Let’s be real, the world of luxury has been pretty boring recently. 

The Fall/Winter 2024 collections shown at the beginning of the year felt as if all the fashion giants decided to go the more commercial route which, given the current financial landscape, recession and cost of living crises, makes sense. However, it means that a lot of high-end clothes started looking too normal

And then you have quiet luxury pioneers like The Row selling a white cotton T-shirt north of $500, a pair of black trousers from Khaite retailing for over $1,000, and the average designer bag will setting you back at least $2,000 – a price most customers can’t afford.

If we’re being completely real here, a plain tee should never cost that much.

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The current fashion landscape has given mid-tier fashion brands a huge opportunity to fill the gap between the pricing of ultra-luxury and fast fashion.

A lot of us don’t want to browse SHEIN and Prettylittlething for our elevated basics — we still want to invest in quality clothing without spending two months’ rent on a blazer. 

Enter COS.

The elevated H&M-founded label has become a go-to for fashion lovers all over the world, with good reason. It delivers reliably stylish clothes at an affordable price point (the brand describes itself as having a “luxury design ethos”).

Stars like Rina Sawayama and Skins actor Jack O’Connel front COS’ campaigns, imparting a premium feel to COS’ brand universe, which now looks as luxurious as some of the big brands.

When discussing COS with some of my fashion peers, one expressed that he buys COS cashmere turtlenecks and “people think it is Loro Piana” — he realized that no one can tell the difference just from looking at it.

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After all, both brands make sweaters from 100% cashmere but one retails at $2,300 and the other is only $250. Similarly, I’ve had plenty of people ask me about where I got the suit trousers I wear almost every single day, thinking they’re from a big luxury brand: they’re COS, of course.

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The elevated campaigns, high-fashion casting and contemporary clothes have transformed COS from your average mid-tier brand into an actual luxury competitor – a conscious decision that the brand made so as to distance itself from labels on the high street. And then came the viral hits.  

In 2023, COS skyrocketed to fame on TikTok with its so-called “Jennie Bag,” a quilted nylon bag that instantly sold out — and inspired hundreds of dupes — after it was worn by Jennie from K-pop group BLACKPINK.

COS has since continued to elevate its now-signature handbag, even creating leather versions for under $300. Maybe that’s not a bargain but it also doesn’t even get close to most designer bags on the market.

That was the same year that UNIQLO’s nylon half-moon bag blew up thanks to TikTok, becoming one of the year’s hottest accessories. Users shared videos showcasing how much one could fit into the $9.99 bag and it suddenly became a must-have bag for young, stylish-conscious shoppers.

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The rising interest in these affordable bags is telling about today’s consumer culture. Young shoppers don’t have the budget to spend four figures on luxury accessories, so they find common ground with a large online community also seeking well-priced, stylish staples like those from COS and UNIQLO. But only COS is staging fashion shows.

In late March, COS took Rome with catwalk presentations for its Atelier collection – a high-end, limited-edition line available in small quantities both in-store and online – and Spring/Summer 2024 offering, delivering everything from laser-cut leather jackets to pleated silk dresses.

Guests included campaign star Jack O’Connel, Pamela Anderson, and Minho of K-Pop group SHINee, veterans of  the fashion month circuit though this was an off-schedule fashion week moment.

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Yet COS’ show was better received than some of the bigger collections on the Milan and Paris schedules. The social media engagement was huge with thousands of likes, shares, and comments– all overwhelmingly positive – showing that COS’ impact goes beyond the clothes alone.

COS’ triumph is a true reflection of the current fashion landscape. This generation’s consumers are maturing. Whereas they once focused on cheaper, quality-lacking retailers like SHEIN, Zara, and PrettyLittleThing, their interest has shifted to finding better clothes.

This consumer is no longer shopping for new looks every week – they want something longer-lasting.

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COS has truly made the most of it. With a certified it-bag, a post on @stylenotcom, celebrity campaigns, and a bougie on-location fashion show, it’s basically one of the big boys now.

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