“What’s that jacket, Margiela?” – Kanye West, N***** in Paris
But consider H&M x Margiela’s 2012 collection, and you’ve got an entirely different story. Jackets for $350, suits for $250, and wool sweaters for $150 were just a few of the exclusive, reasonably priced, and quickly sold-out items offered by this unique brand partnership. For many consumers, this one-time, limited edition collection provided a chance to grab a Margiela designed and labeled garment, a coveted mark of status they never dreamed they’d have.
The success of the collaboration wasn’t anything the fashion world hadn’t seen before. For the past decade, H&M has partnered with a number of high-profile labels including Comme des Garcons, Versace, and Isabel Marant with similarly successful results. Other mass market retailers such as Target, Top Shop, and Uniqlo have also hopped on the cheap & chic partnership bandwagon, working with a collective list of designers that comprise many of the world’s most desirable luxury labels to produce stylish, yet affordable pieces for a wider audience.
How have these partnerships shaped the images of these mass-market, fast-fashion retailers? To uncover the effect that collaborative efforts have had on brands like H&M, we turn to the BAV data which reveals a difference in brand image and perception from 2004 to 2005, when H&M undertook their first partnership, launching a collection with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 and another with Stella McCartney in 2005. The BAV data for this period presents dramatic gains in key attributes strongly associated with high-end fashion for the H&M brand, as illustrated by the sector averages of luxury designer fashion, indicating a shift in brand image for H&M from exclusively mass market to luxury.
In addition to enhanced scores for H&M in areas traditionally associated with more exclusive brands, the BAV data also indicated H&M saw particularly higher scores along our brand-health metrics of Energized Differentiation, Innovative, and Visionary- all attributes that play heavily in the fashion retail market, low or high.
Similarly, when Target collaborated with British designer Luella Barton in ’05, BAV data indicated the brand saw similar positive return. Just like H&M, Target saw improvements in areas traditionally associated with high-end fashion labels, fueling increases in important image factors and Energized Differentiation for the mass-market company.
Target and H&M, as well as Top Shop and Uniqlo, continue to make their guest collaborations a staple of their brand, and the beneficial results are readily apparent. These collaborations not only sell well, but they also have important benefits on the company’s brand image by keeping these retailers connected to the stylish, cool, aspirational qualities which attract both the high-end and mass-market consumer.
And it’s not just mass-market retailers that are seeking out these collaborations. Nike, Adidas, and Converse have all partnered with a range of designers to keep their urban edge. There are also countless collaborations among up-and-coming independent labels, established brands, and even specialty boutique retailers. As labels become more connected, consumers are beginning to notice a label not only by its own products and designs, but also by its creative ties to other brands.
Could other retailers who have resisted high-profile collaborations, like Gap, Zara, and American Apparel be missing the mark? Perhaps. All I’m sayin' is, I wouldn’t be opposed to an Agent Provacateur x American Apparel capsule collection in the near future.