Karl Lagerfeld x H&M
Fashion Unfiltered boldly claimed that H&M changed everything when it teamed up with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 and – despite the partnership ending in tears, (well, maybe not actual tears), but a proclamation from Lagerfeld saying he’d never work with the retail chain ever again – it might be right.
The designer/high street collaboration had been tried and tested before. JC Penney and Halston famously joined forces in 1983 to create a diffusion line intended to make designer wears accessible to the ‘everyday American woman’ but instead of widening its reach, it led to the designer brand’s demise – at that time, mass market sales did not a high-end brand make.
However, 20 years later in 2004, the landscape had changed and the industry was opening-up; online, through TV and through entertainment and Karl Lagerfeld considered a collaboration with Swedish retailer H&M to be ‘modern’. “The days when designers could lose their jobs because it was linked to a collection for an inexpensive brand are over.” he said “H&M has made inexpensive desirable. Today this is fashion”.
The collection sold out within hours - and Lagerfeld would later be quoted criticising the brand for not producing the collection in sufficient quantities, letting down the audience it had intended to reach. Though no argument that this was a sell-out success and a game changer.
Since 2004, H&M has gone on to collaborate with Stella McCartney (2005), COMME des GARCONS (2008), Versace (2011), Balmain (2015) and Kenzo (2016) to name but a (tiny) few, and other brands have followed suit. Target x Proenza Schouler, Missoni, Alexander McQueen…, Topshop x Christopher Kane, Mary Katranzou, Marques Almeida…, Uniqlo x Jil Sander, Opening Ceremony, Undercover… the lists go on.
And the industry continues to open-up. Fashion shows aren’t exclusive to buyers and editors, entire show schedules are streamed through social media and only last year Burberry was selling styles straight off the catwalk. There is an argument that it’s becoming too much and pressure on designers is detrimental in the long term - but that might be another post for another day.
This year has seen and will see collaborations from Nike and COMMES des GARCONS, Victoria Beckham and Target, Vetements and Levis, JW Anderson and Uniqlo among many others and technology will continue to broaden reach and sales. It’s not all down to Karl Lagerfeld of course but his was a significant step in challenging sartorial ‘snobbery’.