Let’s rewind to 2007. It was a much simpler time, Brexit didn’t exist, Trump was minding his business and the future was looking bright. I was in my final year at university carting hefty textbooks around while writing my dissertation. I studied Marketing and knew that I wanted to specialise in fashion so I wrote my dissertation about how high street stores are using branding as a form of competitive advantage. I was fascinated by the change in the high street and how retailers started to create really credible brands.
Looking back, it was an incredibly transformative time for the high street. We had the same high street brands but it was a very, very different landscape. It wasn’t so much fast fashion as cheap fashion. The aim of the high street was to make trends accessible but this is in the age before social media and the resulting democratisation of fashion, so high street retailers were “taking inspiration” from luxury brands after their pieces hit the shop floor rather than as soon as they hit the runway.
The 90s were a much simpler time. If you wanted a new outfit, you would simply skip from shop to shop indiscriminately til you found what you were looking for. Trends were becoming accessible but they weren’t slavishly followed. I remember a whole outfit from Topshop coming in at around £70, including shoes. From the early 00s, the high street started becoming increasingly competitive and retailers started to take their branding seriously in order to stand out from a very crowded high street environment.
I think one of the most interesting branding tactics that retailers have adopted is collaborating with designers and brands. Rather than taking heavy inspiration from luxury brands, retailers began directly working with them to create a collaborative, cut-price, accessible collection.
The first brand to pioneer this was H&M with their 2004 collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld. The collaboration was projected to be on sale for WEEKS rather than days but ended up selling out in a few hours. The interesting thing about this collab is that Uncle Karl was furious and vowed never to work with H&M again. The source of his anger? H&M produced the collection in limited quantities and he wanted his clothing to be accessible by thousands of people. Conversely, he also took exception to H&M making the collection available in larger sizes, stating “what I designed was fashion for slender and slim people”. I used to be a huge fan of Karl Lagerfeld but disgusting stances like have turned me off.
H&M quickly followed up with collections with the likes of Madonna and Stella McCartney. Back then, the limited edition collections garnered press pick up and excitement but over time, they have morphed into a bigger beast. With celebrity endorsements and campaigns and star-studded pre-launch parties coupled with limited stock available in selected stores, no wonder there are crazy queues and a total frenzy once the collection is available.
I’ve focused quite a lot on H&M but it’s worth calling out some of the other high street retailers, such as River Island and Uniqlo, who have used this tactic to varying degrees of success. Topshop is nearly as prolific as H&M. They have been sponsoring the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN initiative since 2001 and have a history of nurturing and supporting new design talent. Over the years, they have created capsule collections with NEWGEN alum including Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou and Ashish. Their latest collaboration is with 2017/2018 NEWGEN recipient Halpern, which I wore in my previous outfit post.
Though I was sceptical in the early years, I’m now highly invested in high street and designer collaborations. The quality has improved by leaps and bounds plus the likeness to the brand’s mainline collection is always clear, some of the collections I’ve seen are as credible as the original luxury brand. But I don’t buy into the unnecessary hype; the collab needs to be very special for me to invest the time and effort to obtain a piece. I’m very particular with the quality and I’m very fashion literate so something which looks like a low-quality knockoff just won’t cut it.
I have to admit, when I heard about H&M’s Moschino collaboration, I was pretty underwhelmed. I don’t particularly rate Jeremy Scott’s aesthetic and Moschino isn’t a brand which really resonates with me. I didn’t pay much attention to the teaser activity or pre-launch marketing but when I caught a glimpse of the rhinestone bralet, my interest was piqued. I ended up buying it on a whim along with a couple of other pieces and, to my surprise, the quality is incredible and I’ve worn it to death already. For this look, I channelled 90s grunge – rather than dressing it up, I prefer to dress it down with jeans, t-shirts and plaid shirts. I can tell it’s going to become one of my go-to pieces for elevating basics.
What do you think of high street and designer collaborations?
Photography by Kylie Eyra Portraits.