(Corrects penultimate paragraph to president instead of chief operating officer)
By Bobbi Rebell
NEW YORK, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The creations of New York fashion designer Jason Wu, a favorite of first lady Michelle Obama, sell for thousands of dollars apiece.
Items like his Diane Mini Shoulder Bag, which retails for $1,495, and Wu’s Camel Hair Capelet Trench Coat at $3,995 have always been well out of reach for most of the 32-year-old’s fellow millennials.
The generation of those 18-35 has been hard-hit by the U.S. economy. Many are struggling with too much debt to spend heartily. But there may be a turnaround as the 75 million millennials pivot their tastes from mass-market retailers like Aeropostale to upscale haute couture, at least among older millennials.
According to Forrester Data, a division of Forrester Research Inc, older millennials (ages 27-35) started to splurge in 2015, suddenly spending twice as much as younger millennials (ages 18-26). The two groups spent evenly on purchases in 2014.
The median amount spent on the most recent luxury good item purchased by older millennials was $180 in early 2015. Younger ones spent $91 on their most recent purchase.
That tops Gen Xers, also beleaguered by financial woes, who spent a median $150, but hardly competes with the richer, more settled baby boomers (50-59) who spent a strong $250.
Wu finds that the trend driving new spending among his millennial customers is that they are now interested in long-lasting quality items, not just what is cheap and expedient. “We are not so disposable anymore, and I think that mirrors how I design clothes,” Wu says.
Designers are increasing their social media footprint to grab the attention of millennials bombarded by their peers with pictures, video, news, music and messages.
For instance, at New York Fashion Week, which runs Sept. 10-17, veteran designer Ralph Lauren was one of many using the new livestream mobile app Periscope to broadcast runway shows. Periscope has 10 million users.
“Periscope is changing the way fashion fans consume and experience fashion, essentially democratizing it for everyone,” says Rachel Dodes, head of fashion partnerships at Twitter Inc . “The two-way nature of Periscope allows people to engage in a way that wasn’t possible before, and as we’ve seen this fashion week, the community is embracing it.”
Through the last day of the fashion event, there were 97 Periscope livestreams coming from designers, according to Socialbakers, a social media marketing consultant.
The goal for attracting buyers? “Making them feel like they’re at the show, just like I’m at the show,” says Jaclyn Jones, an editor at fashion trend forecasting firm WGSN.
Designers make it easy for millennials to tap into social media for instant feedback. Almost 70 percent of millennials check in with peers on social media before making a purchase, according to strategic retail advisory firm HRC Advisory.
Social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest all play a role in getting the thumbs up. To make sure customers can connect at the point of sale, retailers are installing Wi-Fi and charging stations in their stores, says HRC Advisory’s president Farla Efros.
That will keep millennials browsing - and buying - in style. (Additional reporting by Elly Park; Editing by Beth Pinsker, Lauren Young and Phil Berlowitz)