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Collaborations Between Luxury Brands and Non-Luxury Collections

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

8:00 am, Nov 24, 2010, in front of the H&M store in Myongdong, Seoul.

There are several hundred people waiting in line for the opening of the new H&M store. Some of them arrived here at 2:00 AM, and some of them passed a whole night in front of the store. Some of them just arrived and are worried about being late even though the shop opens at 10:00 AM.

It was the launching day of the LANVIN X H&M collaboration collection, which, thanks to a worldwide advertising blitz, built to a boiling hot issue in only a few months. H&M launched this collection on the same day all around the world.

For those fashion victims who can’t afford actual LANVIN collection items (this would be most of us), this release was marked as a ‘must-attend’ event on their calendars, and they counted the days to this opening.

At 10:00 AM, the door opened. Everyone rushed into the store and tried to grab one or more items on the hangers.

10:30 AM, men’s collections all sold out, while 2/3rds of women’s collections were sold out.

H&M has famously teamed up with a host of the world’s most respected designers in the past, including Stella McCartney, Karl Lagerfeld and, most recently, by iconic French luxury label Lanvin.

However, given that the market segment served by H&M is comprised largely of younger buyers, the question arises as to whether the average H&M shopper had ever heard of Lanvin before H&M collaborated with them. While H&M benefited from the cachet of partnering with a revered name, the brands ‘partner with’ schemes are strategic for those revered names as well, since they have become aspiring to a new generation of consumers who wish to share some of the glamour with the luxury consumers of the principle label.

These days, there have been many cobranding activities between luxury brands and other industries with similar market segmentations. British designer Edwald Boateng redesigned the charge card of Coutts Bank, while Alexander McQueen created a new version of the American Express Centurion exclusive credit card as part of its fifth anniversary in 2004. Giorgio Armani designed a limited edition CLK for Mercedes-Benz in 2003 and Emilio Pucci linked up with champagne and fine wines brand Veuve Cliquot in the summer of 2004 to create a limited edition packaging design for Cliquot’s La Grande Dame 1996 vintage wine. Also in 2004, LVMH-owned Moet & Chandon teamed up with Swarovski to design an edition of a champagne bottle decorated with Swarovski crystals. Versace also recently collaborated with private charter airline TAG Aviation to redesign the interiors of its airplanes. Dolce & Gabbana designed a limited edition version of the Motorola V3i Gold in 2006. In addition, designers Christian Lacroix, Philippe Starck and Nicole Farhi collaborated with Danish pedal bin company Vipp between 2005 and 2006 to design a special collection of bins, which were auctioned for charity.

What is the strategic objective behind these collaborations? According to Uché Okonkwo the author of “Luxury Fashion Branding”, co-branding is a new phenomenon that indicates the departure of luxury brands from the core single-brand strategy. This co-branding strategy was previously termed ‘controversial and risky’ and was generally unacceptable until this decade. It was viewed as having a potentially negative impact on the ‘luxury’ and ‘exclusive’ image attributes of luxury brands. However, the changing luxury market environment and democratization of luxury are factors that co-branding addresses in addition to providing competitive leverage for the brands.

It could also generate more brand visibility through the mass brand’s worldwide networking while helping to attract a more diverse range of consumers, especially with regard to young future clients. This kind of co-branding should be executed with a close inspection of market segments and brand images for alignment. Uczhé Okonkwo shows us very good strategic approaches for such co-brandings.

  • There must be a strategic purpose behind the co-branding activity. In other words, brands shouldn’t team up without a concrete and significant reason. When H&M collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, it was to address the consumer’s changing needs and expose them to luxury fashion in anticipation of “trading up.”
  • The co-branding should be a winwin situation for the brands involved. Again, the H&M venture had the advantages of endearing mass fashion consumers to luxury designs and embracing mass fashion brands as complementary brands of luxury brands rather than being viewed as competitors.
  • The collaboration should be controlled through a limited edition or a one-off collection. Karl Lagerfeld’s design for H&M was a thirty-piece one-off collection. This retains the luxury aura of Lagerfeld, which extends to his own brand and the luxury brands he designs for. It also ensures that H&M is not misinterpreted by the consumer as a luxury brand, which is not the company’s objective.
We see this in other industries, as well, with stereo systems in automobiles, branded carpets in new homes and condominiums, hotels with designer themes, etc. Most recently, I noted a “Starck-inspired” item in an airline catalog for, among other things, furniture. Further, there was ‘24 Hours: The Starck Mix,’ a free app tied to Wallpaper‘s Philippe Starck-edited October 2009 issue. The application provides a live stream of a 24-hour soundtrack, selected, arranged, composed and mixed by Soundwalk — a new media company known for their cutting-edge audio tours.

 

“According to me, sound is more important than music, it is a sort of physiological need,” Starck has said. “Soundwalk’s creations are extremely rich and sophisticated. They have the beauty and elegance of life. I listen to these tapes that take me far away, to a place where I want to go, because one should never forget that music is a territory.”

So what exactly does the app do? The starting point of the 24-hour mix is determined by what time it is in your time zone when you launch it. You can scroll forward or backward in the mix by changing time zones. Shaking your iPhone will cause the app to randomly play another section. This is all getting to be a bit much for me, as evidenced by the ‘according to me’ quote from Starck himself. This reminds us that luxury co-branding can be stretched to a limit, and then tear, as with Pierre Cardin, which has lent his name to just about everything, at the expense, say some, of much of his credibility. Cardin is known all over the world for stamping his name on everything from golf clubs and frying pans to binoculars and orthopedic mattresses. While most designers content themselves with fragrance, accessories and underwear, Cardin has amassed more than 800 licensees around the globe, and earns royalties on Pierre Cardin luggage, ceramics and cooker hoods.

Starck seems to be well on his way, as well, “according to me.”

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