Craving one of Marc Jacobs' little satin dresses for spring? You're not alone. The parade of candy-colored frocks he sent down Louis Vuitton's runway was a highlight of the year's big fashion week, earning the dress a 'gotta have it' mention in every major fashion magazine.

But before you take out a second mortgage to own the dress du jour, know this: A copy of it will be available at Forever 21 before the next issue of Vogue comes out. That means you'll not only get to keep your house, but you'll be able to scoop up the dress in every color.

This kind of quick turnaround is what drives the fashion machine, allowing style-hungry masses to wear a look only days after Giselle stalks down the runway in it. As soon as a photographer snaps her image, it's downloaded to a factory in Micronesia, where machines crank out copies of the items that fashion editors applauded with the greatest vigor. The finished product is boxed up and sent everywhere from a Limited in Akron to Selfridges in London, where its hauter-than-haute runway appeal is still fresh in the customer's mind.

It's a system that's big on immediacy and short on reverence, one that prompted the late Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis to quip, 'The distance from Karl Lagerfeld to Kmart is shorter than you think.'

The fact is, what designers such as John Galliano, Tom Ford and Miuccia Prada show determines the key trends for the next six months. The bohemian look? Out. The Asian influence? In. It may take a year for the metallic brocade trend to get to Oshkosh, but it will.

Perhaps the best part of the 'runway to reality' process is that at some point everyone will be able to afford the looks they crave. What starts out at a cool grand on the designer rack is down to $20 by the time it hits the junior department. It won't last the season, but what trend does?

But that doesn't mean that designers are eager to play to the peanut gallery. In the fashion industry, maintaining one's cachet is everything, and designers who try to appeal to everyone usually get burned. Best to cater to a high-end customer and let the copycats do what they do best.

Tod Oldham recently discovered that there's no such thing as 'trickling up.' Although his dorm room collection for Target has been a smash success, he recently lost corporate backing for his jeans line that sells in higher-end stores. Word is his backers felt that Oldham's wild success at the mass market level compromised his ability to attract a more fashion-forward (i.e., moneyed) customer.

Conversely, megasuccessful handbag designer Kate Spade understands the importance of protecting her good name. She employs a team of lawyers to crack down on those who dare sell copies of her alarmingly simple designs. So the next time you purchase a 'Kate Spaid' knockoff at some obscure flea market, do so with the knowledge that you are cutting into Kate's fat bottom line. Bad girl!

Did they have it in black?

Contact Jill Spitznass atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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