Not too long ago we broke down the underlying purpose of designer x mass market retailer collaborations. In short, most of these collections, such as Prabal Gurung for Target, provide benefits for the emerging designers, including massive amounts of publicity (think: Vogue ads, television commercials, big celebrity-filled parties, and signs plastered on the walls at Target and on the sides of buses). They also allow mass market brands to gain media impressions and to bait consumers into their stores and then sell them an array of things other than the hyped clothing and accessories. Last month, Target announced its upcoming partnership, which sees the Minneapolis-based corporation teaming up with industry darling Joseph Altuzarra. If you're in fashion, it is virtually impossible for you not to know Altuzarra's name. The Council of Fashion Designers of America LOVES him; hence, his recent CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award and the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear Design wins, as well as his very recent CFDA Award for Womenswear Design win. Other industry organizations have also recognized the Paris-born, NYC-based designer. In addition to some serious Vogue treatment, Altuzarra has received the Fashion Group International Rising Star of the Year honor and the Ecco Domani Award over the past several years.
This is all great, except for one thing: Almost no one outside of fashion knows who Joseph Altuzarra is.
Sure, Rihanna has worn an Altuzarra look before, and yes, he did a small capsule for J. Crew, but the vast majority of his appeal is limited to the fashion in-crowd. Thus, the average person (aka the individual that shops for clothes at Target) does not have a clue what (or who) Altuzarra is. Given the purpose of the mass market collaboration, this is ok to some extent, as they are more about hype than sales. Also, in terms of sales, the collection will be available on Net-a-Porter, allowing international fashion folks to shop, as they did with the Peter Pilotto collection - one that is almost but definitely not quite as obscure at Altuzarra. The downside of the Net-a-Porter aspect is that unlike Peter Pilotto, which is a London-based brand, Altuzarra has even less of a European following than he does in the U.S.
Considering Altuzarra's lack of widespread recognition, the collaboration very well may be a useful tool to broadcast the designer's name and brand to the U.S. and the world at large. If any brand has the advertising budget to take Altuzarra to the next level (aside from luxury conglomerate Kering, which took a minority stake in the young designer's company this past September), it is Target. Such large scale advertising and publicity very likely falls outside of Altuzarra's budget at the moment (he is still an emerging designer, after all), and so, this is a major plus for the designer and his brand.
However, in other ways, this partnership is borderline non-sensical. If we look to some of the more successful collabs (those that actually sold well), such as the Missoni and Jason Wu collections for Target, Lanvin and Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, and even Prabal Gurung for Target, they were are all based to a noteworthy extent on the known appeal of the designer or design house partnering with the mass market retailer. This seems to be the important factor (the one that garners the appeal of the collaboration in the first place) that is largely lacking here. This is not to say that all of the young designers that Target has paired with in the past have made for unsuccessful collaborations because that is not necessarily the case. Sure, there were a lot of pieces from the Peter Pilotto collection being heavily marked down in Target stores and on its website after the launch, but there are other more successful examples.
Take Jason Wu, for instance, whose collection for Target hit stores in February 2012 and sold out within a matter of hours. While a smaller brand in comparison to the likes of Paris-based design house Lanvin or Italian house Missoni, Wu's brand is still a relatively large name. Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama, who selected his gown for the President's January 2009 Inaugural Ball, Wu sky-rocketed to fame. Prabal Gurung, another young designer who partnered with Target this past year, also proved to be a success; in fact, his collection was such a success that not only did the collection sell, but Target's stock price rose by 15 percent following the collection's launch. In addition to having serious talent, Prabal Gurung has Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton to thank for making him a household(ish) name, as well as the many, many starlets (think: Jennifer Lawrence, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, Kristen Stewart, Zoe Saldana, and Kerry Washington - just to name a few) who have repeatedly hit the red carpet at every major event, except for the Academy Awards, in his designs.
Given that the most successful young designer collaborations have likely resulted from a certain level of recognition outside of the innermost fashion circles, it is somewhat hard to believe that anyone outside of fashion's circle is going to care, let alone be drawn into Target's store or to its website for the Altuzarra collaboration. Moreover, will there really be a noteworthy amount of buzz surrounding a collection that likely just isn't that interesting t0 99% of the population? Come September, we will be able to gauge. The collection hits Target stores, well as its website and Net-a-Porter on September 14th. Stay tuned.