Fashion in 2015 has seen its fair share of high-profile collaborations, but few could deny two projects stood head and shoulders above the rest.

While it came as no surprise that Supreme’s landmark union with Jordan Brand sold out in mere minutes, the scenes surrounding the launch of last week’s H&M x Balmain collection were just as frenzied as any the NY skate brand has ever produced, taking many by surprise.

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that people respond to hype. While H&M’s recent endeavor may have seemed like a bold step outside the fashion zeitgeist, the company knew exactly what it was doing and there was never any doubt in its mind that it would be a huge success. What’s interesting is the way it went about guaranteeing that, and how its methods both differ, yet converge, with an equally coveted brand like Supreme.

Give or take a few less-popular items, Supreme does a pretty convincing job of selling out the majority of what it produces. In terms of marketing, it releases one major lookbook a season, and aside from that uses little more than a subscription newsletter, an Instagram account and its own website to alert fans of new products (that, and one notorious flyposter campaign).


A photo posted by Supreme (@supremenewyork) on

At the heart of this method is the awareness that much of Supreme’s marketing drive will actually be done for it by other entities, whether via the publicity it gets on websites like Highsnobiety, the editorials it arranges in publications like GRIND, or simple word of mouth among its target audience. The result of this is a kind of perceived authenticity far stronger than anything traditional advertising can deliver. For Supreme, being referenced so regularly by so many respected entities is all the marketing it needs. Often with as little as three or four days between a product announcement and its release, the brand has proven time and time again that it doesn’t need extensive campaigns to whip up support and drive sales. Instead, it knows its brand is strong enough in the eyes of those who matter to direct the purchasing decisions of tens of thousands of customers with little convincing.

As the world’s largest mass-market clothing retailer, that kind of blind faith isn’t something H&M can rely on. If you cast your mind back to the murky depths of October 2014, you couldn’t walk more than 200 meters in any major city without a glimpse of its impending Alexander Wang collection peeking out from billboards, magazines and website homepages. The ubiquitous campaign ran for weeks, drilling the same idea into the minds of anyone who saw it — “this collection will be massive“. And, by and large, it was. There weren’t any overnight campouts or round-the-block lines, but the items sold well enough.

Yet when it came to the 2015 installment, H&M wanted more, and that meant switching up the strategy. In a remarkable act of prescience, this year the company forewent its entire display advertising campaign — a budget of tens of millions of dollars — and instead plowed it all into one thing: word of mouth. Rather than spend time and money on something that was designed to convince the world exactly how huge this collection would be, H&M used the money to create talking points and then let the hype spread on its own.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE #balmainarmy #inlovewithmyGirls ✌?️✌?✌? @balmainparis

A photo posted by OLIVIER R. (@olivier_rousteing) on

Whether it was the glitzy New York launch party, the music video-esque promo film or the shrewd decision to use Instagram-famous celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Jourdan Dunn and Gigi Hadid (not to mention Rousteing himself) as the spokespeople, this year H&M retreated almost entirely from the streets and put everything it had on the power of social media. Even in its insistence on using the (frankly ridiculous) #hmbalmaination hashtag in all its communications, there was not a single move the company made that couldn’t be talked about and shared afterwards.

The result? By the time the collection launched it had been recycled so much within people’s everyday networks that purchasing it felt like one giant collective decision, rather than an instruction from a faceless corporate overseer. This was a collection people wanted because it was a part of their social and cultural world, co-signed by people they know, admire and respect.

And, just like that, H&M successfully turned the page on an entirely new era of its marketing strategy, taking an unwitting leaf out of the Supreme playbook on the way. While one brand might have to throw a lot more money, parties and celebrities around to start the conversation than the other, at the end of it all, the hype is just the same.

Words by AJ Gwilliam
Features Editor

Proud Brit. Pathologically addicted to white trainers (AKA "sneakers").