We wondered what the heck was going on a few weeks ago when Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was named the honorary chair of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit – a gala taking place in New York this evening to celebrate the opening of a fashion exhibit titled “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.”
But now it’s starting to make sense. There appears to be some logic after all behind the involvement of Bezos and Amazon.com, which happens to be sponsoring the exhibit. The New York Times reports today that the Seattle online retailer — known for its low margins and no frills — is going high-end as it attacks the fashion market in a big way.
Writes reporter Stephanie Clifford:
Having wounded the publishing industry, slashed pricing in electronics and made the toy industry quiver, Amazon is taking on the high-end clothing business in its typical way: go big and spare no expense.
Hence the sponsorship of one of New York’s big fashion shindigs, not to mention huge investments in stylists, new packaging and a fashion studio in Kentucky that the Times notes can shoot more than two fashion images a minute.
It seems a bit ironic watching Amazon woo the fashion world, really almost out of character given its history. But Bezos — who is also aggressively going after the entertainment industry — has said that the company is willing to be misunderstood for very long periods of time.
Is this one of those cases?
No matter what, there have got to be some worried retail and fashion execs out there. Interestingly, the news comes just a few months after another iconic Seattle retailer — Nordstrom — announced that it would invest $150 million this year in e-commerce technologies. That’s part of a larger bet by the company in the online world, perhaps sensing Amazon’s arrival. (Amazon’s market value is nearly 10 times that of Nordstrom, coming in at $101 billion).
We’ve talked in the past about Amazon’s rivalry with Microsoft, both in cloud computing and tablets. But there may be another cross-town rivalry brewing in the fashion world as these two giants slug it out for the hearts and minds of high-end shoppers.
I just can’t believe it’s taking place in fleece-loving and sock-and-sandal wearing Seattle.