, or made well and of luxurious materials, does it suddenly look better to people?**

Do people really have no taste? Or rather, do they have terrible taste? Or are they so enamored with the idea of owning something with a designer label on it that it doesn’t even matter what it looks like?

It all seems very middle schoolish to me, and reminds me of when I begged (begged!) my mom to buy me a Colorado Rockies windbreaker Starter jacket. Now, mind you, I don’t like baseball, and I don’t have any sort of affinity towards the Colorado Rockies. But I really, really,  really wanted a Starter jacket, because they were so cool. It wasn’t even cute and it fit terribly, it was the cheapest Starter jacket I had seen, and knowing that my mom was never one to turn down a good deal, took the chance to obtain my first (and only) name brand piece of sports clothing.

Missoni for Target is the new Starter jacket.

Then there is the issue of exclusivity with high fashion. Doesn’t the value of a designer piece fade when you know you just grabbed it from a rack reflecting the huge white-and-red bullseyes adorning the wall? One thing that is dangerous about buying standout items (like those in the Missoni collection) at Target is that anyone who shops there will see it and immediately know it is from Target. They might even be wearing it (I have actually seen exchanges over these instances more than once)! Now, I am not one of those people who thinks that showing up to the party wearing the same dress as someone else is the most disastrous thing that could happen to you, but part of the appeal in weird and/or designer items is that they are different and exclusive.

While Target is milking this collaboration for all that it’s worth, instructing shoppers (again, guests) that they “better shop fast!” on the company’s website, the Missoni website, in addition to assaulting you with music that combines the stylings of Enya and Euro beats (complete with a sound effect that conjures up the sound of waves), barely mentions the Target collaboration, except with a few blurbs about it in their “News” section. While Missoni clearly wants to benefit from its partnership by making bank from the masses, perhaps this indicates that it is a tad bit embarrassed to tell its richer customers that it is selling knockoffs of itself at a discount department store (ICK).

Still, this uneasy relationship between the consumption of the masses and the pull of the designer is clearly benefiting both. A CNN.com article referred to the madness as reaching “Black Friday” fevor, which can only mean that now heads of every discount store are trying desperately to conjure up a partnership that will result in similar profits. You can bet your sweet bippy that the amazing synergy of this collaboration will be discussed at length across the world in boardrooms and marketing class rooms. So what the results will be of all this remain to be seen, but my guess is that, in the end, we will have little more than hundreds of thousands of worn, falling apart Missoni for Target pieces to fill the racks of thrift shops next to other Target items that have (not) stood the test of time the same way.

*I do, however, have to share that I just saw the most amazing goth ’50s-styled couple sitting at the coffee shop I am at in Green Bay right now. It pretty much blew my mind and lit the fire of hope in my heart.

**I stupidly did not look close enough at the tags of the collection to confirm my suspicions about where the pieces were made. My guess is China, or wherever most Target items are made. The pieces on Target.com are listed as “imported,” which is a fancy way of saying it was made overseas somewhere. My search to find where real Missoni pieces are made was also inconclusive.

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About hollyhilgenberg

A freelance writer specializing in vintage, thrifted and resale fashion and critical media studies. Professional whim chaser and self-proclaimed Gemini. I blog over at Operation Sparkle (www.operationsparkle.com) and run the creative women zine C.L.A.P. (Creative Ladies are Powerful).

10 comments

  1. Michael von Braithwaite

    The whole designer collaboration thing with Target has never really appealed to me and I’m someone who actually really likes designer stuff, but can’t really afford it. The problem is, it’s not the brand name alone that makes the difference when it comes to designer wares, it’s quality, fit, durability, and that sort of intangible “love for the object itself” aspect.

    Target’s collaborations ALWAYS lack the special “it” that makes a designer piece so pleasing. There’s no “these seams will last forever” hand-stitching, everything is STILL an inferior synthetic blend, the fits are atrocious, and the quality is throw-away (same as all of their other wares). A designer stamp alone does not a designer piece make. That’s like getting an art poster and calling it art. It’s not art. It’s decoration. There’s a difference.

    I like Target fine for what it is: a big box store where I can get a fuck ton of cheap toilet paper and Boots skincare products. They also have nice looking hand towels and knock-off white vans that will last about 6mos. I know I can get these things at each and every Target anywhere I go and that is why Target isn’t your go-to place for designer anything.

    That is my summary of Target.

  2. Jaclyn K

    As one of your oldest friends, I love reading all of this history in relation to fashion history and Target. I love you Holly and all of your writing here!

  3. Miranda Paul

    Oh Holly, you’re the funniest long-winded person I know! I did get through your whole post…and hope you relax a bit in GB – get into that ‘don’t give a crap’ mentality.

    I won’t be shopping at Target (or anyplace, for that matter) anytime soon.

    Give me sweatpants or give me death.
    :) ~miranda

  4. blevit

    Love this piece!

    Enjoy this brief Ab Fab clip proving your point:

  5. Stuff at Target looks SO CUTE on the hanger, and SO CRAPPY on me–which helps me whittle my cart down from 75 unneeded items to three unneeded items. At (the sale rack of) Banana Republic, which sells he most expensive clothes I actually bother trying on, stuff looks boring on the hanger, but then makes me feel pretty.

    That said, I like the Missoni flats, but the shirt next to the green sweater is not cute in any universe.

  6. “put a zig-zag on it” is evidently the new “put a bird on it”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XM3vWJmpfo

  7. Susan

    As a Wisconsinite I living in Minneapolis for the last 16 years I wholeheartedly agree with your take on MN. The liquor laws are strange, 3-2 beer, no liquor sales on Sunday AND bar staff will actually take your cocktail away one half hour before close.

    I have stopped holding out hope for every new Target collaboration because even when I like the collaborator (Liberty of London) the clothes are crap, poorly made, horrible fit, overpriced and wonky sizing. If I want cheap cute clothes, I’ll hit Forever 21 for a quarter of the price.

  8. Pingback: If You Love Something, Set It Free: on Not Getting it All in Montana « Ironing Board Collective

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