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Why High-End Designers Are Adopting the Hanes Model

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Nothing basic about it.

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Photo: Mr Porter

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I love gray T-shirts. They are, in my mind, perfect.

I own as many as my dresser drawer will accommodate, and I’m always looking to gray my life up more. So when I saw a three-pack of gray Prada T-shirts, my lizard brain tingled and I started making room for them in my collection while optimistically checking my bank account.

The T-shirt set, which also comes in white, clocks in at a total of $270, or $90 per shirt. For a high-end designer like Prada, which has items on Mr Porter that cost over $6,000, $90 is a relative steal.

What’s really striking about this product listing, though, is that the brand requires you to buy three at a time; it’s the Hanes business model at 20 times the cost. The Prada tees are even delivered in plastic. (Mr Porter also notes that you can get them in “premium Mr Porter box packaging” as well.) The point is: You can’t buy them solo.

“The higher-end brands want to give the idea that these are basic essentials, like Calvin Klein boxers or whatever,” Mario Ortelli, a senior research analyst of luxury goods at Bernstein, says about the trio of tees.

Mr Porter’s buying manager, Sam Lobban, says the bundles are “perfect to bolster a luxury wardrobe.” It’s Fruit of the Loom for 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy, who once guessed that milk costs “$90 a gallon.”

The buy-in-bulk strategy makes sense for a brand like Hanes: it’s easier to buy six T-shirts for $15, rather than a bunch individually for a little more than $2 a pop. What makes less sense is the idea that $90 is too small an increment on its own, thus the shirts must be packaged into a trio to make it worth the effort of selling.

Ortelli suggests that by selling basics this way, high-end labels avoid cheapening their image. “They do not want to dilute their brand with a product that can seem entry-price point,” he explains. Instead, the packs are “seen as a basic essential for a higher-end consumer.” Because if someone is buying a $6,000 Prada jacket, they probably aren’t wearing a shirt underneath it that they picked up at Target.

Finding the perfect anything is a miracle, so you probably should stock up until your bank calls to issue a very stern warning. The only reason the price is jarring to me is because my bank wouldn’t even call me. It’d just text me: “LOL.”

In another universe, I’m rich and find this idea to be absolutely genius. I like Uniqlo’s tees; I own six of them. There’s no doubt that someone out there is able to treat Prada like me and the rest of the 99% treats Uniqlo, and Prada is wise to accommodate its customer while simultaneously maintaining its luxury image.

Let’s face it: These tees are probably certainly worth it for those with the cash (Lobban, who’s been up close and personal with these bad boys, says, “They’re really quite incredibly soft.”) If these T-shirts fit within your affluent lifestyle (please Venmo me), you may like some of these other high-end products that are also offered in packs.

Photo: Mr Porter

Maison Margiela: Two can play at this game, Prada. Margiela sees your $270 assortment of T-shirts and raises you to $360. The “distressed” tees come in three different colors, and the product copy suggests acquiring them “to supplement your gym kit,” which is insane.

Photo: Velva Sheen

Velva Sheen: Velva Sheen clocks in much lower on the price spectrum at only $80. If something cost less than three digits, can it still be considered the perfect compliment to a “luxury wardrobe?” Seems doubtful, tbh.

Photo: Mr Porter

Hanro: If you’re going to get your T-shirts in a set, your pricey underwear shouldn’t arrive solo either.

Photo: Mr Porter

Balmain: Balmain offers only true luxury, and true luxury is an array of $490 basic T-shirts.

Photo: Mr Porter

Visvim: If Prada wasn’t luxe enough but Balmain is a little too expensive, may we present Visvim? The $375 set will “bulk out your quality staples,” according to the copy.