Diary · Lessons

Why are some dresses so expensive?

This topic came up last week in the Lolita Blog Carnival, but I’ve been pretty jet-lagged since my last trip to Japan, so I’ve been taking it easy between work and unpacking. I still think that this topic is a pretty interesting one – but I also feel like there are usually quite a few factors regarding resale value that people forget about, so I wanted to talk about it.

While there are quite a few brands that now produce expensive pieces (Angelic Pretty’s Premium Collection, and Baby The Stars Shine Bright’s Wedding series) there are very few items that have reached a 1K resale value on their own – so today we’ll be discussing three (arguably) of the most well known dresses in this category – Angelic Pretty’s Puppet Circus, Moi Meme Moitie’s Iron Gate, and Angelic Pretty’s Cat’s Tea Party. I’m purposefully sticking to these three items as I’ve been a part of the fashion since they were released and they are prints that I’ve paid attention to since that time. I don’t really feel qualified to talk about some of Baby’s pieces that have reached the same status (Tea Time Nostalgia, Elizabeth Bride of Death etc.) because I wasn’t paying attention to them during their release – so I can’t talk about the circumstances that might have influenced their resale pricing as knowledgeably. That being said, I do think that there are 4 factors that have at least influenced the prices of Puppet Circus, Iron Gate and Cat’s Tea Party – so those are the things I’ll be discussing today.

One Release 
To begin with, despite their popularity, none of these series have ever been re-released. In the case of Puppet Circus and Cat’s Tea Party this is likely because these designs were collaborations between Imai Kira and Angelic Pretty, so legally there may be a restriction in the original contract that allows the artist to retain the print’s production rights, which could prevent a re-release. Additionally, though the items are popular now, they weren’t that popular on their initial release. Puppet Circus received a pre-order period that did not sell out, and items from the series were available for quite some time afterwards. Iron Gate was available for several years after its initial release, and Cat’s Tea Party was available through a make-to-order which sold poorly. These numbers often dictate which items should be reproduced, despite the second hand market’s resale values. This was why we saw re-releases of Country of Sweets, Sweet Cream House, and Magical Etoile – despite the fact that by the time they reappeared in stores the designs were no longer hot sellers secondhand.

Lower Production
Additionally, despite being in stores for quite some time, both Puppet Circus and Iron Gate were likely produced in numbers far fewer than what we typically see today. When a company places an order with their manufacturer, they usually do so in bulk orders, 20 of each cut and colorway for example. In 2015 I attended a panel where a brand representative for Angelic Pretty discussed how this production range had effectively reached its cap until the customer base doubled – meaning that in the beginning you could order 20 of each cut and colorway, then 50, then 100, and then to reach the next tier you had to be able to do 200. This is a substantial problem in terms of growth because it means that a company goes from producing and selling 320 pieces in total (20 of each cut and colorway on a 4 style collection), to needing to find customers to purchase 3200 pieces! While this is likely what Angelic Pretty has been trying to mitigate by shrinking collection sizes while their overall production increases, it also means that items which had a steady resale value for several years after their release ( Puppet Circus & Iron Gate ) they very likely are actually quite rare compared to the numbers we see with modern releases.

Cats Tea Party is a bit different though, it was released as a Make to Order collection, and anyone (despite what some people say…) was able to order it through the Angelic Pretty stores and website. It was not a limited edition tea party set, nor was it only available in Japan. So, if it is so desirable, why didn’t anyone order it? Well, to understand that, we need to talk about the circumstances surrounding it’s release.

Release Context
To begin with, unlike other series, the release date for Cat’s Tea Party was poorly announced, so many people who wanted the dress were not aware it would even be available until the date the MTO started. To make matters more complicated, there was only one photo available of the actual dress (the pink colorway) and with a price tag of 41,700 yen (roughly 600 USD at the time due to a weak dollar) people were hesitant to place an order when they weren’t exactly sure what they’d be getting. And, if that weren’t enough to dissuade you, the reservation was also announced almost immediately after Cinema Doll’s bloodbath of a release – so many Angelic Pretty fans of the time couldn’t actually afford a second big purchase the following weekend. Cat’s Tea Party was also one of the first Make-To-Order releases, so many people who wanted to purchase the dress kept debating if it would receive a general release, similar of the pre-order style releases we’d seen prior to 2012. Unfortunately, those who thought that might be the case (myself included) were disappointed when the MTO hit stores, and not a single leftover was put out on the shelves. That being said, while Cat’s Tea Party is certainly rare, the claim that only 50 were ever produced is absolutely ridiculous and needs to be put to rest – not only was that number debunked by Maki and Asuka in 2017, but the numbers backing it up are based on the false assumption that every set produced has also been sold, posted about, or otherwise “announced” on a publicly recorded and preserved website, which simply isn’t the case.

While the releases for Puppet Circus and Iron Gate weren’t nearly the fiasco of Cat’s Tea Party, they do share some interesting features that make them unusual by today’s standards. While Puppet Circus is quite small compared to modern garments, Moitie’s Iron Gate was one of the most forgiving gothic pieces of it’s time. Both Iron Gate and Puppet Circus were also slightly more expensive series compared to the other releases in 2006 – Pre-shopping service prices for Puppet Circus’s velveteen OP retailed at 30,240 yen compared to the standard cotton OP price of 24,990 yen, and Iron Gate retailed at 39,800 yen – one of the most expensive items of it’s era. So even at their releases, they were status symbols just due to the price. Additionally, these are some of the earliest prints and they were released as prints were becoming a thing – meaning that for the most part print items were already quite sought after, and their prices remained stable in the resale market once they did sell out.

Iconic Status Cycle
From that point forward, I think it is easy to see how an item’s price can become inflated – as new people join and want to purchase those items, they find them more difficult to acquire and start to save up money for when they do appear. Because these series were already prestigious due to their higher price tags and lower production rates, people don’t sell them as frequently as the flavor of the month prints, which keeps their prices stable. Eventually one pops up, and there is a huge pool of buyers – so much so that the seller can run an auction or take best offers. Sometimes, in order to prevent someone from sniping an auction at a lower than market value price, someone will offer a particularly high price to end the sales process there – which once again inflates the items status and value in second hand market. If this happens often enough a new price is set in the community’s collective consciousness – which means that the people who own the dress are less likely to sell it. Not only would they be losing a status symbol, but they also may genuinely worry about regretting the sale and the trouble it would take to re-purchase the item. With a growing community (a larger pool of buyers) and an over saturated market, this means that finding one of these status symbols becomes more difficult with each passing year, and eventually they became “iconic” within the community. The cycle of status only goes up until there is a genuine shift  in community aesthetic (Sugary Carnival), or a general re-release (Holy Lantern/Misty Sky/Chocolate Rosette).

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it! I find the lolita market’s fluctuations particularly interesting, and as the market has recovered from the recession to a point where the “lolita bubble” is likely to burst soon, I find it to be amazing that so many of these iconic pieces still retain their status. Personally I hope that in the future all of them receive a re-release – but I’d really love to see them in new cuts and colorways. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
– Rosie


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