Coming to a high street near you

Mass market never looked so good. More and more, designers are joining forces with the high street to bring fashion to the frontline.

Topshop and Mary Katrantzou, H&M and Marni are just some of the chain gangs afoot, not to mention Karl by Karl Lagerfeld — the latest ‘masstige’ collection from the Kaiser. As the style elite open their gilded cages to the public, the demand for a fashion democracy has never been stronger. The real question is can the high street ever be high end?

Although the partnership of keen price points and credible talent may be future-proofing the bottom line for both parties, it’s the combined audience reach that has proven the real deal clincher.

Take Swedish clothing giant H&M whose fashion federation has included names like Viktor + Rolf, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo and Versace. The result: money-can’t-buy publicity. Matthew Williamson and Jimmy Choo’s Dublin launch saw punters queuing storeside from dawn, while 2008’s Comme de Garcons diffusion line sold out in under a half hour.

This month’s Marni launch marks the apotheosis of the ampersand duo’s style credentials. The Italian brand, famed for its print fusion and bold colour blocks, launches its clothing and accessories line for women and men on March 8 in 260 stores worldwide and online.

The collection, personally shaped by founder and creative director Consuelo Castiglioni, promises similar craftsmanship and eclectic references for which the Italian brand is known. Bauhaus and African portraiture prints clash effortlessly across dresses, jackets, cropped trousers and pleated skirts in arresting shades of cobalt blue and apple green, while chunky tribal neckpieces, vivid bags and bracelets, shoes and scarves provide a textural talking point.

The weighty designer name, combined with a slick advertising campaign directed by Sofia Coppola, has added to the perma-buzz surrounding the collaboration, not to mention February’s star-studded launch in Los Angeles boasting names like Drew Barrymore and Milla Jovovich. But in the wake of poor press surrounding the recent David Beckham and Versace launches, just how will the Marni collaboration fare?

Stylist Mark Andrew Kelly shares his views. “Castigilioni’s use of textures and rhythmic prints are such an integral part of the Marni brand along with the well-cut, structured materials,” says Kelly, “so my main concern for the H&M collaboration would be the fabric quality and the how the garment fares after a few wears.”

Irish Tatler editor Jessie Collins has higher hopes for the collection. “It looks like Marni will be one of H&M’s hits rather than misses, partly fuelled by the current love of print and how well the designer imprint has been translated into a wearable capsule wardrobe.”

As far as ‘hits’ are concerned, Topshop has proven quite the kingpin in its lucrative series of alliances with emerging and established designer names. Under the auspices of its New Gen programme, young talents like Simone Rocha, Michael Van der Haam have all added to the brand’s cool cache, while Christopher Kane’s 2009 launch proved one of the chain’s most bankable, allowing purchasing power upwards of €91 as opposed to the Scottish designer’s usual four-digit price points.

This February, Greek-born designer and London Fashion Week darling Mary Katrantzou unveiled a limited edition collection for Topshop (available in Ireland on Topshop.com) with seven styles in the 10-piece capsule selling out in just a few hours.

Taking cues from her a/w 11 line, Katrantzou brings her trademark prints to the masses with crystal flower brooches, lacquered Coromandel screens and Qing Long Dynasty floral motifs executed on easy-to-wear separates and notice-me dresses. Starting at £40 (€48.12) for jersey leggings with an iconic multi-coloured satin print bowl dress ringing in at £350 (€421.07), the sway of heavy-weight designer collaborations is evident as fans wait for Topshop.com to restock the popular line.

In the meantime, Katrantzou has teamed up with Longchamp to launch two special-edition tote bags, in addition to an exclusive print for the Le Pliage line. Available at Arnotts, Dublin, from €61 to €365, the line should prove quite the arm candy for fans of the designer.

Although visibility is critical for mainstream success, the question remains: can exclusivity and affordability co-exist? Increasingly so, it would appear. KARL — the Kaiser’s eponymous mid-range womenswear line has already proven a viral hit after its sell-out success on luxury e-tail site Net-a-porter.com. Now sold exclusively at BT2, the brand is proving its mettle with savvy Irish style seekers. The appeal of slicing a few zeros off the Lagerfeld bottom line is a delicious prospect indeed but how does it compare?

The range includes a wearable edit of urban-inspired separates from black skinny jeans and metallic leather skirts to t-shirts, fingerless gloves and sequin collars. Prices hover comfortably between €60 to €300 in the main, with the most expensive pieces (leather and lizard-effect jackets) clocking in at €1,000. Although heftier than your average designer diffusion range, its popularity seems directly proportionate to its execution. “The tailoring is very good,” says Shelly Corkery of Brown Thomas, “and very much in line with what he does, so he’d be very careful about the finish.” In Karl’s words, this is called ‘masstige’ (mass prestige), in fashion-speak, it’s 2012’s most talked about launch.

As the relationship between high street and high end continues to strengthen, so too are its loyal followers. The combination of quality, cut and price are proving as tantalising as hot designer credentials.

If fast fashion flings are a thing of the past, then meaty mid-range collections could well be the recession-friendly future. In the meantime, get set to join the queue; it’s going to be a big one.


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