The recent announcement of Alexander Wang’s upcoming collaboration with fast fashion retailer H&M has come with a lot of hype and excitement attached, and with good reason. The fashion giant’s most recent designer collaboration with Isabel Marant last November was not only a sartorial success, but it has helped to shift the way we view high fashion and high street collaborations. Not only was the collection sold in exclusive boutique fashion retailers alongside its H&M release, it also marked the designer’s debut foray into menswear, in what amounted to over 70+ pieces across all three mens, womens and childrens collections.

’70s designer Halston kicked off the trend with American budget department store J.C.Penney, while a few collaborations in the ’90s eventually paved the way for the high-meets-low-brow pairings that took over the retail world in the mid-’00s. While a big designer name was undoubtedly a drawcard, retailers quickly cottoned on to the fact that elusive, younger labels would pique consumers’ interest more. Collaborations with edgier brands such as Jil Sander, Viktor & Rolf, and COMME des GARCONS quickly followed, elevating masstige – mass meets prestige – fashion collections to cult status. While some partnerships have undoubtedly been more popular than others, there are a few designer collaborations that stand out. Whether for the exclusivity of the designer or how it might have impacted the industry, we look at five pivotal high fashion and high street collaborations from the past.


Halston x J.C.Penney, 1983 

Legendary 1970s designer Roy Halston set the trend far ahead of his time when he joined forces with mid-range department store J.C.Penney in 1983 and became the first high-end designer to work on a mass-market fashion line. Initially successful, the collaboration incidentally tarnished his reputation with high-end department stores who dropped his higher priced Halston line not long after. The innovative concept was a hit with consumers but not with the fashion industry, with Halston’s name eventually losing its prestige and status in the fashion world.


Karl Lagerfeld x H&M, 2004

H&M‘s first high-profile collaboration ten years ago proved how keen consumers were on designer off-shoot collections. Karl Lagerfeld‘s range sold out within hours, with the designer expressing he was sorry for the clients because he liked “the idea that everyone could wear Lagerfeld.” A true mass collection it was, with more product being shipped from warehouses days later, allowing shoppers to purchase at a more relaxed pace after the initial frenzy died down.


Kate Moss x Topshop, 2007-2010

When Topshop announced its first collaboration with Kate Moss back in 2007, the fashion world couldn’t contain its excitement as the supermodel has long been considered a style icon. At the launch, the model one-upped the waiting crowds by modeling the garments herself as a live mannequin in the display window of the chain’s London Oxford Circus store. The two pumped out 14 collections over four years, eventually losing the hype as sales stagnated. This type of collaboration kicked off the celebrity-as-a-brand trend, leading the way for collabs such as Rihanna for River Island.


UNIQLO x Jil Sander +J, 2009-2011

Another pairing which resulted in multiple seasons was Jil Sander‘s understated collection for UNIQLO, named +J. Rather than selling the range off the back of Sander’s own brand, instead it was anonymously labelled +J with a focus on quality and timeless wear. Collections still regularly sold out, without the publicized fuss that comes along with most designer collaborations, however. After three years, the +J line was discontinued while it was still in demand to the dismay of consumers. This collab proved that you don’t need a flashy name to sell a product, and could be the way for masstige collections in the future.


Maison Martin Margiela x H&M, 2012

Unlike most of H&M’s other high-profile collaborations, Maison Martin Margiela‘s foray into the world of high-street fashion was met with a lukewarm response. Be it because the collection was too avant-garde for H&M, or because the Belgian designer is still a niche name in the fashion world, the resulting disappointment was a reminder that not all collabs are created equal. Following this collection was Isabel Marant’s sellout line and with the recent announcement of Alexander Wang next up, it seems the fashion giant is choosing its partnerships a little more carefully.

Words by Marta Sundac
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