Unless you’ve been living under an incredibly un-fashionable rock the last few months you’ll have heard about the latest in a long line of designer / highstreet collaborations: Lanvin for H&M. This years most highly anticipated collaboration saw hoards of women camping overnight outside the Regent Street store, desperate to get their hands on a piece of high fashion.
The appeal of designer / highstreet collaborations is pretty obvious- it gives us, (mere mortals), the opportunity to own a piece of designer clothing at a snip of the cost. Suddenly we don’t have to be part of the elite to own some Parisian luxury…. we just have to endure a long-ass queue. Lanvin for H&M sold out in a matter of hours and, of course, with the surrounding hype it was inevitable that pieces would end up on ebay- but at triple the original cost? Couldn’t you buy an actual piece of Lanvin for that? Herein lies the dilemma- is the hype negating the availability of these collections? And are brands now just jumping on the bandwagon?
The first collaboration that incurred a mass media frenzy was H&M and their collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld back in 2004. Never before had people camped out and scrambled over such a collection, and this set the tone for the future of collaborations. Since then we have seen a long list of well known names joining forces, for example…
Giles Deacon + New Look
Christopher Kane + Topshop
Jil Sander + Uniqlo
Roksanda Illincic + Whistles
Zandra Rhodes + Marks and Spencer
Holly Fulton + ASOS
Matthew Williamson + Debenhams
…to name just a few. The whole thing really is a win-win situation for both parties, the designers get to introduce their creative vision to a mass market, while of course the highstreet brands entice new customers and make a nice bundle of money in the process. Designers have to pick their retailers very carefully however, as it’s them that have the most to lose. Some loyal customers of designer wear are now calling their beloved high-end designers ‘sell outs’ claiming they are simply cashing in by watering down their creations and mass producing it. So how does creative director at Lanvin, Alber Elbaz, see it after saying he would never do a mainstream collection? He’s been quoted saying this:
“I loved the idea that H&M was going luxury, rather than Lanvin going public. I thought it was a smart concept.”
A smart concept indeed…but is that what’s really happening? Only time will tell. During the same week that Lanvin for H&M launched, another high profile retail store launched their new designer collaboration: Valentino for Gap. The charm of these collaborations is that Valentino and Lanvin are both known for their love of opulent luxury and basically the complete opposite of everything highstreet fast- fashion stands for. So when they put their twists on casual gear it’s suddenly considered a unique moment of genius. And yeah, sure, I’ll admit it, some of the Lanvin pieces are gorgeous and worthy of queuing 10 hours straight for, but Valentino for Gap? If I’m honest I think Valentino should stick to couture. They seem to have simply taken casual pieces and added ruffles….I mean ruffles on Cargo pants? Is that even legal? It’s about now where I begin to wonder if both Valentino and Gap are jumping on this new trend for some easy money, or whether they really thought ruffled khaki was a moment of divine inspiration.
Gap have announced this collaboration right after slumps in the company’s profits and after the logo fiasco. Oh did you miss that one? Gap changed their iconic logo for a mere week before reverting back to the original after some serious media backlash. So this designer collaboration has come in just the nick of time! Convenient isn’t it.
Obviously it is not only designers that are getting in on this, celebrities have been doing the same thing ever since Topshop launched their first collection by Kate Moss. Since then a slew of famous faces have put their names to collections including Sarah Jessica Parker, Lily Allen, Madonna, Scarlett Johannson and…erm…Lindsay Lohan, (but the less said about that, the better). These kinds of collections are tricky and have a much higher fail to win ratio than designers, (need I mention Lindsay Lohan again?), but none the less it is yet another way for the masses to get a taste of previously unobtainable fashion.
The question is, is this mainstreaming phenomenon watering down fashion, or are highstreet names simply upping their game? Again I believe it will be a wait and see answer for that one, I have a strange feeling though that soon designers won’t be as coveted as they once were after everyone’s got a piece.
There is another way to do it though…..
Topshop have instigated many trends in their time, including designer collaborations and celebrity collections, but the best thing they’re doing for the industry? Supporting The NewGen (New Generation) award. This award is dedicated to talented young designers who deserve the money and recognition needed to be a success. The winners have to then design a collection for Topshop Boutique and instantly receive critical acclaim from insiders as well as the general public. Past winners have included Preen, Alexander McQueen, Matthew Williamson and Gareth Pugh, (Pugh even told the press that he made more money from his Topshop collection than from his signature line). Doing this is supporting true talent and serves the industry brilliantly. Hopefully this is another bandwagon others will jump on.
Designers and highstreet collaborations are hitting their peak right now, with the current economic climate in mind, so only time will tell how far this trend will go. I think I hit my limit at frilly cargo pants. Hopefully quality will maintain precedence over quantity, ensuring that when collaborations do take place they utilise the designer’s true talents instead of watering them down. A great example of this is Jil Sander’s collaboration with Uniqlo- doing what she does best, minimalism. The result is a collection of truly great, simple pieces at a low price point, that will be coveted for years to come. Not some frills added to T-Shirt that will look dated next month.
Here’s hoping collaborations retain their dignity in the years to come, after all, there’s only so much hype can do.