The world of fashion can be a divisive place. For years, the high street has been met with a condescending glare, while the luxury of high-end has been reserved exclusively for those that can afford to dig within their 2.5 Chanels. Yet recently, a new trend has emerged, the designer-collaboration seeking to bridge the gap between the high-street and the high-end.
Somewhat ironically, attempts to defuse the fashion-world division have been met with disunited opinions. For every bridge builder there is a burner, those who condemn designer-collaborations for sacrificing high quality for low prices and for costing designers their price attracting prestige. The announcement of H&M’s latest union with avant-garde fashion house, Maison Martin Margiela, has done little to stem such debates. Can such contrasting worlds ever collide or will collaboration always come at a cost?
For Margaret van den Bosch, creative advisor at H&M, the combination of “the contrasting universes of the two houses” will “give fashion lovers around the world the chance to wear special pieces by Margiela,” in what she claims will be a “memorable fashion moment.” No stranger to collaboration, this is the latest in a string of designer- high street fusions created by the Swedish retailer. H&M fans have queued in their thousands to buy a bright and tight piece of Versace. They have waited impatiently to get their feet in a pair of celebrity adored Jimmy Choos. With such designers already under their (inevitably high waisted) belts, it is no wonder H&M are confident in their latest line’s success. However, Margiela arguably lacks the instantaneous name recognition of its predecessors. In the absence of celebrity branding, will the Margiela for H&M collaboration still secure such mass appeal?
Designer-collaborations aim to provide high fashion pieces at a fraction of the price, making the iconic works of well-known designers accessible to all. Margiela for H&M, due to be released this month, features over 100 pieces with prices starting from £19.99. Some items, for example a black oversized peacoat, will set you back £179.99. However, this is much kinder on the bank balance than the main-line equivalent, in which four figure prices are seemingly commonplace.
Commendable though this affordability may seem, there remain many who believe that designer-quality cannot be achieved without the designer price tag. Indeed, representatives for Margiela admit that in creating for the high-street, “there were some compromises on materials and price.” Collaborations are frequently attacked for being unrealistic and impractical in their aim to deliver designer to the masses. Low-cost and subsequently low quality collections are seen as a poor mainline equivalent, threatening to cost designers their high-end reputations and elitist clientele. Denying rumours of a union with H&M himself, Tom Ford encapsulates this view explaining, “what excites me now is the very best: the best stitching, the best fabric, the best quality. And unfortunately, or fortunately, that does tend to cost money.”
High quality production may carry a high figure fee. However, high quality ideas may still have a place on the high street. In bringing Margiela to the public, its representatives claim that “everything has been created from the original sketches and cut as they were originally seen on the catwalk.” Refusing to dilute its edgy designs, Margiela for H&M features the exaggerated volumes, asymmetry and quirkiness that so clearly dominate its mainline. H&M’s most adventurous collaboration to date, this line brings innovative and original designs from the catwalk to the clothes rail. However, unlike previous collaborations designed with H&M’s youthful audience in mind, by compromising production but not design, Margiela may be left with fewer potential buyers than originally anticipated.
Speaking of the collaboration’s high street relevance, Van den Bosch assures “oversizing and the hand-craft look…are…in fashion at the moment, so it’s really not so strange.” However, the students of Nottingham would beg to differ. Despite a fondness for wedged-heels made of plexiglass and a few examples of tamer tailoring, most students were left confused by the collection’s eccentric twist on everyday items. Third year Economics student, Catherine S, speaks for many as she claims, “Part of the reason people wear designer is because its unavailable to the majority…I don’t think I would buy designer clothing sold in H&M unless I really liked a certain piece of clothing or I had heard of the designer.” Without the celebrity appeal or easy wear-ability of H&M’s past collections, it remains to be seen whether this design-collaboration has gone too designer to retain relevance on the high-street.
Elizabeth H. Neep