Luxury brands like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton used to be for the select few, but these days everyone seems to be brandishing them. Why? By "going cheap" fashion houses can win the loyalty of shoppers at a younger age.
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Online Magazine
Glamorous as haute couture may be, hand stitching one-off creations for a few excessively rich women is not going to keep company profits rising year on year.
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As a result the fashion world has had to revaluate its target market and is now taking on the top end of the high street and creating cheaper lines.
Today's celebrity culture, and the public's hunger for a bit of the "bling" lifestyle lived by their idols, is seen as fuelling the move and "revolutionising" access to luxury brands.
The new ranges - including keyrings, baseball caps and underwear - are being credited with pulling the luxury goods market out of a financial slump. Following three years of falling profits, the market is now worth more than £41bn and is predicted to rise to £59bn by 2008, according to new research.
"The fashion world is being democratised," says Caroline Taylor from market analysts Mintel.
"Brands can't survive focusing on just the top end of the market, they have to target a new demographic. It is revolutionising who can access their brands.
"While few consumers are able to purchase an entire wardrobe from a brand such as Gucci, they are able to buy a keyring or wallet."
The likes of David Beckham, pictured in celebrity magazines in the latest Versace outfit, has also led to designers developing a devoted following among young consumers. And the fashion industry is embracing them - and their pocket money - with delight.
"The increased interest in celebrities showcasing the latest luxury clothing and accessories has boosted this market and raised the general awareness of desirable luxury brands," says Ms Taylor.
Louis Vuitton keyring £54
Prada robot keyring £100
Versace underpants £20
Dior Pure Poison perfume £27
"The leading luxury goods companies hope that by recruiting customers at an earlier age, they can ensure greater product loyalty and grow sales at the same time."
The new ranges have also allowed some of the fashion houses the freedom to do something different and keep their upmarket client base.
"Often the items in the cheaper ranges are quite quirky," says fashion stylist Alicia Poole.
"It seems to give some of the more traditional fashion houses an excuse to have a bit more fun. The items stand up against the more expensive products, they are not cheap rip-offs but something different.
"As a result not only are they appealing to younger people with less money but also those who can afford to buy from the higher-priced range."
Designers also see their cheaper lines as a way of keeping control of their brands and fighting back against the flow of cheap fakes flooding the High Street.
They see counterfeit goods as devaluing their brand, as well as costing them millions of pounds a year.
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"With their own cheaper ranges the companies have a tight grip over where and how their goods are sold," says Ms Taylor.
"They have got to make sure they are represented in the way they want or the brand loses value."
The Burberry baseball cap is a good example. Now associated with football hooligans, the company has discontinued it.
But to regain control of its brand, and cash in on the younger market it appeals to, it has brought out a candy-coloured version of its trademark check.
Expect it to hit a high street near you soon.