Despite our mixed reactions, it’s looking like H&M’s forthcoming collection with Balmain will go down as one of the biggest of the year – at least in terms of hype and publicity. The Swedish retailer’s collaborations have been going strong for over 10 years now, and have proven a great way for prestigious houses to woo younger, less affluent fans, and for the low-end retailer to get some much-needed fashion kudos. Plus both parties inevitably generate ridiculous amounts of publicity, too.
While the idea behind the partnerships is to make luxury more affordable, their inevitable buzz and slim production runs often result in frenzied scrums to purchase and vast markups on eBay – sort of like Supreme drops but for the fast-fashion.
As the hype builds for H&M’s latest high-fashion venture, let’s take a look back at some of the Swedish giant’s most notable partnerships.
Karl Lagerfeld – 2004
The Chanel mastermind and all-around icon was H&M’s first-ever partner and dealt with any potential unease with a tongue-in-cheek video campaign mocking the high-fashion community’s inherent snobbery and elitism.
The humor didn’t last long, however, as Lagerfeld publicly claimed he would never work with H&M again – lambasting the brand for its limited runs of clothing, which the German claimed went against the whole idea of making an accessible collection in the first place.
“The incomprehensible decisions of the management in Stockholm have taken away any desire to do it again,” Lagerfeld told Vogue. “They did not make the clothes in sufficient quantities. I find it embarrassing that H&M let down so many people…I don’t think that is very kind, especially for people in small towns and countries in eastern Europe. It is snobbery created by anti-snobbery.”
Lagerfeld would also express disappointment that his waif, skinny aesthetic had also been recreated in larger sizes – so I suppose the snobbery works both ways.
Roberto Cavalli – 2007
The Italian luxury designer brought his highly charged, decadent aesthetic down a few tiers with a collection that caused mayhem when it hit H&M stores in 2007. Business as usual in that regard, but it’s worth noting that as Olivier Rousteing was cutting his teeth as Cavalli’s assistant at the time, it’s not hard to imagine the future Balmain director working on some of the collection’s pieces himself.
For proof that high-street collaborations really do make people lose their minds, take in this baffling anecdote Cavalli told Vogue: “At the H&M launch in 2007, I stepped out of the car smoking and dropped my cigarette on the pavement – a disgusting, dirty Italian habit – and I found out not long afterwards that it was sold on eBay for £250.”
COMME des GARCONS – 2008
A sharp left turn from Cavalli’s sexed-up luxe, H&M tapped Rei Kawakubo’s high-brow, ever-unusual COMME des GARCONS label for 2008’s collab. 30 women’s and 20 men’s pieces were given the CdG treatment, adorned with polka dots, cut asymmetrically and fabricated with patchwork panelling, accompanied by a fragrance and accessories, too.
While Kawakubo’s day job is painfully expensive, that didn’t stop the H&M collection raising eyebrows with a $349 dress – an extraordinary price for the retailer, and a record that was only recently topped by the Balmain project’s heavily embellished $549 statement biker jacket.
Lanvin – 2010
Lanvin’s swaggering, Parisian flair was brought down to the high street with a collection that the brand’s director Alber Elbaz’s insisted was “not about dress for less…it was about H&M going into the luxury business.”
Like so many of H&M’s collaborations, the line focused on womenswear, although the men’s section included some particularly garish metallic pink Derbies and Lanvin’s trademark chic suiting.
“A friend of mine told me that every time she wears a Lanvin dress, a man falls in love with her,” the ever-charming Elbaz told us in this video interview. “I hope now that we have so many more dresses of Lanvin many more women will be falling in love and many more women will be fallen in love with.”
Versace – 2011
A high point in what has by now become a stellar line of collaborations, Donatella Versace assembled what she called a “greatest hits” collection that featured all of her legendary brand’s hallmarks. Gold, greek keys and pink suiting were all included in the dazzling collection, which was promoted with a blockbuster Mert and Marcus-shot campaign and a star-studded party featuring performances by Prince and Nikki Minaj.
When asked if she was tempted to show restraint on her H&M project, Donatella simply replied that watered-down is “Not a word I understand. I’ve never used that word in my life.”
Unsurprisingly, the collection sold out in a heartbeat and the H&M website crashed under the weight of the traffic – normally a problem reserved for Supreme and Nike. “For me it was a revelation to be able to have immediately the response of so many people,” the Italian said at the time. “It gave me such confidence…I had no idea how much they loved the Versace style. I didn’t know!”
Marni – 2012
Hot on the heels of Versace’s gaudy opulence, H&M took a turn for the subdued with Marni. Hardly surprising given the Italian brand’s maturity, the collection’s launch was a much more civilized affair, with H&M implementing a wristband system that allocated customers 10 minutes of shopping time each. A far cry from the mayhem that greeted Versace’s baroque glitz, the collection itself centered on a distinctly European-flavored minimalist aesthetic.
Maison Martin Margiela – 2012
Much like Versace’s 2011 line, H&M’s partnership with Maison Martin Margiela (before they dropped the “Martin”) was more of a retrospective project than a true collaboration, as the Parisian label simply reissued many of their deconstructionist classics at a much, much lower price point.
Painted jeans, jackets made from leather belts and camel topcoats with the collars shorn off were all faithfully resurrected from the Maison’s archive, giving discerning shoppers with smaller budgets the chance to finally get their own piece of the Belgian legend’s magic touch. Rousteing’s Balmain collection would take a similar angle – simply recreating his own pieces at lower prices rather than working on new items with H&M’s designers.
David Beckham – 2012
David Beckham may not be a fashion designer, but that didn’t stop the Swedish fashion giant from bringing out the big guns for the opening installment of his bodywear collection back in 2012. A high-budget advert was screened during the Super Bowl’s half-time, kickstarting what would become a blooming relationship between the two parties – Becks would go on to release regular collections of cozy, low-key athletic gear and underwear with H&M, 2013’s gloriously lazy “house coat” marking a particular high point.
The former Manchester United star also briefly worked on a three-way project with Undefeated’s James Bond and adidas – dropping this still-dope ZX 800 sneaker – and has since moved into curating full selections with H&M, dubbed “Modern Essentials.”
Isabel Marant – 2013
The Parisian queen of Boho chic, Isabel Marant’s H&M collection unsurprisingly sent hysterical womenswear blogs into a frenzy – Racked even prepared a guide to help shoppers beat the rush on release day. While Marant’s aesthetic may be lacking in relevance these days, the collection’s men’s segment did include some very wearable outerwear – although we’d rather forget about the Navajo-patterned jeans, if we’re being honest.
Beyoncé – 2013
H&M took a huge step into pop culture territory when they teamed up with Queen B back in 2013. The duo’s beachwear collection made headlines when it emerged that H&M had tried to airbrush the megastar’s curves out for the collection’s campaign, just days after the group’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson claimed his company had a “huge responsibility” to promote a healthy body image to its customers.
No strangers to controversy (or irony, apparently), the Swede continued, “Some of the models we’ve had have been too skinny…That’s something we think a lot about and are working on. We want to show diversity in our advertising and not give people the impression that girls have to look a particular way.”
Alexander Wang – 2014
Dropping just last year to a typically fevered response, Alexander Wang’s relentlessly modern, sporty line for the retailer was unflinchingly on-trend, with its all-black palette, heavy use of Neoprene and contemporary athleisure aesthetic. Wang, who gleefully branded his innuendo-friendly surname across tons of products, was the first American designer to participate in the fast-fashion project.
True to form, the collection was preceded by a seemingly endless PR campaign, which included (deep breath) lookbooks, video lookbooks, editorials, a runway show and teasers. Hardly surprising that it sold out in moments, then.
If you’re still thirsty for more H&M x Balmain content, check out our first-hand account of the collection’s exclusive runway show.