Cheap or Chic: Designer for the High Street

A queue for Jimmy Choo. Photo by Dominic Alves, from Flickr Attribution.

















With Versace’s collection for Swedish High Street favourite H&M due to be in stores 17th November, it feels like the right time to ask: what is the real value of these collaborations? For the names involved, they clearly mean big money. H&M, since their first collaboration with a high-end designer, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, in 2004, have produced eleven of these limited edition collections, with the tenth being Versace’s. Almost all of these have been with big designer houses, – Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo and Lanvin, to name a few – with two slightly bizarre exceptions, popstars Madonna and Kylie Minogue. The arrival of these collections in stores around the world have been met with huge crowds sleeping outside malls the night before, extensive press coverage, and a general mood of crazed hype. The products have often sold out in hours, and more often than not, ended up on ebay; highly desired garments with the inflated winning bids to match.

Critical reception for the collections, however, has been mixed. Whilst Comme des Garcon’s offering, in keeping with its own avant-garde, androgynous aesthetic, was highly regarded for treading the line successfully between smart design and affordable quality, others have been critically panned, such as Roberto Cavalli’s overwhelmingly tacky leopard print and gold bling homage to himself. It seems that the brand’s image has to sit right with the budgetary constraints that a high street chain will inevitably impose on designers. With Cavalli’s over the top flashiness – a vibe that he pulls off in his own collections because of the quality of the material he uses – the resulting H&M collection was all trash and very little glam.

Nevertheless, these collections are commercially successful; why? Because they rely on the allure of the designers’ reputations. The people who dream of the day they can buy their own Lanvin gown, or Jimmy Choo pumps, or of course, drop crotch trousers designed by the genius Rei Kawakubo, are the ones who eagerly await. From the moment the collaboration is rumoured on the blogs, to when the promotional ads are released, to the day itself when they queue outside for hours and receive bemused looks from passersby for huddling together in the snow rather than hurrying home for a cup of tea (can you tell this is the voice of experience?). It is the chance to own a real slice of the high-fashion pie and to feel a little more connected to the designer’s art than just by gazing at an editorial in a magazine or pawing the real thing in a boutique and having to leave it, feeling slightly sad – and yes, also rather silly.

So whilst it can be argued that designer collaborations might be old news – a quick fix in a recession, a compromise in quality and a designer’s vision,- regardless, it is now Versace fans’ chance to grab that elusive studded leather shift dress or those palm tree print leggings. Having seen the lookbook, I must admit I am quite excited for this one; Donatella has made it a priority to stay true to “the essence of Versace”, using archived prints and design trademarks such as glossy gold buttons and chokers, and bright monochrome suits for men. Whilst to some the final products might scream garish and ridiculous, this is what Versace fans want; Versace is ridiculous and brash, and steeped in 80s and 90s nostalgia, for fun nights out, not to wear in the library. Will I see you in the queue?