The history of H&M’s best designer collaborations
H&M’s annual designer gig is one of the loudest chimes of the fashion clock. Striking as significantly as the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the Met Ball, the high-street hotshot’s designer collaborations, from Comme des Garçons (above) to Lanvin, are high profile and haute property. Prince performed for Versace; Baz Luhrmann directed Erdem’s campaign film and “Balmainia” broke the internet.
If Erdem Moralioglu was the “poetic” addition to the Swedish retailer’s label lineage in 2017, and 2018 brought Jeremy Scott for Moschino’s riot of colour into the fold, then Giambattista Valli’s edition will raise the stakes once more. With Kendall Jenner, Chiara Ferragni, Bianca Brandolini, Chris Lee [Li Yuchun], H.E.R., and Ross Lynch debuting the first drop of the collection on the amfAR red carpet – and a full collection launch scheduled for November 7 – it’s already had a cracking start.
H&M hysteria first kicked off in 2004 when Karl Lagerfeld (above) cruised in to create a capsule collection in his own stately image. Sales surged for £15 (AU$28) Lagerfeld silhouette T-shirts, stiff-collared shirts, skinny jeans, black ribbon chokers and sequin jackets. Between 1,500 and 2,000 pieces sold every hour in New York’s Fifth Avenue store, according to , and the whole global collection sold out almost entirely in a day. “To be honest I thought it was a one-off,” H&M’s creative advisor, Ann-Sofie Johansson, told about the Lagerfeld collaboration in 2016. “We wanted to do something special for Christmas, so that’s why it came about, but then it became such a huge success that we thought well maybe we should do it one more time and it just kept going.” H&M subsequently rolled out two designer collaborations a year until 2013, when it was pared down to one.
Hunting for cut-price designer cuts, queues of customers snake around stores from London to Tokyo, hoping for the chance to own a piece of Stella McCartney (2005), Viktor & Rolf (2006), Roberto Cavalli (2007), Comme des Garçons (2008) or Lanvin (2010), to name a few of H&M’s collaborators. “I decided to give H&M our Lanvin secrets, the patterns, everything,” Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz told of the collaboration (above)“In the end, you really only have what you give away.”
Then the frenzy died down; consumers were suffering from “collaboration fatigue”, due to Topshop and Target also launching designer diffusion lines. Hit, too, by the financial crash of 2008, Jimmy Choo’s 2009 H&M collaboration (above) saw then-designer Tamara Mellon’s steep stilettos and caged boots totter through the high-street store comparatively quietly. Matthew Williamson made a few waves the same year, but with his Sienna Miller-endorsed kaftan days behind him, his bias-cut butterfly dresses made little buzz.
Versace’s 2011 collection (above) – with its shiny gold minidresses, black latex bandanas, tropical-print trousers and belted leather macs – was so successful, however, it crashed the H&M website within minutes, and earned itself a second season.
Some lines were simply fashionable, appealing only to a niche market: Marni’s graphic prints and statement jewellery for 2012 (above), for example, and Maison Martin Margiela’s ripped jeans and trompe l’oeil bodysuits the same year. Isabel Marant’s line in 2013 was as understated as one of the French label’s laissez-faire, ultra-cool customers, with her simple grey sweatshirts and fringed suede boots.
Alexander Wang whipped things up again in 2014 (above), with a timely athleisure collection of hoodies, baseball shirts and boxing gloves. His launch party saw Missy Elliott live-streamed across the internet. And then came the Balmain army. Kylie Jenner and Rihanna championed Olivier Rousteing’s collection of ornate, high-octane dresses from the social-media sidelines – and Gigi Hadid walked the 2015 show.
Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon were quick to follow in the gold-toe-capped Balmain boots that came before them. For 2016 – with a new purchasing limit and timed queuing system in place – their rollout saw zebra-print leggings, tiger-print sweaters and leopard-print rara skirts – and a campaign featuring Iman (above) and Chloë Sevigny. The site crashed the first morning.
2017’s Erdem collection (above) was a romantic collection of Victoriana white blouses, silk dresses and wildflower blooms. What persuaded the designer to step out of his east London atelier and on to the high street? “I said I never would,” he told at the time. “It was kind of a rite of passage for all of the designers that I started with that you worked with high-street brands. I just never found the reasoning to do it. I never felt that I would learn something from it.” But then he changed his tune. “There was something that felt wonderfully democratic about being able to able to reach 70 different countries and create something that’s accessible to so many different people.” A designer can also reportedly earn in excess of $1 million per collection and benefits from global exposure.
Jeremy Scott’s Moschino [tv] H&M collection last year saw Gigi Hadid front the advertising campaign and Naomi Campbell hit the runway. “I hate the idea of exclusivity in fashion,” said Scott. “I’m all about the democratisation, about reaching people who can’t normally afford this stuff.”
"I have said in the past that I would never do a mass-market collection, but what intrigued me was the idea of H&M going luxury rather than Lanvin going public,” Alber Elbaz told Vogue of the collaboration (above).
It’s not always a match made in heaven, though. Lagerfeld accused H&M of snobbery for only producing a limited amount of product (a marketing ploy labelled “massclusivity”). “This was supposed to last two weeks and it’s over in 25 minutes,” he told . “I’m sorry for the clients because I like the idea that everyone could wear Lagerfeld.”
Above: Roberto Cavalli for H&M, 2007
Others see it as a path to even more exclusivity. “It will make the Balmain customer see how everyone wants Balmain but can’t have it,” Balmain’s then CEO Emmanuel Diemoz prophesied to ahead of the launch of the label’s line (above). And he was right. H&M’s website crashed and Rousteing’s £399.99 (AU$739) embellished minidress later sold for a bruising £3,300 (AU$6,094) on eBay.