TOKYO, Japan and STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Some H&M collaborations of the past (Roberto Cavalli, Viktor & Rolf) were more memorable for the pre-launch buzz and subsequent hysteria around the world than they were for the clothes themselves. So ever since Rei Kawakubo announced her upcoming Comme des Garcons collection for H&M, fashionistas have been wondering whether Kawakubo will bring some of the best of Japanese avant-garde fashion to the masses without diluting her signature style.
Well the wait is almost over. W Magazine wrote about the collaboration in its September issue and on Friday, Fashionista.com posted the first photos of the complete collection. In typical lightening speed, the blogosphere has been passing judgment and at first glance, it seems many CDG fans are underwhelmed by Kawakubo's efforts, while mainstream customers don't quite get it.
Over at Cafe Mode, France's pre-eminent fashion blog (which is now owned by the French daily, L'Express), blogger Geraldine Dormoy says that she will show up on the day the collection debuts, but mostly to see who will actually be buying the clothes. That's not a ringing endorsement either.
It makes one wonder why Kawakubo decided to do this collaboration at all. It was always going to be tough to translate CDG's directional, deconstructed aesthetic for mass market tastes. And, since the brand's many loyal fans are already willing to drop some serious money for a piece of Comme's coolness and since there are already more accessibly priced Comme des Garcons pieces available for those with tighter budgets, the target market for this collection is unclear.
Could the basis for the collaboration be publicity and brand building? Roberto Cavalli worked with H&M to build brand awareness amongst younger customers and attract private equity investment. Similarly, Viktor & Rolf's designed for H&M to establish themselves in the high-street fashion consciousness (and they recently parlayed this into an investment from Diesel's Renzo Rosso). Kawakubo, on the other hand, is notorious for being reclusive and media-shy, and it is unlikely that she is looking for investment (as her business is self-financed and she seems unwilling to pander to private investors).
That leaves the design fee. In addition to the massive PR boost, Stella McCartney reportedly also earned a huge design fee for designing for H&M. Could Kawakubo be looking for some quick cash injection from H&M to maintain her financial independence?
The real answer probably has more to do with Kawakubo's knack for collaborating with others. She recently unveiled a collaboration with Louis Vuitton, and she has built her own collective of designers under the CDG banner, including Junya Watanabe and Tao Kurihara.
In any case, it's all speculation at this stage as to how the collection will perform, but as more and more 'hi-low' collaborations are announced and the novelty has begun to wear off, designers should be very clear about the objective of such collaborations, and ensure that the rewards are commensurate with the risks. We'll see how it all turns out when CDG for H&M his the floors in November.
UPDATE: IMAGES FROM FASHIONISTA.COM REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF LAFORCE+STEVENS ON BEHALF OF H&M.
Photo courtesy of W Magazine.