Designer Shopping at Discount Prices

Psst: Instead of cursing the new economy, embrace it. When it comes to shopping for designer wares, there are great deals to be had.

By Susan Swimmer
Photo: Jessica Antola
Photograph: Hair and Makeup: Anthea King for Mark

Where the Deals Are
I’m in a meeting, with our entire editorial staff gathered around the conference table, and all the while I’m on my iPhone, frantically scrolling through pages of pictures of Chloe bags. Boss: talking. Me: shopping. A few weeks ago I discovered the world of online designer discounts, and in 10 seconds I was hooked. I shop half a dozen sites regularly, and thanks to the wonder of modern technology I’m able to get e-mail alerts 24/7. I’ve shopped at home, on the bus, and even once in a ladies’ room stall (shoes!).

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s ventured into this newly discovered (and newly chic) off-price land. Experts say consumers are increasingly designer savvy, and the word masstige has been coined to describe the trend of prestige for the masses. And then there’s the economy — it’s not so happy, if you haven’t heard — which is also fueling the demand for good deals. Attention all label whores: Designer discounters are where it’s at.

One of the best trends: Longtime discount retailer Loehmann’s is offering no-fee personal shoppers at many of their stores, something I never expected at a place with group dressing rooms. I immediately called for an appointment at the Manhattan flagship. After a few advance questions from personal shopper Victoria Nielsen (could I describe my style, my wish list of buys?), I arrived at the store to find a rack of clothes she’d pulled on my behalf. Genius! No trolling through the aisles, arms loaded with hangers, sweat drenching my back. Victoria even took into account my own, um, body issues (big shoulders and a narrow waist). How’d I do? Victoria totally came through (see some of what I bought, next page. Love this stuff? Too late — by the time you read this, the goods on these pages will be gone — but you’ll find other treats.) The downside: Like any discounter, Loehmann’s offers limited sizes and colors, and sometimes you’ll contend with a missing button or two. Still, my savings total was shocking: $9,932.

Where does the stuff come from? Stores such as Loehmann’s, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls have two main sources: They buy overages (when the designer produces too much) as well as clothes that stores ordered but returned when they didn’t sell. Also filling out the racks: discounters’ own lines (called private label). All of it is new — or relatively so. The day I shopped Loehmann’s, a shipment of Oscar de la Renta gowns arrived, brand spanking new. Made me wish I had an event to attend; at the prices Loehmann’s was selling them for ($2,200 down to $399), I felt like throwing a party myself.

With great merchandise and top service, these stores are on to something. Industry experts agree that the discount train will roar on.

What’s in Store?
Thanks to the store’s personal shopper, Victoria Nielsen, I struck gold at Loehmann’s, the discounter with the most big-name merchandise. My total savings: $9,932. I fell in love with the beaded beauty I’m holding here, but it didn’t fit.

Victoria consoled me with a metallic floral Carolina Herrera. What I paid: $462 instead of $1,990.

This Jean Paul Gaultier stunner (above) was missing the belt, but that earned me an extra 10 percent off — and I found the perfect belt in my closet. What I paid: $316 instead of $1,975.

This Dolce & Gabbana dress fits me perfectly; it’s roomy enough for my big shoulders, but slim on the bottom. I’d have missed it, but Victoria expertly snagged it. What I paid: $163 instead of $1,200.

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