Finally! The spread of neon green and pink turtles and whales emblazoned across modest cuts of cloth is coming to retail centers miles away from any country club! This week, Target (always pronounced Tar-zhey in regards to fashun) announced its latest designer collaboration, this time with the official prep costumer, Lilly Pulitzer.
If you don’t know your WASP style, the brand sprung from the social life of its namesake founder, a famous hostess in the old days of fancy (and super segregated) Palm Beach, Florida. Things have sure changed since then, though!
That fancy island still exists today, but it’s now surrounded by all kinds of delightful suburban sprawl in West Palm Beach, and Lilly’s aggressively green-and-pink shift dresses have gotten a little more democratic. Kind of. They’re especially popular on old-school college campuses, a la the equally preppy-baroque Vera Bradley.
And now, thanks to Target, Pullitzer wear is available to Poors—or, well, the thrifty!—via a Lilly Pullitzer for Target collab line, which looks to be a high point for the mass-market retailer. Social media lost its mind at the announcement, all across the spectrum of feelings:
But the latest reactions to Target’s fashion forays come after a decade-plus of highs and lows in the chain’s history of high-fashion designer collaborations. Behold, a brief history of the highs and lows, the elation and regret marking Target’s history with #brands.
MEDIUM-HIGH: Target buys up Mossimo’s licensing, 2000
Once upon a time, Mossimo was a Cool Brand alongside Stussy, sold frequently at 1990s-chic skate- and surf-rat stores. But it basically died, and Target bought up its licensing rights and basically made it a store brand. By that point, Mossimo’s cool stock had plummeted, and the agreement benefited Target more than the fashion line, but this was the start of the big-box chain pairing with known clothing brands.
HIGH: Target does its first Isaac Mizrahi line, 2003
Mizrahi was so fun and hip in the 1990s! Remember this movie he did with Linda Evangelista? So cute. Anyways, he, too, sputtered out in the late 1990s, but his high-fashion points still more or less remained. So when he appeared back in the early ‘00s BFFing it up with Target, it was a good look for both—sales went into the hundreds of millions and spread across accessories and home goods. This was the real start to Target’s capsule collection projects from there on out.
HIGH: Go International launches with a Luella Bartley collection, 2006
This Luella Bartley collection marked the first of the official capsule collection/designer collab project, Go International. Did we love it because we were younger, and still thought foofy cocktail dresses made of scratchy material were the move? Was it just the novelty of the whole thing existing? Whatever, everyone loved this collection.
HIGH: Target does Missoni, 2011
Missoni’s a weird brand to people who Don’t Get Fashion. It’s not really about the garments themselves, but more about the prints, which are often imitated, but never really quite duplicated in their almost-ugly, totally Euro fabulosity. Still, this collection marked the first time you could get this stuff at a cheap price—and, uh, on a beach cruiser bicycle—so everyone loved it, garment quality be damned. Critics loved it, and shoppers loved it—so much that the chain sold entirely out of product for the line, full stop.
HIGH: Everyone loves the Proenza Schouler collection, 2011
From the beginning, Target programmed its capsule collections carefully, picking designers with just enough shine to get cool fashionistas into their store, but still hungry enough to need the big-box bucks. Many credit the Proenza Schouler collection for Target as being a big win for the designer pair, getting their name out to a huge audience when they were previously kind of a fashion world secret.
THE LOWEST OF THE LOW: Much ado about Jason Wu, 2012
The idea seemed good. For this collection, Target would take a young designer with serious hype thanks to his designs for the First Lady, and signal boost him to a wider audience. Here’s where everything went south, because Florida.
At one Miami Target, a DJ and his girlfriend showed up on the first day the collection was open, and bought every. Last. Garment. The plan? Flip it on Ebay. The reality? National shame, failure to actually sell much of it online, and Targets across the country imposing new sale rules on the capsule collections.
Regardless, the pleated dresses were cute.
MEDIUM-LOW: Target does the Webster collection, 2012
Alright, so this one started out with a good intention—rather than focusing on a designer, commissioning a super-cool store (the Webster in Miami Beach) to create its own designs. Unfortch, the combination of cheap construction and Miami tackiness often meant strange, grandma-tastic muumuu shapes and colors with crooked seams.
LOW: No one cares about the Neiman Marcus knick-knack collection, 2013
Throughout the years of the Go International program, Target’s experimented with doing things besides just turning over a collection to one designer. In 2012, they partnered with the CFDA to let students design different items. That worked. The collection with the store the Webster, not so much, as we already explained. And then, they partnered with Neiman Marcus around the holiday shopping season, 2013.
The idea? Put the store’s fancy-ish gift sensibility on different items like picture frames, hats, scarves, toys, and other random items. Thing is, nobody cared to buy overpriced Target dog bowls when you could go down a few aisles and buy a regular Target dog bowl. Most of this stuff failed to sell and wound up deeply discounted. (BTW, my “Diane Von Furstenburg” yoga mat died after about a year of regular use—good thing I only paid $20 rather than $100 for it.)
LOW: Plus-size bloggers call for a boycott over the Altuzarra line, 2014
Target’s caught heat over the years for this on and off. If the thinking is to make designer collections more populist by lowering the price point, why not make them more populist by offering a wider range of sizes? Blogger Chastity Garner felt particularly miffed over the lack of larger sizes in Target’s Altuzarra collection, and called for a boycott that drew international attention.
HIGH, SO FAR: Lilly Pulitzer for Target, 2015
So far, this could be the collection that revives a little lust for Target capsule collections, albeit with a far less cutting-edge consumer than the one who would go for, say, Rodarte. So far, so good with the reception online. (Except, again, with people who care about fashion accessibility, since the plus-size offerings won’t be sold in stores. Didn’t they learn after the Altuzarra debacle?) Now we’ll just wait and see how the shift dresses, bikinis, and other trappings of an imaginary resort wear life translate to real life.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.