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The lowdown on H&M's designer deals

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The lowdown on H&M's designer deals
09:57 CEST+02:00
Swedish fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz has seen brand awareness soar in recent years with its one-off offerings of designer clobber. The Local's Victoria Hussey delves into the brand's past partnerships and what the future holds for its cheap and chic collaborations.

Elbow-bashing consumers, social media bursting at the seams and queues bigger than those for Håkan Hellström concert tickets can only mean one thing: a new H&M designer collaboration. Over the years, the retail superpower has partnered with twelve top fashion designers including Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garçons, Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Versace.

The always uncompromising Karl Lagerfeld was the first high-fashion designer to crossover into high-street with H&M back in 2004, although it's fair to say, it was a shaky start. The collection was revered by fashion editors but the German-born Chanel designer caused controversy by suggesting his designs were not intended for 'larger-sizes'. He later told German magazine Stern that he would never work with H&M again after they failed to produce enough of his designs to fulfil an expectant audience.

Subsequent collections from British designer Stella McCartney and an accessories range from Vogue Japan's editor-at-large, Anna Della Russo, hit bum notes. It appeared the retail group failed to promote the offerings with as much gusto as Lagerfeld's and were consequently down on bringing in the punters.

IN PICTURES: Top H&M designer collaborations

Roberto Cavalli and Viktor and Rolf certainly stirred up a pre-launch storm but neither delivered on quality and simply failed to live up to design expectations.

Despite the negative results, Dutch design duo Viktor and Rolf apparently earned investment from Diesel and holding group OTB owner Renzo Rosso after the PR boost gained from their 2005 H&M collection.

With the potential for increased brand awareness, possibility of investment and large design fees (reported to be in the millions of dollars) it's not difficult to understand why fashion's biggest names are happy to join forces with the Swedish brand.

Maison Martin Margiela – the Belgian design house with its all-white labels, reticence and careful design – a designer's designer, did the unthinkable and partnered with H&M in 2012.

Many were excited; others were horrified; their favourite toy had been stolen by a bunch of young, nerdy high-street kids. Either way, the collection is not considered one of the retailer's most successful partnerships.

As a student at the time this particular collection came out, I laughed at the thought that this was fashion for the masses. At 1,799 kronor for a pair of invisible wedge ankle-boots, owning anything from this collection would have been do-able had I not eaten for six weeks. Cheap in comparison to a designer's mainline collection, sure, but if this is 'democratization of fashion', I'm not sure I'll bother voting.

And it appears I'm not alone. Big sales figures do not always follow big collaborations. During the 2011 financial year, the H&M group saw total profits fall by 3 percent in the same year that Versace, one of the most hyped and worldwide collections, launched its spring/summer range with the retailer. Profits rose again in the first part of 2013 but designer collaboration was not the cause; its last was with Maison Martin Margiela in October 2012.

Perhaps Parisian designer Isabel Marant will bring in the crowds and boost sales. Her collection for Hennes is due to be launched in November, despite an announcement reaching customer's ears in June. Five months for excited customers to stew in anticipation.

"Don't go online, it might crash," says one H&M customer advisor. Good advice considering the company's website buckled under the pressure of millions of impatient buyers wanting to claim a token of Versace/H&M in 2011.

When asked if Marant's range will be as big as its predecessors, another H&M representative suggested it might not be.

"It's been a while since we've had a crazy rush," she adds and insists big queues are expected so its best to get there early. Considering this next collection will only be available in 250 stores worldwide (out of around 3,000), with only H&M's biggest stores getting the goods, increased exclusivity may mean more public attention, but is unlikely to yield record-busting sales.

Add to this, the fact Marant has a lower profile amongst high-street shoppers than Chanel or Christian Dior mean H&M will have to rely on its younger, impressionable audience to buy into 'brand designer' as well as its more die-hard fashion fans.

Many of whom would have been impressed to see H&M becoming an honorary member of the fashion gang in February 2013 by showing their autumn/winter collection at Paris Fashion Week, their first catwalk outing for eight years. The show, which included garments costing as little as 99 Swedish kronor, took place at the Musée Rodin, a venue normally reserved for fashion royalty such as Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.

Elitist fashion experts may like to believe H&M's crossover into high-fashion is about to end; Paris Fashion Week may have been a one-off, a friendly gesture.

But it seems unlikely that H&M will give up a venture that has played a part in growing the company from a European clothes store to a truly global brand. With stores now in Asia, America and, from 2014, Australia, H&M's access to millions of cash-ready customers with a love for fast-fashion is quickly widening.

Victoria Hussey

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