There’s nothing quite like a juicy hook-up, especially when it comes to fashion. As designers and celebrities continue to lend their names and nous to highstreet collections, shoppers just can’t seem to get enough.
Or can they?
It appears we’ve reached peak collaboration. Since H&M launched its first 30-piece designer capsule with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 (a sell-out in multiple cities within in an hour), ‘high-low’ has become the hottest trend in retail with, literally, hundreds of collaborations cluttering the mass market landscape.
Kate Moss for Topshop, Victoria Beckham for Target and Rihanna for River Island are a few of the media-frenzied partnerships over the years that have inspired round-the-block queues, crashing websites, stampeding crowds and eBay bidding wars - all in a bid to bag some limited-edition swag.
2017 sees X marking the spot across scores of hotly-tipped twosomes: JW Anderson x Uniglo; model-of-the-moment Gigi Hadid x Tommy Hilfiger; not to mention H&M’s sweet sixteenth collaboration with London-based label Erdem. Oh, let’s not forget Lidl and Heidi Klum.
That’s right. Lidl and Heidi Klum. Pause. Scratch head. Read again. Verklempt?
Supermarkets and supermodels aren’t the most obvious twosome. So, when German grocer Lidl unveiled plans for its first ever ‘high-end yet affordable’ fashion collaboration with Victoria’s Secret Angel, lingerie designer and TV host Heidi Klum, some style seekers were more intrigued (nay, perplexed) than excited.
The ‘Heidi & The City’ collection, which will be available exclusively at over 150 Lidl stores nationwide on September 18 priced from €5.99 to €59.99, taps into the high-low egalitarian mantra of premium accessibility but at what cost? The fashion math is obvious. Combine a big name and big buzz with limited run of product at low prices for an even bigger return. The result?
Designers receive a broader customer base (at a feasible price) while retailers bask in the glow of the implied gravitas. It all starts to get a bit frayed around the edges, however, when visibility trumps credibility in a bid to cash in on a good thing.
What’s more, Klum’s new collection which, according to Lidl, ‘mirrors her characteristic style’ (think leopard print blazers, bomber jackets and super-skinny jeans) adds a level of cache into which her loyal followers will undoubtedly be buying.
Factor in Lidl’s recent expansion into the US market (its first stores opened in June with another 80 planned for the East Coast by mid-2018) and the apparent puzzle starts to make sense. Why?
Its stateside competitors Wal-Mart and Target have already made considerable inroads into supermarket chic – the latter of the two boasting the most bankable design dyads with power players like Peter Pilotto, Prabal Gurung, Zac Posen, Philip Lim and Missoni to name a few.
That said, some folks still aren’t (and won’t be) buying it. Writer and Instagrammer Lindsay Woods (@manolomummy) is one of them. “I’m all for an emergency aisle 3 purchase of a 5-pack of cotton briefs when life and age have sagged my knicker elastic to a tragic end,” she admits.
“But do I really want to purchase a frock with my frankfurters? No, I do not. The thought leaves me as cold as the strip lighting by the dairy fridges.” Ouch.
If creating the right mood is critical to retail therapy, then what visual stimuli will it take for punters to part with their pennies? Stylist Irene O’Brien (Irene.ie) is curious.
“Is it going to be more like an installation or a pop-up in the middle of Lidl?” she asks. “Because I can’t imagine that you’re just going along picking up your posh vegetable crisps and, then, your Heidi Klum clothes. Is that bringing people in or is that bringing people back because I don’t know if it will. It is kind of bonkers but, maybe, brilliantly so.”
Good point. Sometimes the most unlikely pairings keep the tills ringing. Unlike the questionable partnering with Paris Hilton on a hair care line (really?), Lidl boxed clever in choosing the runway veteran whose combined social media following (excluding Snapchat) tips over 12 million.
These days making a good impression is as much about impressions (online) as it is to do with display and design. What’s more, Klum’s new collection which, according to Lidl, ‘mirrors her characteristic style’ adds a level of cache into which her loyal followers will undoubtedly be buying.
Indeed, badging a brand with a credible ambassador seems to have kept highstreet chains fashionably black where others have been left red-faced.
Topshop set the bar high over a four-year design partnership (2007-2010) with supermodel Kate Moss, raising sales for the store, according to reports, by up to 10 per cent; while Beyoncé’s Ivy Park athleisure range for the retailer (now in its third season) was an instant sell-out at its launch in 2016.
M&S experienced similar success with supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley at the helm of three collections (swimwear, nightwear and underwear); whereas Alexa Chung’s ‘Archive by Alexa’ edit appealed to her fans (the Victorian-collared ‘Harry’ blouse sold out by the end of the first day) but not necessarily the ampersand duo’s traditional, more conservative customer base.
And therein lies the rub. There’s a big difference between authentic alliances and flimsy marketing ploys as O’Brien rightly points out.
“If I feel that it’s a partnership and a collection in its own right that is specifically designed by a designer or house with these people in mind,” she says, “that’s very different than saying, ‘Let’s create this one-off collection and get everyone in the door so that you can get a taste of this designer.’”
This is where department stores like Debenhams and Dunnes have risen to the top – astute in parlaying reputable names that tap into specific customer segments.
The 18-strong Designers at Debenhams range has energised the British brand with lines ranging from the youthful H! by Henry Holland to princess-approved Studio by Preen (one of Kate Middleton’s favourite designers) and Ireland’s own John Rocha.
Dunnes Stores has likewise hit the sales sweet spot with a high-quality, design-centric roster including wishlist-worthy labels like Lennon Courtney and Joanne Hynes; not to mention former Kerry footballer Paul Galvin’s urban heritage hybrid. Low on frenzy, high on credibility, these ranges prove their mettle in longevity — something from which other chain stores might learn.
Whether Lidl’s love-in with a household name like Heidi can go the distance, only time will tell.
To paraphrase a famous Project Runway quip, “one day you’re in and the next you’re out.” Fast fashion in a nutshell.