H&M may be synonymous with quick buys to fill your wardrobe with staples at reasonable prices, but once a year they push the envelope in a way no other retailers has quite mastered.
In the middle of the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday night, Italian designer Giambatistta Valli announced his collaboration with the high street store, with a dazzling red carpet debut with select models and influencers like Kendall Jenner, Li Yuchun, H.E.R. and Bianca Brandolini d’Adda.
If the announcement is an indication of the collection in the works, then calling this H&M’s most ambitious designer collaboration would be a fair statement.
Traditionally, the partnerships – which have included Karl Lagerfeld, Versace and most recently Moschino – feature diluted versions of their high-end styles, strategically utilising their signature luxury trademarks with different materials and in different styles to give shoppers a designer experience without alienating their existing customers who pay thousands upon thousands for a specially made piece from any of the above fashion houses.
It’s a delicate balance and while they have dropped collections which were disappointing, like a Jimmy Choo diffusion line, they learn lessons from their losses.
Valli has, somewhat surprisingly, gone all in with his level of accessibility.
When Kendall arrived at the amfAR gala, an AIDS fundraiser at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, it was trademark Giambatistta Valli, from the pink tulle train (which is removable) to H.E.R’s delicately made lace corset with a floral embroidered tulle white skirt. It did not look like the signature piece of a diffusion line, but 100% the real deal.
It also marks a new way of doing things at H&M: the limited edition collection, which was shown informally on the red carpet, is available online on Saturday, May 25 (including Ireland) in order to whet the appetites of shoppers waiting for the full collection to drop on its global launch date on November 7, 2019.
It’s an appropriate reaction to the speed at which contemporary consumers want to shop: when a young woman sees Kendall Jenner in this on Instagram on a Thursday, she’ll want to buy it by the weekend. The concept of early sneak peeks mean little to the youth market, who have grown up in a world where immediacy is the most valuable currency.
“I am excited about this collaboration. H&M gives me the opportunity to bring my vision of style and my celebration of beauty to a wider audience,” Valli said. “The goal is to share my love for beauty and to be able to be part of everyone’s ‘happy moments’, to help create love stories all around the world.”
Valli launched his eponymous collection in 2005 and is known informally as the modern master of haute couture, a striking choice for a mass market retailer to choose as a design partner.
It’s this very choice that proves how well H&M understands not only its market, but the environment as a whole: there is a necessity to innovate and the constant pressure to excite shoppers while balancing enough brand loyalty to incentivise repeat purchases.
But every once in a while, you need to throw your customers a curve ball and this is exactly that.
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