Collaborative Couture

With more and more high-street shops partnering up with high-fashion designers, Donna Doyle asks why exactly the resulting collections draw such attention

It is common knowledge amongst my friends that my most ardent ambition is to own a Chanel handbag. Inspired by Jason Donovan’s heartfelt rendition of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ in Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, I decided to abandon my college career, a promising path leading to NASA, and follow this dream.

When it became clear that struggling to do an assignment half an hour before labs is not the same as acquiring thousands of euro, I quick-smart succumbed to failure, and soon developed a deep resentment for Jason Donavan. My lesson was learned – the untouchable, the inaccessible, the elites of high fashion are not for the little people. However, with an increasing number of influential fashion houses collaborating with high street stores, perhaps the luxurious brands of our red carpet heroes are not so unattainable after all.

The contemporary high street is now sprinkled with designer pieces from home and abroad. Championing the designer-store collaborations is Swedish megastore and student favourite, H&M. The outfit has joined forces with influential fashion labels from Stella McCartney and Jimmy Choo to, most recently, Versace. Topshop, Zara, Forever 21 and Debenhams have all also featured impressive designer lines, enlisting the creativity of Brian Lichtenberg and David Koma. But after all the palaver, the drooling and daydreaming, is it really worth it? As we part with our hard-earned savings, brainwashed by pretty clothes tags, are we doing little more than rewarding a successful marketing ploy?

One fact that becomes evident regarding the success of these collaborations is the limitation of the collection. The comparative success of ongoing collaborations in Debenhams, such as those with Matthew Williamson and Jane Norman, are less hyped and are marketed less successfully then limited edition projects from Sonya Rykiel and Karl Lagerfield, which cause fashionable frenzies and ultimate impulse buying.

An inspiring collaboration released in February this year was the result of a collaboration between Topshop and David Koma. The Georgian-born designer is renowned for his show-stopping body-cons, the most infamous of which was sported by Cheryl Cole on The X Factor last year. His innovative designs introduce a futuristic feel to party wear and his creations are nothing less than striking.

Koma’s Topshop showcase was eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint. It was signature Koma and featured thirty limited pieces with skirts, dresses and belts worth sleeping in the gutter for. Retailing on average between £100 and £300, the collection was pricier than usual but was acclaimed not only for its style, but also for its quality. Often it is the latter that is sacrificed with these high profile collaborations and thus Koma’s collection garnered deserved praise and success.

The anticipated collaboration between H&M and Italian fashion label Versace has attracted much publicity, as was to be expected. Due to be released in November of this year, Russian Vogue published a preview of the collection last month, which was met with mixed reviews. Awash with leather and studs, neon and vibrant patterns, the collection is trademark Versace – glamorous, eye-catching and flamboyant. It features the label’s iconic black dresses and costume jewellery perfect for party season, while men are promised sharp tailoring, including “the perfect tuxedo”.

The pieces will, like the label itself, either be loved or loathed by the masses, and the few sceptical reviews thus far will come as more of a concern to the label than H&M. Although iconic, synonymous with haute couture at its most refined, Versace has its roots in the 80’s. The label lacks the contemporary appeal to the younger generation that perhaps the more innovative Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci enjoy. If the collection fails, the project will appear as nothing more than a desperate attempt by Versace to reach out to the mass market following years of debt and restructuring, which have made the label inaccessible.

On the whole, the collection looks interesting and will offer the more experimental minions the chance to don the frocks of one of the most elite fashion labels at a fraction of the cost. The success of the collaboration now relies on the quality of the creations, and the necessary limitation of the collection.

It is difficult to find evidence of an unsuccessful designer/high street collaboration in recent years. The fact is that no matter the reasons behind the campaigns – be it for the designer to reach out to a younger market or to elevate the status of a high street store, the success of these high profile collaborations is close to guaranteed. The opportunity for us laymen to acquire the most desirable of threads is almost too much to resist. Sure, it may last one drunken night and cost a kidney, but as long as I know that there are only seven of them, having a Karl Lagerfield in my wardrobe makes me feel like a better person, marketing ploy or not.