Will Amazon Be the New Fashion Catwalk?


The online retailer wants to conquer fashion, but while its low costs and high technology have helped it sell everything from microwaves to diapers, they may not work in an area where brands are cherished and expense signals cachet.

"This is a hot, hot issue, " said Hana Ben-Shabat, an A.T. Kearney consultant who advises fashion brands on ecommerce. "It's a dilemma because Amazon is the largest online store. You've got an opportunity to be part of that. But you ask yourself: 'Do I want to be in the place where people go to find deals on shampoo, books and groceries? Do I want to be part of a basket?'"

Amazon said it had already signed up "hundreds and hundreds" of brands, including Jack Spade, Trina Turk, Jean-Michel Cazabat and Scotch & Soda.

To become a prime fashion destination it will need to persuade the biggest names to offer a broad range of products. Many are still wrestling with the idea.

Jonathan Akeroyd, chief executive of the Alexander McQueen label, said: "It's very hard to keep up with the way ecommerce is changing . . . and it would be naive to say we would absolutely never do anything ever with a company like Amazon. That said, we are increasingly aware of the importance of brand identity online, and maintaining it at the highest levels, and that's where most of our focus is right now."

Yves Carcelle, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, said Amazon would need to invest a "huge amount" to understand luxury fashion.

"What I know for sure is that Amazon will never sell Louis Vuitton, because we are the only ones that sell it. This is a model of direct control that we pioneered, and I think long term it is the direction most luxury ecommerce will take."

Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion, said the design of its website lets brands showcase their products with magazine-style photographs and editorial content.

Their resistance to being sold on the same site as basic goods was "much less than you might think", she added, noting that in bricks-and-mortar department stores their products were also in a mixed environment.

Ms. Beaudoin stressed the affluence of Amazon's customers and said a growing number wanted to buy clothes in the same place they did the rest of their online shopping. "All the brands we talk to are more and more keen to do business with us because of that transformation."

Among the branded products currently available on Amazon, Ralph Lauren, Coach and Hugo Boss said many or all of their goods were sold by third-party sellers that they had not authorized.