Stella McCartney collection hits the high street

Fashion-lovers were expected to make a mad rush on mass market clothing retailer Hennes and Mauritz (H and M) on Thursday when a new collection by hip and trendy designer Stella McCartney goes on sale in stores in 22 countries.

This is the second time the Swedish chain has teamed up with a famous designer to create a special autumn collection, after last year’s pairing with German designer Karl Lagerfeld.

McCartney’s very feminine collection, retailed at a fraction of her normal couture price and featuring elegant yet relaxed styles, will go on sale at 400 shops across Europe and the United States.

The concept of affordable luxury has become increasingly widespread in the fashion world, with top couture designers frequently pairing up with mass retailers to make high fashion more accessible or lending their name to a line of sportswear products.

Last month, a high street retailer entered the world of high fashion for the first time when British budget clothing chain Topshop put on a funky catwalk show at the London Fashion Week, earning a roar of approval from buyers, celebrities and fashion experts.

The recipe has proven wildly successful for H and M.

Last year, the launch of the Lagerfeld collection was a huge hit with shoppers, prompting a mad rush on H and M’s stores. Long queues formed outside the shops and the clothes sold out within hours.

However, the collection was also heavily criticised for catering mainly to small-sized women, with few larger sizes in stock, and Lagerfeld himself sparked an uproar when he commented that he didn’t want to see large-sized women in his designs.

Despite the controversy, the designs helped boost H and M’s November 2004 sales by 24 percent, the group said.

This year, McCartney’s creations, including slim-fitting cigarette-leg jeans with ankle zippers, wrap-around silky dresses, trenchcoats and tailored suits, will be sold at 400 stores, compared to 500 shops for Lagerfeld’s collection, as the retailer narrows its focus to big cities.

While H and M appears delighted with its choice of the young, hip and popular McCartney – daughter of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney – as its designer this year, the advertising campaign for the collection has been marked by controversy.

British supermodel Kate Moss was initially hired to be the face of the McCartney designs, but was fired in September, before the campaign started, when a British tabloid published grainy photographs of her apparently taking cocaine.

H and M quickly scrapped the Moss pictures and replaced her with Italian 22-year-old model Mariacarla Boscono, whom it says “embodies the collection”.

Founded in 1947 by Swede Erling Persson and still family-run, H and M has more than 1,100 stores worldwide. Its biggest market is in Germany, where it has 282 shops.