You Can't Sit With Us.
The irony of H&M's 'affordable designer fashion for the masses'.
In 2004 when global retail goliath H&M released it’s first collaboration with design king pin Karl Lagerfeld they unleashed a beast that has grown to be one of the most anticipated fashion events of the year, the designer/fast fashion colab. The collection sold out in most stores within hours and left fashion hungry fans looking for a piece of cut price design begging for more. Due to the great success of the concept the powers that be signed on for another year and a new designer. Next in line was Stella McCartney followed by a growing list of fashion heavy hitters that includes Viktor & Rolf, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo, Sonia Rykiel, MARNI, Lanvin, Versace, Alexander Wang and most recently Balmain. When questioned on why these designers agreed to work on such a project the answer, almost always, went along the lines of “bringing well designed fashion to the masses at an accessible price point”. A theory all well and good on paper but is the reality a different story?
After the runaway success of the debut Karl Lagerfeld X H&M collection, the outspoken designer was suitable unimpressed with the retail giants management of the project and vowed never to work with them again. His accusation of "snobbery created by anti-snobbery” due to the company’s decision to produce Lagerfeld’s designs in limited numbers was not received well by upper management and demand for an apology was issued. An apology from Karl? Ha! Good luck with that! The subsequent designers seemed to have no beef with H&M and every collection to date has been a smash, selling out as soon as it hits the sales floor.
While the success of these pairings is undeniable for H&M, what’s in it for the designers behind the collections? The idea of a working partnership with an organisation synonymous with cheap clothing seems to go against everything that high ends designers spend their entire careers working toward. The H&M collections heavily reference the silhouettes and aesthetic of the designers main line, thus why they are chosen, but these designers, usually champions of the finest fabrics draped and constructed by the worlds best tailors and dressmakers, are now conceded to their designs being knocked up en mass in bulk production facilities all over the world. The reach of an organisation such as H&M is massive, no doubt about it, but is this branding exercise really worth it for the designers? Could the exercise actually be damaging your labels reputation with your real following? You may reach a whole new market but surely that customer, whom usually pays $50 for a dress, isn’t going to all of a sudden see the value in dropping $5000 on one that looks exactly the same from your labels namesake. On the other hand, is someone who has invested $5000 on said piece likely to be impressed when they see a shoddy replica on the back of every Beccy, Britney and Sally strutting down the high street on a Saturday night? I think not.
Re-selling has been a very lucrative byproduct of these ventures with online auction prices skyrocketing on sold out pieces from the collections. After the recent global clean out of all the Balmain X H&M collection pieces, EBay prices on some items where exceeding the cost of genuine items and Maison Martin Margiela X H&M pieces where listed on the site before they where even available for purchase through the retailer at heavily inflated sums. The concept that someone would shell out $2000 for a dress they know only cost $400 is beyond comprehension for me but the power of celebrity (the dress was worn by Kendall Jenner in the campaign shots) is a phenomenal thing these days, clearly a well played move by those behind the project. That’s not to say this is only happening with H&M colabs, Kanye Wests’ collections for ADIDAS under the YEEZY moniker have had similar effect. His YEEZY Boost 350 trainers retailed for around the $250 mark but sold out in seconds world wide only to resurface on EBay minutes later with prices in excess of $1500. In an interview with Vogue.com after his YEEZY Season One show, Kanye expressed his desire to bring affordable, well designed clothing to those who couldn’t afford the inflated prices designers charge for items all should be able to acquire and thus his collection of street influenced sweats, utilitarian outerwear and trainers was born. He was spotted the next day in a $1500 Haider Ackermann velvet sweater and matching track pants. Likewise, when the YEEZY collection hit stores, the prices ranged from US$210 for a tee shirt through to a staggering US$4000 for a shearling coat. Affordable? Some would argue no.
So while the concept is sold to us as a tasty, well priced treat to fashion savvy customers, the only winners I see here are H&M and the lucky few who managed to snag a couple of collection pieces and turn them into EBay gold! And of corse Kanye ;)