Conventional wisdom says collaborations between top-tier designers and mass-market retailers are the latest indications of democratization of fashion — but it might be the opposite.
A closer look reveals that the goal of many of these partnerships is not typically “fashion for all.” Instead, they foster exclusivity, and they typically end up ruffling the feathers of luxury and fast fashion consumers alike.
Thursday, the Kenzo x H&M collection, which fashion fans had been anticipating since it was announced in May, hit its destined 250 H&M stores worldwide and hm.com. In order to be at the ready at the collection’s 8 a.m. E.T drop and among the lucky few to score a piece or two at retail price, shoppers set their alarms or camped out in front of H&M entrances. However, though the collection did not sell out nationwide, many shoppers wound up empty-handed.
Considering the history of fashion collaboration sales, the disappointments were no surprise: In 2015, Balmain x H&M sold out in hours, preventing many from getting the look of the moment for less. The same held true for Alexander Wang’s athletic-inspired line for the retailer in 2014.
Still, following their quest, many of yesterday’s shoppers took to social media to vent their frustrations:
Saw one thing from the #KENZOxHM lookbook that I actually liked, and of course it sold out as it was sitting in my shopping bag.
— Sam (@anthakingston) November 3, 2016
Spent a good two hours trying to get on the h&m website this morning, piss take #KENZOxHM
— ❁lucy❁ (@LucyMartland) November 3, 2016
“We want the turnover of the clothes in the stores to be high,” said Marybeth Schmitt, North America communications director of H&M. “The idea has always been that the collection should sell out and that it should be limited and exclusive.”
The press release that announced the collection made no mention of limited availability. In fact, it included the following quote from Kenzo creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon: “With this collaboration with H&M, we want to think big, push the boundaries and bring the new energy of KENZO to everyone around the world.”
By Thursday afternoon, more than 900 pieces from the Kenzo x H&M collection had made their way onto eBay, where most were priced at multiple times their original cost. A $549 maxi dress, for instance, had a “buy now” price of $1,499.00. The once-affordable logo tee ($59.99) was $125. Again, such was to be expected.
“The designer collaborations are just one of several examples where we see secondhand sales,” said Schmitt. “Of course, there isn’t any law against selling secondhand clothes as a private individual.”
Though press surrounding high-low fashion collaborations often centers on long lines on launch day or the masses who miss out, the collections have also been known to leave a bad taste in the mouths of designer brands’ core customer base. It’s no surprise, considering the brands’ decision to dip their feet into fast fashion is the antithesis of what many stand for: Selling to the masses typically disallows for sustainable practices and plays into the model that results in 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Textile Agency.
Agitation of customers on both ends of the shopping spectrum was obvious in 2015 when Lilly Pulitzer teamed up with Target on collections of ready-to-wear, kids clothing and home decor. According to The Cut, each sold out in hours and was never restocked, to the disdain of those hoping to land affordable, Palm Beach-inspired sundresses. But the outrage of longtime Lilly Pulitzer devotees pre-sale was arguably more noteworthy: “Lillies” across the country hit social media to air their shared disapproval of their “uniform” being mass marketed.
Even so, there seems to be no shortage of top designers who are ready and willing to risk angering their fan base in order to join forces with a lower-end retailer. Just as it is for the retailer, the promise of increased brand recognition seems to be the draw.
Last month, Victoria Beckham announced that she will team with Target on a Spring 2017 collection. “I loved the idea of opening the brand up to a wider audience and being able to share my vision with a broader customer base,” she said in a statement.
But, how broad that audience is will depend on Target’s ability to keep up with customers’ demand. “We expect to see many of our guests shopping the collection,” a Target spokeswoman said, when asked about shopper turnout. “In addition, since Victoria is such a well-known international style icon, we expect that this collaboration will also draw in new customers.”