Op-Ed | Making The Case Against Fast Fashion Collaborations

Maison Martin Margiela for H&M | Source: H&M

Today, with the Maison Martin Margiela for H&M capsule collection set to arrive in stores later this week, guest contributor Eugene Rabkin, editor-in-chief of StyleZeitgeist magazine, makes the case against fast fashion collaborations.

NEW YORK, United States — It’s been eight years since Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, the first collaboration between a high fashion designer and a mass retailer on a limited-edition capsule collection. Since then, a number of retailers, from Target to Topshop, have launched designer collaborations of their own with the likes of Proenza Schouler, Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen and others. And the success of this formula shows no signs of fading, with Maison Martin Margiela for H&M expected to sell out soon after it hits stores on November 15th.

But while ‘cheap and chic’ collaborations have proven extremely popular with consumers, it’s important to point out that, for large retailers like H&M and Target, their success is mostly measured in media impressions, not sales. Indeed, these collaborations rarely move the needle in terms of overall sales volume. Instead, they generate the ‘earned media’ equivalent of millions of dollars in advertising, driving people into stores. Meanwhile, participating designers benefit from large scale exposure to potential new customers and fat fees that can sometimes exceed $1 million.

These underlying commercial motives are often obscured, however, by a ubiquitous but pernicious phrase: ‘the democratisation of fashion.’ Whoever coined the term is surely the marketing genius of the 21st century. On the face of it, who can argue that ‘the democratisation of fashion’ isn’t a good thing?

I can.

For the words ‘democratisation’ and ‘fashion’ no longer have meaning. In an essay written in 1947, titled “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell warned against political figures who purposefully obscured language, rendering certain words meaningless. ‘Democracy’ was his prime example. But since then, marketing gurus have left politicians in the dust.

‘Fashion,’ in the sense now being co-opted by the high street, used to mean designer fashion; that is, something made by a creator who puts care and thought into what he or she is creating. It means carefully crafted designs made with attention to detail and aesthetic sensibility.

But somewhere along the line, the definition of ‘fashion’ shifted. Several years ago, I was taken aback by one of my students at Parsons who proclaimed that “everything is designed.” Not true. For example, the first polo shirt was carefully designed. But these days, the only major difference between polo shirts made by various competitors (often in the same factories) is the logo: alligator or polo player. Indeed, today, the word ‘design’ merely means ‘cool.’ To say that something is designed is to say ‘Isn’t it cool?’ And by extension, ‘Aren’t I cool?’ The same goes for fashion.

I invite anyone to argue that fast fashion brands produce ‘fashion’ in the original sense of the word. They may sell decent clothing at affordable prices — but not fashion.

This is perfectly fine, of course. Providing access to affordable clothing is a noble goal. But, alas, this goal was perverted a long time ago by the rise of irresponsible consumer behaviour that has transformed the act of shopping into a leisure activity. According to Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development (TRAID), consumers in the UK purchase a whopping 2.15 million tonnes of new clothing a year. They also throw away over 900,000 garments each year, sometimes with the sales tags still on them. In the US, the picture is even more dire, with consumers dumping an estimated 10 million tonnes of clothing annually.

Dries van Noten once told me that his grandfather was a tailor whose specialty was to repair worn suits by taking them apart, turning the fabric inside out, and putting them back together. Surely, we no longer need to do this, but there is nonetheless something endearing in this story. We used to care about objects that surround us.

It was not until the 1930s that the price of clothing started to fall and people were able to buy more. In fact, the cost of clothing has been on a constant downward trajectory since, despite inflation. And today, much of Western society has gone from meeting their needs to gorging on disposable clothes. Take a weekend stroll on London’s Oxford Street or on New York’s Broadway and witness hordes of teenagers on their weekly shopping pilgrimages courtesy of mass-market retailers.

For this audience, ‘clothes’ are not cool enough. ‘Fashion’ is what lures young people into stores, which is the raison d’être behind these designer collaborations. But make no mistake, what is called ‘the democratisation of fashion’ is really the bastardisation of fashion; that is, taking a designer’s ideas and watering them down for mass consumption.

Real style is a matter of taste. And taste is a matter of experience. Just like one’s tastes in music, art or books, taste in clothes forms over time. It takes effort and knowledge. Buying into a style, quickly and cheaply, inevitably leads to the disposability of style. It’s like reading the Cliff’s Notes instead of the book.

Search YouTube for “H&M collaborations.” You’ll see bleary-eyed kids lining up hours before stores open in order to get some “designer” bargains. In one such video, a young gentleman says he arrived at H&M nine hours before the launch of the Comme des Garçons for H&M collaboration because “Comme des Garçons is a cool brand.”

Ironically, such brand worship was exactly what Maison Martin Margiela was against. For years Margiela was a designer’s designer, an intelligent creator and a pioneer of deconstruction who refused to talk to the media, letting his work speak for itself. The tags on his garments did not carry his name, but were pure white. He was a tinkerer, a sartorial engineer whose clothes often concealed their complexity.

Linda Loppa, head of Florentine fashion school Polimoda and former director of the fashion department at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, wrote via email: “It only appears on the surface that the Margiela concept can easily be replicated, In fact, the garments are not simple. The patterns require a lot of skill; the tailoring a lot of knowledge and attention to detail.”

In 2002, Margiela sold his company to Renzo Rosso’s OTB Group, which also owns Viktor & Rolf and Diesel. Then, in December of 2009, he left the brand. And today, we have H&M x MMM. Two opposites have met. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the paradox.

By all means, if you are willing to buy into this collaboration, please do, just don’t think that you are buying ‘fashion’ or a part of Margiela’s legacy — what you are buying are assembly-line knockoffs that you will discard by next year. But if this has become your idea of fashion, I urge you to reconsider.

Eugene Rabkin is the editor-in-chief of StyleZeitgeist magazine and the founder of stylezeitgeist.com

Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 13 November, 2012. An earlier version of this article misstated that, in 2002, Margiela was bought by Diesel Group. Margiela was bought by OTB Group, which also owns Viktor & Rolf and Diesel.”

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  1. I am so happy someone pointed out this problem. Cool is something that goes beyond today, but not tomorrow. And I am not sure if we need such consumer-oriented designers. This is one of the main reasons why I like schools like Central Saint Martins where ‘design’ and ‘art’ meet to form something that is timeless for it’s originality. Because if you see a CSM collection from 5 seasons ago, you’d still think it’s damn good. Thank you Eugene Rabkin that you exist and you give me hope that journalist are still awake and not afraid of calling the problems with their real names.

    Dimitar Mangalski from Sofia, Oblast Sofiya-Grad, Bulgaria
  2. Brilliant piece! I’ve been waiting for somebody to debunk one of the all-time most insidiously idiotic catch phrases: `democratisation of fashion`. It’s almost as meaningless as the phrase, ‘everything happens for a reason.’
    It’s amazing that so many new web based fashion’ companies and brands continue to trumpet this foolishness.
    We take comfort in knowing we will never be a part of this world. The last thing my brand is interested is democracy. We make the clothes we want the way we want. If people like them and want to buy them, great! If they don’t, we don’t care in the least.
    I’m going to cancel our Facebook page in the next couple of weeks — an act of heresy according to the fashion/brand’ consultants out there, but realistically I don’t give a toss about Facebook ‘likes’ and never will.

  3. Disposable clothing is anew trend I’m starting to see.

    With Facebook and other social media sites people feel the
    need to change their wardrobe more frequently. In some cases
    daily. It is frightening how fast the fashion world moves.

    Once a photo goes up online of someone in a new dress
    or jumper everyone has seen it and there for must be replaced.
    The world has gone mad

    Lonely Sherpa

  4. This ‘bastardisation’ of fashion isn’t limited to just the high street responding to our disposable consumer demand. Supposedly reputable and still respected designers do it too. Diffusion lines, perfumes, branded accessories… One could almost argue this hypocrisy is worse.

  5. I fully agree that the term “fashion” has been strongly corrupted, but what this world would be like if we were only able to afford 2 suits per year as back in the ’30? Fashion and retail need each other. we should not be afraid about the idea that selling clothes reduces creativity. By the contrary, it sustains it. Not so many designers would be needed if there was no market for their creations. They would be pure art pieces, and fashion is not meant to stay in museums or private collections.

    Blanca from Los Angeles, CA, United States
  6. Andraz – I think you have every right to cause a massive fuss here. The concept is not new but the positioning and shapes are blatant.

    richard@fortune8.org from Bampton, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
  7. A much-needed article, thank you! I was horrified when I heard that MMM was collaborating with H&M. I’ve long thought these high street collaborations are a huge mistake.

    Lauren from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  8. All accurate, and there is a point to be made about the style and cool-ness (not) factor of fast fashion.
    But the paragraph about the waste aspect falls ways too short of a sensible discussion. I suggest the author brush up on what the facts are with regards to fast fashion as a business model. After all this is ‘The Business of Fashion’.
    Check e.g. the following article on the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/rising-costs-social-trend-fashion
    This article really only scratches the surface on a much more severe problem – and also ignores that the current fast fashion business model is based on assumptions that no longer hold true. Designer collaborations are discussable, and rightly divide the public about whether they should or not exist. But I would like to see a more grounded discussion about the fashion business model as a whole, including the ones luxury and fast fashion are based on. The fact is: they are out dated, and not much longer economically viable.

  9. While I agree with the general sentiment of the article there is one word missing ‘high’ what Zara sells is fashion in the usual use of the word. What everybody likes and is buying would be the current fashion.
    Haute Couture is a different beast!
    “I invite anyone to argue that fast fashion brands produce ‘fashion’ in the original sense of the word. They may sell decent clothing at affordable prices — but not fashion.”
    I can argue that. What they are selling is the current fashion, what it isn’t is high fashion, let’s face it what we are really talking about here is marketing and making money. Money for the label and money for the designer, at the end of the day in High Fashion terms it may devalue the Designer but why should he or she care if they are laughing all the way to the bank.

    Chris Goodchild from Balearic Islands, Spain
  10. What we are really seeing is a collaboration between H&M and Diesel group. Margiela has left the building and from that point his brand/image/ethos became a ‘style’. To be developed each season I’m sure, but not from his mind, not heading down his path.

    And if anyone feels there is an argument here, all you have to do is read Andraz comment above and read between the lines. Or look here: http://www.blog.rompom.com/?p=66

    Son from Otorohanga, Auckland, New Zealand
  11. Quite a lot I take issue with here.
    Firstly fast fashion should not be blamed on consumers. The fashion cycle has sped up to allow corporations to sell the maximum number of clothes and so make the largest profit – millions of units at a low price rather than a few hundred at high prices.
    Secondly it in incorrect that those at the bottom of society produce the most waste. In every country it is the richest people who have by far the largest carbon footprints. Blaming ‘hordes of teenagers’ is allowing by far the biggest consumers to get away with what they are doing. (yes this applies to fashion – the top 20% buy many times more clothes than the bottom 20%)
    Whilst i agree that H&M fashion does not equal democracy, whats with the snobbery in general? Why should fashion only be the preserve of the rich? Fashion curious teenagers are the next gen of designers – why should it only be the rich kids that get to wear fashionable clothes?
    Also these teenagers have the message that owning something by Lagerfeld/ MMM etc is the ultimate achievement shoved down their throats 24/7 so its hardly surprising when they follow through.
    Also there is more of a two way process here no? A menswear designer i love recently described himself as a ‘sponge’ – soaking up inspiration from everywhere. Dont think you can separate fashion from the streets as much as you imply – no one is in a bubble.
    Also i always think of Margiela as a marketing king – white labels and contrived mystery included. Hate the fact that Diesel now own the mystery.

  12. Although I do agree with you for the most part, I do have to say that there are some generalizations in your article. Living in the suburbs of Los Angeles and commuting/living through both the upper and lower income neighborhoods of this city, I think that the “wear today, throw away tomorrow” trend can only be exercised by a limited number of people, specifically people who have the money to buy better quality clothing but choose to shop in high street stores because of the whole high-low “need a quick outfit for tomorrow” attitude that has invaded consumers’ minds. I don’t come from a background with much money, and neither do my friends, many of which are working their way through school while scraping money to buy a weekend outfit. I am 20, and my friends range from 18-24. Personally, from their point of view as well as mine, we approach high street brands with the cynic attitude that, yes, the clothes will fall apart within a couple washes, and yes, we are really not getting REAL Versace or MMM, but the individuality aspect of the “water-down” versions still makes us stand apart from the people we associate daily, which may not be the most stylish or the biggest spenders. Still, we appreciate that we can look “acceptable” and informed of trends in a city and society that judges you on the way you look, especially as we try to climb our way out of our parents’ economic status. It is called being careful with your money, and making due of what you can afford by taking care of those clothes. I have mastered the art of turning clothes inside out before putting them in a cold wash, resewing buttons and seams, and holding on to “trendy” clothes until they actually look unacceptably dated, which, in this day, can be as quickly as 1-2 years, but of which I still try to send to consignment stores. Not everyone is ignorant to the levels of retail or the quality, but it is what it is. There are an infinite number of consumer wealth levels in 2012 all over the world, and the old model which consists of 3 tiers of retail will not cut it anymore for everyone.

    ryan from South Gate, CA, United States
  13. Well said –

    I started to explore the potential consequences for a brand of going in on a retailer collaboration in a post yesterday – http://informedstyle.com/2012/11/12/designer-and-retailer-collaborations

    – muddled brand image, loss of control over quality standards and business practices…other than the paycheck from the retailer, I’m still puzzled by why a designer or brand would want to risk their credibility by entering into a collaboration – surely they aren’t after impressions and mass market publicity in the same way the retailers are?

  14. I couldn’t agree more! I have been proclaiming the same message for years now (don’t get me started on the abused term ‘luxury’).. To me fashion is the art of communicating a designer’s personal story through designs, creating an aesthetic that is recognizable for those who can find themselves in this story and use it to share their own. Thank you for sharing your point of view. Pris

  15. Andraz, yes you can be proud. But also you should press charges. They did the same to me with a text I wrote and that they used for the book they published without permission. Since Diesel took over and Martin Margiela left, the house became something that would have horrified poor Martin!

    poor martin from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  16. Dear Eugene and Imran,

    Thank you for posting this piece. I know it takes some courage to do this, but it is so important to underline what creativity really is. I have been ranting over democratisation, fashion crowd-sourcing and funding and many other things for years, glad there are people out there who still think the same.

    For anyone who’s interested, the H&M x MMM deal was worth €48m. And this information comes from who signed the deal. An expensive funeral for the Margiela brand.

  17. Dear Eugene & Imran,
    Thank for publishing this – insightful and intelligent in an era where people seem to be afraid to have critical dialog.

    I just re-read Galbraith’s ‘The Economics of Innocent Fraud’ last night. How timely.

    One solid point he makes about consumption is the myth (or ‘fraud’) of consumer sovereignty.

    He delivers a deeper explanation for what you term: ‘the rise of irresponsible consumer behaviour’. If you consider that 1) there is no free-market , all new products are prepped by persuasive development of consumer demand before launched and 2) that the Singular most important metric of success of a nation is its GDP — or how much stuff a country cranks out of its factories a year and then also 3)the private infiltration of so-call public regulatory bodies and the picture is quite different.

    People are over-socialized no doubt for consumptive behaviour, but I suppose that just places even great burden of responsibility on the so-called fashion leaders and their business back-ends. Long road ahead!

    mary-catharine from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  18. Great article! I share the same thoughts and do believe what we have nowadays is purely and very good done marketing.. the “gurus” as the author mentioned are responsible for camouflaging the concept of true fashion therefore banalizing the term. I am a graduating fashion student and my thesis is about the trivialization of the luxury. Thank you for this article!

    Taynah Oliveira from Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil
  19. What an incredibly arrogant and elitist point of view. Let’s blame the people who buy the collaborations for shelling out the money and only wearing it for a season or two. Or better yet, let’s blame the designers because they sell capsule collections to make some money and get their names out there. Are you crazy, man? Are we seriously against capitalism, competition and good marketing now because some fash(ion)ist moron doesn’t like the fact that not everyone is wearing couture? As Coco Chanel said, “fashion is made to become unfashionable.” Nothing is more “of the moment” and fleeting than a designer/mass retailer collaboration. If everyone thought like this design/fashion supremacist, poor and middle class people would all wear the same cheap uniform and rich people would look like Lady Gaga, dressed in one-of-a kind-couture, because only they could afford it.
    One more thing – your logic is faulty too. If style is a matter of taste and taste is a matter of experience, than how do you expect 15 year-olds to have style, when they haven’t lived or done anything yet? When they don’t know themselves yet? And who is to say that a kid who thinks Comme des Garçons for H&M is “cool” now won’t be a regular shopper of the main line 10 years down the road? I detest people who insult consumers from their high horse, especially when they do it in a forum that is supposed to be dedicated to the “business” of fashion. There is no business if no one’s buying it.

    P.S.: The whole “Dries van Noten once told me” story is the ultimate “Aren’t I cool?”

    Couture Counselor from New York, NY, United States
  20. Andraz – email the H&M press office and tell them that they have used a derivation of one of your photos in a commercial campaign – explain that it is an infringement of your work and rights and that you are writing to them in an attempt to reach some sort of compromise.

    I don’t know whether you were after a settlement payment or just to be credited, but if they are uncooperative after you open the lines of communication, you should seek legal representation…

    It’s a great photograph and I believe that you should get paid if your work has contributed to a successful commercial campaign that will generate millions.

    Very poor form from their graphic design team who should have known better.

    Great article.

    Milan from London, London, United Kingdom
  21. A most insightful article and clearly illustrates just why these collaborations are successful, but mostly for H&M.
    Like any brand association or brand extension [which a collaboration is] a brand needs to be really clear on the benefits and possible downsides of any deal.
    The recent spate of collaborations pose some questions? In this case, will it damage the Margiela brand in any way? Probably not! Will it generate vastly increased sales for the Maison Martin Margiela business? Probably not. Will it increase the MMM brand awareness through Media impressions in more mainstream markets? Probably yes.
    I would also wonder if you took a straw poll of the average high-street consumer on this subject and asked the question “Who are Marni?” what response would you get. Fast fashion is very fast- here today , gone tomorrow, so designers need to be careful with whom they align their brand, H&M included.

  22. YSL famously said “Fashion fades, style is eternal.” If you look at how rapidly trends come in (and go out) you’ll notice that quote rings truer today than ever. But if you dissect the relationship between fast fashion and designer fashion you’ll notice that fast fashion is driving sales in luxury/designer brands. They are doing this by catering to an entire generation (the wealthiest generation to date, btw) of aspirational consumers. So, my point is this; although I agree your purist’s perspective, the truth is everyone benefits from these types of collabs – the designer, the brand, and the consumer.

    Ned from New York, NY, United States
  23. Consumers have become addicted to consumption. Even those with small disposable incomes have become used to buying armfuls of product and would rather have 6 cheaper items than one more expensive and better quality item. People don’t feel content from a shopping trip without bags and bags of things. You only have to witness people leaving Primark to see this. The high-street is giving people what they want but it’s hard not to sceptical of a ‘designer’ collaboration when the designer no longer works there.

  24. It seems as though many commenters have lost the plot. This is by no means an attack on socioeconomic status. I can boil the socioeconomic element down to this- better to buy two MMM pieces and keep them for 10 then to buy 15 MMMxH&M pieces and keep them for 6th months.

    The “poor and middle class” aren’t benefitting from this system, the rich are…

    Maxwell from United States
  25. Fashion design students especially should read this article. I am from the ‘old school’ – I love a well-made garment that will last a long time. Fast fashion is similar to an addiction – the corporations have it all figured out!

    Kay Enyart from Los Angeles, CA, United States
  26. I think we need to be careful here not to throw a blanket over the word ‘collaborations’ and discard the entire concept of a ‘collaboration’ as being no good.
    There are valid arguments for and against here.
    I am the Creative Director of a luxury department store group in Australia and I use ‘collaborations’ to support our local designers here.
    The local designers need to be able to sell their collections the larger mass market retail chains who give them volume I cannot.
    However they all want to also sell in our stores. They believe, right or wrong that our stores deliver a platform for their brands that is aspirational and ultimately beneficial.
    I cannot ask the young designer (nor would I)to stop suppling the chain who provides them the orders which allow them to continue their passion. So our solution is a ‘collaboration’. A seasonal collection by the young designer for our stores that it exclusive to us, they can experiment with a broader variety of fabrics that would normally be out of reach, explore new ideas and have the collection run through by experienced buyers at development stage who give them commercial guidance on their creative concepts.
    The ‘collaboration’ then also allows a person who aspires to shop in our stores but for economic reasons cannot the opportunity to do so.
    The result of this ‘collaboration’ is:
    -A happy mass market chain of stores
    -A thrilled to pieces young designer
    -A proud me
    -A person who normally cannot, having the experience of shopping in a luxury department store.
    So I guess my point is please dont throw the notion of a Designer Collaborations out the window because used properly they are good things.

  27. this was an extremely well-written article. i was very impressed… until i got to the end, where you basically say “so if you want to buy cheap designer clothing, thats fine by me, but you’re not stylish or cool for it.”

    quality, hand-made clothes cost money. I still fail to see what’s wrong with the “democratization of fashion.” “fashion,” as you define it, is inherently elite. it superficially keys others into your class and status.

    cheap designer clothing is a form of insurrection of this tradition.

    you come off as nostalgic, priviliged and naive–wishing for the return of the good old days, when there was a clear, superficial distinction between classes. you’re only so many points away from arguing that “people should dress to their station; unpriviliged people should dress cheaply.”

    you come off as jealous that your once-exclusive designers now sell to the masses.

    designers, and the businessmen and women who run their brand, want to make money. they are also ambitious, and want to make a mark on the world. no one but the most priviliged bourgeoisie would honestly care about this superficial argument; this fashion pseudo-philosophy.

    noah from Montreal, QC, Canada
  28. Fine words, great article, its almost like all that I was thinking, and couldn’t put together in my own words was written here today.
    as a new designer label, I am constantly trying to think of ways I can survive against this massive high street “cooperation’s” it saddens me to think that people can be won over buy such passing and fleet ideas…I really hope that through this article the is a sense of a new beginning for “fashion” and creation, and maybe this is the beginning of the end of fast fashion.

  29. Firstly, I completely agree that designer-high street collaborations present a false image that they are selling original and innovative designs, and that the people who buy into them should be aware that these collections have little or nothing to do with the designers who’s names are brandished across them.

    However I find your definition of ‘fashion’;

    “‘Fashion,’ in the sense now being co-opted by the high street, used to mean designer fashion; that is, something made by a creator who puts care and thought into what he or she is creating. It means carefully crafted designs made with attention to detail and aesthetic sensibility.”

    outdated and uninformed, have you considered the well-establsihed bubble-up model as an origin of fashion, or the more recent trickle-across model proposed by Malcomn Barnard? It seems you are presenting a rather elitist view that only high-end designer clothing, with high price-points can be considered ‘real fashion’, in fact throughout the article you often use pricing as a qualifier to describe what is or isn’t fashion. Fashion can come from lots of different place, not just the top-down model you propose and pricing has nothing to do with it.

    Tallulah from Walsall, Walsall, United Kingdom
  30. Like Couture Counselor already said, what an incredibly arrogant and self-congratulatory article. I can’t help but laugh at all the blabber on “real fashion” and “real taste”. BoF tends to post excellent articles, but this one is truly unfortunate.

  31. Yesterday was the presell of this collaboration in Mexico City. The giant H&M has arrived to my country, and all the people here are mad about it. I like how you express this uncomfortable situation and concern about the cultural hints that a new generation has taken. I am part of it and I think it is inherent in a designer to design and make clothes, that´s what they do, and as a fashion student I am aware of what it takes to make fashion.

    The markets, in a third world like mine, can´t behave as a European market, in Mexico we´re still dressing by necessity even though the fast fashion retailers have recently arrived (H&M, FOREVER 21, GAP…) and if we didn´t have a fashion culture of shopping, now a days we are a vulnerable target to be educated.

    I am not against the fashion collaborations, but as you said we have to know what in fact is a fashion collaboration between a mass retailer and high fashion labels. Because we are not owning an original piece but it is a good way to create a network with the design team, the brand and the consumers, avoiding the obvious and shameless copying of the designer´s creations and recreate it, sell it and said it is from Zara. It is a sort of piracy I guess.

  32. It appears undignified that the Maison has to, or wants to rather, to collaborate with H&M on this collection. Might I add, if it was up to Martin himself, would he have decided to agree to this collaborative venture? Chris, (who I assume is from Harrolds), no one is crucfiying the notion of a designer collaboration, but when your personal integrity is misplaced, and contorted because what you produce is mass-manufactured, how does that sit well with what the ‘young designer’ has been taught at school? Truthfully, these clothes do not hold any significant cultural significance, merely a marketing by-product to sell to individuals who cannot afford the Maison’s mainline, and substitute it with a potpourri. It is quite a mischievous and deviant ploy to attract customers to buy the collaboration – a not to dissimilar marketing ploy was the recent Volkswagen Golf TVC, customers who were dismayed when they were given the only choice of buying a faux-Golf.

    Stores and boutiques would not survive on this concept, but really, can you imagine yourself having the incessant inclination to shop? The smart ones make a mental note (whether it be seeking a lookbook and or online research), then save up for them.

    Mike from Revesby, New South Wales, Australia
  33. It’s not fashion that is the issue; its consumerism what Pasolini said over 40 years ago: “The values of western consumerist culture manipulate people transforming their consciousness in the worst way by establishing values, which are alienating and false. The values of consumerism which Marx called the genocide of the real living cultures of the past. People today are cadavers; they are shadows of their former selves who continue to exist biologically only to feed their Consumerist hedonism”.

  34. I can only and will only agree with Mr Rabkin’s article. Being myself a young label, competing with companies such as H&M is a daily fight as customers will think of their purse more than thinking of quality and craftmanship behind a product. Thank you for pointing out what most of the fashion industry thinks.

    Francesca Marotta from Taviers, 07, Belgium
  35. I don’t think it’s so black and white…There has long been the high and the low end in fashion, just as there has been haute cuisine and fast food. One really cannot survive without the other, for different reasons, and yes, they are two very different animals, serving two very different functions, but of course they have to be. Only an idiot would really believe they are getting the same garment for $15 at H & M that they would at Margiela proper. If anything, fast fashion is only operating as the big department stores used to before the 1960′s, when designer ready-to-wear started emerging in a big way. But back then it was more transparent. The stores made deals with the couture houses to copy their designs and to sell at a much lower price…they even used to put it in the ads (touting ‘Copies of Paris Originals’) and magazines such as Life and Time would show a Dior couture gown and then caption which department store is selling the copy for $6.95. So fast fashion is nothing new, it’s just gotten bigger and more organised…it even still pays the designers for copying them through these so-called ‘collaborations’… so really, the fast-fashion model is just a re-heated OLD model in most respects.
    What’s REALLY worrying is our attitude to disposability and not just in fashion….look at the way we view technology and gadgets. We toss them like a three year old that’s bored with their toy, just to buy another one we don’t really need. The lines at all those Apple stores are WAY longer than the ones at H & M. (And those people are way bigger fashion victims than anyone else – it’s just their ‘fashion’ is the latest thing with an ‘I’ slapped on it. Don’t tell me that they are all there because they really appreciate and need that I-gadget! They are there because, like good little sheep, they are buying what they are told to buy.) But this behaviour with gadgets always gets a pass. We value very little anymore, and therefore, things aren’t made as well anymore…It’s got NOTHING to do with snobbery or elitism. That’s missing the point entirely. It was about appreciating what you had, even if that was very little. ( but then, one didn’t need much when the quality was so good and the product lasted.) I keep hearing that there will someday be a backlash against this disposable mindset (‘fast fashion fatigue’ was how one article put it). I personally don’t see it happening anytime soon, but it would be nice.

  36. …It also isn’t so cut and dried.Even though the fast fashion model has been around in some form or another, it hasn’t always been so succesful. People forget what happened to Halston back in 1983, when he launched a collection for JC Penney. Most of the high-end stores who carried his label dropped it immediately and he was forced out of his own company and could no longer design under his own name. ( He spent the rest of his short life unsuccessfully trying to regain control of his name.) Nowadays, Halston’s JC Penney line would be celebrated as a marketing coup. So even though it’s always been around, it hasn’t always been the huge success it is today.

  37. “Irresponsible consumer behavior” ..? The good thing about ‘democratization’ is that it gives market participants the freedom to choose. What Eugene deplores are the marketing choices of certain fashion brands. He is upset that houses which previously had a positioning centered on exclusivity, prestige and/or sophistication are now choosing to dip into the mass market to potentially reap incremental profits and/or notoriety. Eugene – Don’t be upset, just vote with your feet. Move on to a brand that corresponds better to your aspirations and definition of sophistication. The interesting question being raised from a brand strategy perspective is if many of these fashion houses have become so greedy for growth that they jeopardize their long-term viability as premium image purveyors. We call it the challenge of “Longing and Belonging”. If you are too close to what people know, expect and do, you ‘burst the bubble,’ undo the mystique around your brand and lower its aspiration value. If you are too removed, you don’t sell a lot. We discuss this subject in detail on our blog http://masstoclass.wordpress.com/

  38. I find this elitist. How can you seriously generalise anyone that buys into the collection as a fast fashion-but-not-really-fashion buyer? Thats completely unfair. That little warning at the end was just patronising. I apologise I can’t buy £800 avantgarde dresses from his collection, but I find the idea of a deconstructed jacket or a dress with three sleeves pretty amazing; of course I will look at the materials used and try things on to see if they stand the test of time. But to tar everyone with the same brush?

    Kaya from Hemel Hempstead, Hertford, United Kingdom
  39. Isaac and Target was the first designer collaboration. He did limited edition capsules before it grew into a partnership. Hard to read an article that starts with a glaring mistake.

    jessica from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  40. I couldn’t agree with this piece more, real style is not flaunting a label or a logo or a watered down version of a couture legend. There are so many small purveyors of one of a kind or limited edition work that lets you express your own style and need our support in this economy to stay creative in the face of big box fashion. Shop your favorite indie designer and support their vision. D

  41. I understand the premise of the article and in some ways agree. I was disappointed MMM collaborated with H&M, as the commes de garcons collaboration was a cheaply made disaster. Nevertheless, I went to see it on the release date. The store in store concept was really done rather well. For the most part, the garments were excellently produced. Granted, the fabrics are nothing like the originals, but the construction is worlds better than most H&M merchandise. The rather adventurous reproductions of past items was sometimes questionable. I doubt the public will be taken with an oversize keyring necklace (they weren’t). The H&M sales people tried admirably hard, though figuring out the sideways dress was understandably a challenge.
    Was it done for money? Probably. But at least the merchandising was spot on, right down to the engraved wood hangers. I admit the fabrics on the mens shirts were rather on the cheap side, but some of the coats were certainly reasonably constructed with decent fabric for $200. Will it have the eternal charm and quality of the original? No. But it is nice. In some sense, if you can get the public to accept a lucite heel shoe, or a glove evening bag, you have accomplished something. The artisanal MMM items were usually fairly affordable (in contrast to the elaborate unwearable artisanal pieces of today). So the H&M collaboration may still be in the same spirit.

    feralCoton from Richardson, TX, United States
  42. oh god!! another article stating that us poor not-rich people should not be able to afford designer pieces.. even in a high-street collaboration form!
    Hey miss Eugene! wanna give me some money so that I can afford real designer clothes???? Because that would be lovely. And can we please stop taking everything in such a serious manner. Why can’t this stuck-up big shots in fashion just accept the fact that we.. on a limited budget are more than happy to be able to Afford this “assembly line knockoffs”!!

    valencia from Bangalore, Karnātaka, India
  43. Your article is extremely interesting but I am not sure I agree in all points. Regarding the HM collaborations, I am familiar with only with Marni and now MMM. I bought many pieces from both collections because I loved the design, the quality and I could afford them. What I love about fashion is imagination, design, quality, attention to detail and what I hate is the price.

  44. I understand the writers perspectives but it is inherently flawed. Is it enough to be critical of the premise of high fashion designers for mass market retail? Really, what are the underlying conditions of the retail economy? The answer is complicated because it requires further questioning to grasp an understanding of our relationship to that economy.

    The crucial thing about these kinds of collaborations is that they offer and propose an additional expression of what a house or a designer is capable of. It is significant that these designers (who are usually amongst the very best) can find a purpose for their designs within different contexts. It is an entirely different discussion to try and pin down the aesthetic merits of the high street or of high fashion for that matter.

    The Margiela H&M effort is an amazing moment in fashion… Not for one of the either sides of the low-to-high fashion spectrum but for the house itself. MMM has always taken from its surroundings, repositioning simple elements in order for us to experience new relationships to objects and garments. At H&M Maison Martin Margiela has found a new expression to offer and the results are completely generous, and this one of the ways fashion works.

    Jules from Vancouver, BC, Canada
  45. I feel like it’s not fair to make a general criticism that all whom had bought into this capsule would immediately dispose the items in short phase of time after consumption. I personally have kept all my CDG pieces, and I can say in terms of quality, they did not just “fall apart” and needs to be disposed in a matter of months.

    I very much agree with the purist concept of how clothes should be treated well and respected for its craftsmanship and quality. But honestly, let’s not try to kid ourselves, because as soon as the era of Ready to Wear took over couture (or even haute), people had already evolved that mentality of fast fashion in some sense. And to be honest that pains me, to see brands like juicy couture, using the word that meant hand made and immaculate quality is an utter rubbish.
    If you walk into any store, it’s not longer about how the items are made, but who made them. Not all high fashion label maintains its craft and are sewn together by a team of altier in the house (companies that do will cost you more than a few lifetime to buy a piece of it), but rather outsourced production/manufacturers in yes, assembly lines reproducing the similar patterns together. Hence, it’s called RTW for a reason.

    As culture and perspectives of excessive consumerism continues to rise, it is inevitable that brands like the “funeral era of mariegla” have to take its toll and turn to the business for the masses to sustain. Else it will deem to suffer similar states such like Lacroix, for they can have all the creativity and respect for the craft in the world, but if it does not operates when in the finance department, it can just wind down.

    I got a couple of pieces from this collection, but as usual I veered towards the more classic looking white pieces which I can see as a very well staple in my closet, and at the same time owning a collectors piece item.

    Parsons Student from New York, NY, United States
  46. diesel has been running margiela brand into the toilet since martin quit in 2009, they clearly don’t get AT ALL what the label once stood for, and this cross-promo shows it and is so awful and tacky (they paid Kanye West to show up at the launch wearing it!) this must be the nail in the coffin

    to Andraz the photographer – if they really did appropriate your image without buying it – by all means ask for a fee. Diesel is famously corrupt and a major bully – if you used one of their images without permission in a commercial context you can be sure they’d have their lawyers all over you

    MBen from Montegaldella, Veneto, Italy
  47. Jessica… Isaac for Target actually wasn’t the first designer collaboration … some European (mostly UK) department stores had designer collaborations (mainly capsule collections, granted) throughout the late ’80s and ’90s… albeit on a much smaller level. Even H&M (which of course, is a European company) were pretty late to the party, though admittedly they are doing it on a much grander scale than others have done in the past. And as I mentioned before, Halston collaborated with JC. Penney back in the early 1980′s, though not as succesfully. Target wasn’t the first, by any means.

    Bigeetah from Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia
  48. I’d just satisfied with this collaboration bewteen H&M with MMM. But your essay make me reconsider of it.
    I also think Margiela would not agree with fast fashion’s policy and systems as H&M and other brands are doing. Thank you for giving good point of view.

    jiwoo, chang from Seoul, Seoul, Korea, Republic of
  49. Wonderfully articulated article. I’ve always felt this way about the whole ‘democratisation of fashion’, and the diluted, disposable aesthetic promoted in these collaborations.

    The Sage Stylista from Australia
  50. Someone said Isaac/Target was the first collab. Nope, as someone else pointed out, Halston did it in 1983 with JC Penney. Another one I’d like to point out that came a little later – Kenzo did a collaborative line with The Limited back in the 80s also.

    Karen from Los Angeles, CA, United States
  51. “Will it have the eternal charm and quality of the original? No. But it is nice.”
    Which originals – are we talking about here?? This is fashion -applied art and not an art peace which is a unique peace. Even the high-end “original” MMM makes a hudge production, and hundreds of peaces but for the elite. SO WHAT IS THE OROGONAL HERE – ONLY THE CONCEPT. A reproduction caries the concept, if it is made with decent good materials – than this is what counts. The concept of making reproductions is great, it is like making this designs to live again, eternal. The concept spreads as a virus. Genious idea! This is making the mind of a high end designer eternal for the mass. It would have been a completely different point if the brand MMM would have made special designs for HM…

    Iv from Vienna, Bundesland Wien, Austria
  52. This is way too subjective. Fashion is clothing, and clothing is merely fashion. What this author is talking about is DESIGNER fashion, and attention to detail. Um, isnt there a word for that? Haute Couture?? Who cares if someone is buying something from H&M that, may, indeed, have been a collaboration effort? People are buying this clothing because maybe they either a) support the designer b) actually like the clothes, and dont regard it as ‘cheap quality’ and c) because its within their budget. I’d like this author to list some “fashion brands”, if companies like H&M arent considered ‘fashion’. Not everyone lives on 5th avenue, or Rodeo Drive. Get a grip

    robert from Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada
  53. Since when is the definition of “fashion” related to the art of designer couture?

    “Fashion” is not creation, it’s replication on a trending scale.

  54. Mr Rabkin you make some valid points and have perhaps voiced what many of us do not want to say. However I think your argument is perhaps a losing one!

    Because one can say the same about the bastardization of the content in music and books. Today 50 Shades of Grey or the Twilight series sells way more than a J.M Coetzee book. No one cares if Coetzee agonized over a sentence for hours or that Beethoven spent days mulling over the perfect note.

    It is sadly the way of the world today. No matter where we look, the big box-office hits, our newspapers, the blogging world, content and well thought out opinions are not as important as quick, up to the minute one-sentence opinions. We are a people who crave quantity over quality.

    And I do believe this is because commercialization (mass appeal) and hence your top line/bottom line is what matters. So if cool collaborations is coveted by the customer because they want a quick fix of fashion then we will have more of them.I still grimace at the results of the Lanvin and H&M collaboration which sold out in days and guess what all we did was buy cheap tulle and polyester dresses.

    There is hope though. We humans like the economy are cyclical in nature. We hated the dresses our mums made but maybe my child will want me to have her dresses made, bespoke if you will.

    Something has to give because this is not sustainable or at least I like to believe so. Perhaps we will get fed up and demand for more not just from our designers but from all segments of society?! Until then I will enjoy the spoils of collaborations like Duro Olowu for JCP.

    Divya, founder of ShopGodt from Philadelphia, PA, United States
  55. I agree that fashion should not be included by mass production or clothing more brandy is not fashion and not enough to be more stylist.There is a new platform to exhibit your style through Social media please visit.

    Claire from Ankara, Ankara Province, Turkey
  56. not to be a party popper, but if we zoom out and look at this phenomenon in a grander view, it is simply a matter of demand and supply. If a market can sustain a long period of time, actually longer than internet (25 years), then it proves the function of mass-produced “fashion” is satisfying a huge range of customers who are seeking or wanting to obtain a piece of the fashion’s inner circle coolness. The idea of on sale and bargained designer label is not new and as much as designer labels wants to remain high and luxury, only 10% of the population could afford to own “fashion & luxury”. Now, lets examine a good business/fashion model in the fashion retail industry-Zara, a mid-high level brand with sophisticated designed elements, modern silhouette, quality fabrication and some-what affordable price range is filling in the gap between high fashion and cheap clothes. So in another word, what the fashion industry really need is not polar opposite of two extremes-cheap and fine, but something more diversified with varies price range and design selections that allow customers from different income range can acquire.

    ANNIE YANG from New York, NY, United States
  57. Time to pull out the fashion history books! Copying designers is certainly not a new concept (e.g. the beginning of the 20th century when department stores sent buyers to purchase garments in Paris in order to copy and reproduce them in the U.S., for example). Fashion has always been about the love of the designer and always will be. Designers would be ignorant to not pay attention to their influence in the mass market. Mr. Margiela should be applauded for being in-tune with reality!

    Lindsay Mayer from Germantown, TN, United States