Karl Lagerfeld for H&M. Roland Mouret for Gap. Giles Deacon for New Look. Proenza Schouler for Target. And the list goes on. You’d think by now that consumers would have started to tire of it all. At a Retail and Luxury Conference earlier this year, Peter Som said that he felt the whole thing was played out and that it was no longer a distinctive way of creating brand buzz, which I thought was a good point.
Well, one look at a video from Style.com (see below), which shows the pandemonium that erupted in New York when Roberto Cavalli and Canadian model Jessica Stam unveiled his own H&M collection on Thursday, and it seems there may be some mileage in this strategy yet. I was surprised by the exhuberant reaction around the world and the amount of money that people were willing to spend. In the video, one girl has 12 bags of clothing which retailed for about $6,000.
That said, I have sensed waning interest in the avalanche of similar collaborations between designers and other mass brands over the past year. Target seems to be rolling one out every three months making each subsequent launch less buzzworthy, while New Look’s collaborations have failed to inspire from a product standpoint. Anya Hindmarch’s "I am Not a Plastic Bag" for Sainbury’s almost turned into a full-on PR fiasco for both parties when it emerged that the bags were manufactured in China and shipped half way around the world. So, apart from TopShop, H&M seems to be the only player consistently using this approach with great success.
So, what is the H&M secret? Part of it comes from the fact that they only do a couple of collaborations per year. Not only does this keep the collaborations feeling fresh, it also allows them to stick with marquee brands that have truly global appeal and which attract new customers to the store. H&M also knows how to promote these collections as you can see in this very cool fullscreen video of the collection on the H&M site and this video from the launch party in Rome.
In addition, while the Proenza Schouler for Target collection had some great pieces, it was poorly presented in the Target store I went to in Dallas, just sitting on couple of rails that did not stand out from the regular collections. H&M on the other hand makes an effort to dedicate an entire section of its stores to these collections — they become the star attraction.
The last crucial piece of the puzzle is the product. The H&M collections are true to the brands’ DNA while still being offered at a high-street level of price and quality. Viktor & Rolf’s tailoring and Cavalli’s party dresses were perfectly in tune with their brand signatures. The collections are also large enough to make a full representation of the brand — Cavalli’s, for example, includes men’s and women’s RTW, as well shoes and jewellery.
On a side note, isn’t Cavalli hilarious in this video? It is almost endearing to see him being feted by young women who weren’t even around when he first started. He says it for himself: he feels like he is a rock-star. And I must say, he plays the part pretty well. The H&M collaboration really seems to have broadened his appeal to a younger client, who might also buy his perfume or trademark sunglasses one day.
Photos courtesy of H&M. Video courtesy of Style.com.