The Carissima Sheath From Anthropologie Disproves Designer Burnout
This dress has seemingly been around forever.
San Francisco-based designer Byron Lars debuted the Carissima Sheath in 2012 at NYFW, and it hit stores as an Anthropologie exclusive in 2013, which is when I first tried it on and took a dressing room selfie.
And despite everything you think you know about retail patterns, the life cycle of trends, and so-called "designer burnout" the Carissima is still standing. Now, over two years later, season after season have seen this dress slaying on store racks and social media, all the while avoiding the "Additional Sale-on-Sale" section.
What Lars, and Anthropologie, have quietly managed to do is quite the feat. They have discovered an immortal retail formula that I'm not sure has been achieved since the Dawn of Fast Fashion.
Think about it: Even the most iconic designer pieces get a facelift each season. Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dresses, Donna Karan's "Seven Easy Pieces," heck, even Chanel bags wouldn't dare to show up on shelves without the occasional update.
But Byron Lars and Anthropologie have been selling - and selling and selling - this exact same dress for nearly three years now, and it's still as beloved today as it was when it first launched.
Yet over in the buzzy world of high-end fashion, designers and creative directors are dropping like flies, citing "burn out" as the force driving them out of prestigious houses. Alexander Wang exited Balenciaga, Donna Karan left her own label, Alber Elbaz is out at Lanvin, and Raf Simmons just gave his notice to Dior. All referenced, in ways both subtle and overt, an immense strain on their creativity brought on by constantly having to churn out collections and content. (Some markets necessitate up to six collections a year now, triple the old Fall/Winter-and-Spring/Summer model that was the norm even just a few years ago.) John Galliano, formerly of Dior, is thought to have been driven to madness by the house's punishing schedule, ultimately resulting in an anti-Semitic tirade that led to his firing.
As Suzy Menkes puts it in her piece "Why Fashion is Crashing" in British Vogue, "designers - by their nature sensitive, emotional and artistic people - are being asked to take on so much. Too much."
Which is why it's especially remarkable that while "fast fashion" is most commonly associated with high street retailers like H&M, Zara, and even Anthropologie, it's actually the high-end designers that are suffering whiplash from the industry's new breakneck speed, while indie designer Byron Lars is enjoying the long, successful run of one of his designs.
It's the quintessential "tortoise and the hare" story told through lace and best-dressed lists.
Just how successful is this dress? It has become iconic in its own right, without the name recognition of an international luxury house or the marketing and advertising budgets of a conglomerate like LVMH or Kering, and without the need or expectation to churn out more and more. The Carissima Sheath has been reviewed more times (over 300 and counting) on Anthro's website than any other item. And, it has appeared on more celebrities walking down red carpets and in more television shows than any one silhouette from Dior or Lanvin, for example.
Still, even Lars is shocked by the success of the dress. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a single dress I designed to have had such (full-price) retail longevity,” he told me in an interview, which I published earlier this year over at Bustle.com. "[It has] by far surpassed all of our expectations by a long shot!”
I finally got my hands on the dress, which was sent to me by Anthropologie after I wrote about it for my Bustle article. It's as lovely now as it was all 118 weeks ago. (That selfie I took was uploaded to Instagram, which has been keeping count for me.)
Some designers and industry insiders might turn their noses up at a $258 dress, but it's done what many top houses have failed to do with their collections: Last.