In light of Target’s much anticipated collaboration with Missoni this fall, it is interesting to look back at the recent trends in the market phenomenon of the designer collaboration. In 2007, Businessweek speculated that the era of designer collaborations was over, arguing that the once-chic alternative to the limited scope of luxury designer distribution no longer has the appeal of early collaboration lines, such as Karl Lagerfeld for H&M and Fiorucci for Target. However, despite such market speculation, designers and mass-retailers have not stopped partnering to offer these lines and consumers have not stopped buying. If anything, what started largely as a tool to beat the recessionary decrease in consumer spending, has only gained strength, hence the upcoming Versace for H&M line and Missoni for Target (Target’s largest to date), both due to hit stores in the Fall. By the looks of H&M and Target’s roster and the prices of past-pieces currently on E-bay (Lanvin (Hearts) H&M pieces are going for upwards of $300), retailers and consumers are not ready to close up shop with this marketing ploy-turned craze just yet.
While the designer and mass-market retailer collaboration is rooted in stores that predate Target and H&M, these two market giants hold the title of kings of the fast fashion designer collaboration. They are the biggest names to mass produce designer lines after big-time designers started tapping into different markets than their usual high end luxury buyers. Years ago design houses began offering diffusion lines, more modestly priced collections than their signature lines. Yves St. Laurent launched Rive Gauche in 1966, Prada established Miu Miu in 1993, Dolce & Gabbana founded D&G in 1994 (which folded in April of this year), Marc Jacobs started Marc by Marc Jacobs in 2001 and Brian Atwood started B Brian Atwood in February 2011 (Atwood stresses that this isn’t a cheaper diffusion line but a “second line,” even though the line is a quite a bit cheaper). However, these “bridge” lines did not completely fill the void that consumers were demanding: mass distribution of high fashion. Alas, the designer-mass retailer collaboration was born.
Other retailers have proffered the designer collaboration, but H&M and Target are the industry leaders, most likely due to their sheer size but also due to the top-name designers that they consistently offer at low prices.
In November 2004, H&M offered an exclusive collection with Chanel and Fendi creative director, Karl Lagerfeld. The line consisted of thirty pieces, which sold out within an hour at H&M’s New York, Los Angeles, and other large city stores. The collection was a huge success, even though Karl complained after distribution that H&M produced larger clothing sizes than he had agreed upon. Lagerfeld said, “what I designed was fashion for slender and slim people.” (Love him!)
Nonetheless, while the collection proved to be a difficult one to follow, H&M did not disappoint. The Swedish fast fashion retailer went on the offer collections by Stella McCartney a year later (Nov. 2005), Dutch designers Viktor & Rolf in November 2006, Roberto Cavalli in November 2007, Japanese house Comme des Garçons for Fall 2008, Matthew Williamson for Spring/Summer 2009, Jimmy Choo in November 2009, and Alber Elbaz, the creative director for French fashion house Lanvin, for Lanvin (Hearts) H&M for Fall 2010, amongst a few others. Recently, H&M announced its next designer collaboration: Versace for H&M, which will consist of a Fall/Winter line in November and Pre-Spring/Summer line in January. Donatella, who admits to delving into the Versace archives as inspiration for the line, debuted one of her designs, a studded dress, at her Spring/Summer 2012 Menswear show in Milan in June.
H&M has gone even further with the designer collaboration; they’ve gone green. In January 2011, following the success of the Lanvin (Hearts) H&M line, the retailer issued Waste, a very small “recycled” line. Waste consisted of about ten pieces, all of which were made from extra fabric from their original Lanvin line. Waste was only offered at H&M’s flagship in New York and is arguably a testament to H&M’s innovation in the field of design and manufacturing.
Target followed H&M’s lead, aiming to gain market share of teen spending with its own designer collaborations. The superstore introduced Go International, a collaboration line with emerging designers in December 2005, with Fiorucci for Target. Each season is created by a different newly-established designer and is only available for ninety days from its release. Target has released nearly twenty-five lines under Go International, including Behnaz Sarafpour in November 2006, Proenza Schouler in February 2007, Richard Chai in August 2008, and Thakoon Panichgul December 2008, amongst others.
Target also releases collections under the Designers Collaboration line, which is an expansion of the Go International program but features the work of well-established designers and only offers these collections for forty-five days from release. Target debuted the Designers Collaboration line with McQ by Alexander McQueen in March 2009 and then offered Anna Sui in September 2009, Rodarte in December 2009, and Zac Posen in April 2010, amongst others. Target will offer its much-anticipated Missoni for Target in Fall 2011 under this line, which will be Target’s largest, consisting of four hundred womenswear, menswear, childrens and home goods.
In March 2011, under its Go international line, Target re-released thirty-four dresses from its past designer collaborations in stores and online. The designers included Zac Posen, Rodarte, Thakoon, Rogan, Tucker and Proenza Schouler, amongst others.
Seeing the success of H&M and Target in the guest designer collaboration, other brands have followed suit. J. Crew has offered consumers small collaborations with Prabal Gurung and Eddie Borgo, and will soon offer Fiona Kotur for J. Crew. These collaborations usually consist of a dozen pieces or less and for higher prices than Target and H&M. In February 2011, Opening Ceremony collaborated with Kate & Laura Mulleavy for Rodarte for Opening Ceremony, one of the most expensive collaborations we’ve seen. Prices ranged for $220 to $805 and the collection is still available at Opening Ceremony’s stores in NY, LA, and Tokyo, as well as Barneys. Macy’s paired with Matthew Williamson in April 2011. Also in April, Lacoste and Catherine Malandrino paired to create a line for the high-end tennis apparel brand. Uniqlo, Japan's leading clothing retail chain, tapped into the designer talent at Vena Cava in May 2011. Uniqlo also has a design relationship with Jil Sander for the Uniqlo +J Collection since 2009. However, this partnership only has a three-year contract, which ends after the Fall/Winter 2011 collection.
So, is this the beginning of the end? I don’t think so. With big box retailers like Target and H&M boasting impressive collections for the fall (Missoni and Versace!) and innovating further with re-releases and greener collections, and with higher end retailers following suit (a la Opening Ceremony and the just announced Furla for Saks Fifth Avenue collaboration), this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down just yet.