SEEN: KENZO x H&M: Sold Out or Selling Out?

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They announced their collaboration earlier this year. After teasers, lookbooks and endless social hype, the much anticipated #KENZOxHM collection finally launches today.

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Kenzo World starring Margaret Qualley.

Kenzo, still dancing off the success of their bizarre (but brilliant) Spike Jonze directed ‘Kenzo World’, continue to trend under the creative direction of Californian duo Carol Lim and Humberto Leon (founders of Opening Ceremony). So what’s the appeal of a high-low collaboration?

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Kenzo have created in excess of 150 pieces across womenswear, menswear & accessories, following in the footsteps of last year’s super-hyped Balmain collab.  

Why the continued interest in high-fashion houses leaning into the high-street?

We’re talking about millennials (again) - the mindset shift from ‘I have’ to ‘I experience’ has been well documented, to the point of caricature. Is it as blanket as this? As an agency, we need to step-out of the hype.

Are consumers looking to engage with brands on a less superficial, off-the-shelf way? Yes. Is it less about a big blow-out purchase? Sometimes.  Is the desire for luxury items dead? No, absolutely not - we can see this from hysteria-inducing limited edition launches, the black market dealers & the eBay traders who work slavishly to feed the frenzy.

However, the definition of luxury itself has evolved with technology opening up previously unattainable services, such as personal stylists and on-demand chauffeurs. Rent-The-Runway achieved success, bringing couture to the masses by leveraging the sharing economy and millennial practicality, whilst Burberry have changed their playbook, offering insta-fashion via their see-now-buy-now strategy.

Are ‘slow and scarce’ outmoded measures of status?

There’s room for both models. Chanel straddle high/low and old/new with incredible dexterity, being iconic and slow at flagship level whilst ‘playing’ at pop-up and ambassador level.

H&M’s ‘high-low’ highlights:

We first saw H&M partner with Chanel mastermind Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, launching with a campaign poking fun at the high-fashion community’s inherent snobbery and elitism.

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LANVINxHM


In 2010, Lanvin’s collaboration wasn’t about ‘dress for less’. It was about trading influence for access to new consumers.

2011’s Versace x H&M collaboration was an eye-opener for Donatella Versace, “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!” 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 a Supreme or Yeezy launch.  

Versace was swiftly followed by Maison Martin Margiela in 2012 (before they ditched the ‘Martin’) and their retrospective project with H&M, reissuing many of their ‘greatest hits’ at a much, much lower price point. This gave discerning shoppers with smaller budgets the chance to finally get their own piece of the brand.

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WANGxHM

Alexander Wang, rocketed the sports-luxe trend onto the high-street with his all-black, neoprene, ‘WANG’ blazoned athleisure collection – and was the first American designer to participate in the fast-fashion project.

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BALMAINxHM

Bringing us up to date, Rousteing’s Balmain collection was made up of recreations of his own pieces (made insta-famous by the Kardashian-Jenners) at lower prices rather than working on new items with H&M’s designers. H&M stated “It has a lot to do with the existing image of the brand. We don’t want Balmain or Olivier to become H&M. We want H&M to become Balmain for that short moment in time.”

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The Balmain Army

With an impressive roster of high-fashion collaborations under their belt, the ‘x HM’ formula continues to win. Firmly set in the fashion calendar, consumers set 2am alarms to get in-line for the store launches – which are coordinated globally. Global, same-day launches have been driven by the millennial consumer’s borderless consumption. What is a ‘local launch’ when everything can be viewed across social media in real-time?

A Two-Way Attraction:

It’s understood that H&M’s designer collaborations make up a tiny percentage of overall sales for the world’s second largest apparel retailer. But the marketing benefits (said to be measured in billions of media impressions) help boost positive brand perception and drive consumers to H&M stores.

“It’s brand building, of course. It creates a buzz and maybe gets people who never shopped at H&M before to shop with us,” explained H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson.

“In the hardcore fashion world in Paris, it would have looked a bit funny to walk around with an H&M bag,” said Donald Schneider, the creative consultant to H&M, who conceived the designer collaboration concept more than a decade ago. “Suddenly, it was totally okay for a woman to walk into the Ritz wearing H&M with a Dior top. It opened up a lot of things.”

The benefits go both ways. Rousteing, on last year’s Balmain x HM collaboration said, “I love Instagram because my followers can be part of the Balmain life. Now, with this H&M collaboration, they will get the chance to finally wear the pieces for themselves.”

Of course, the typical H&M customer is not the typical Balmain customer. And Balmain x H&M pieces are not Balmain pieces. But for a luxury brand like Balmain, the secret to manufacturing desire exists in the tension between being highly visible and highly exclusive at the same time.

Shared Vision

Hot off the back of H&M’s #ladylike campaign, Kenzo too approach the collaboration with themes of diversity.

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H&M’s #Ladylike Campaign

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#KENZOxHM

Choosing an eclectic mix of people to star in the look book - alongside 6 lead models, the campaign features writer and activist Amy Sall, photographer Youngjun Koo, artist and DJ Juliana Huxtable, musician and performance artist Oko Ebombo, fashion editor Harriet Verney, make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench, artist Ingrid, musician Anna of the North and model and rapper Le1f.

For Kenzo, the design pair have stated “With this collaboration with H&M we want to think big, push the boundaries and bring the new energy of Kenzo to everyone around the world.”

“We wanted to really tell the story of the brand and of us,” added Humberto Leon. “Together with H&M, we will invite all the customers and fans to the real Kenzo world.”

“I think a dream customer is a new customer,” says Carol Lim, “The more people that discover the brand and come to love the rich history behind the brand and what we’ve created—to us, that’s exciting.”

“We can’t wait to share with everyone the world of KENZO x H&M, with all of its creativity, fun and love of fashion,” said Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor at H&M.

The fashion industry have always been leaders when it comes to creating cultural moments and movements. But with consumers more savvy than ever, fashion brands are learning to lean into their customers culture. The days of 90’s label snobbery are far behind us (even if chokers are back for good). That ‘I have’ mindset has shifted. Now, it’s all about ‘I can have’, and H&M x [insert name here] is throwing the door to premium wide open. But why stop at fashion? We’re calling it; luxury is about to get seriously redefined. A new age of high-brow x low-brow has dawned.

Kat Towers - Head of Culture

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