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Designers for Retail

02/12/2015 Christine Richardson

The recent launch of H&M’s collaboration with Balmain saw thousands of fashion-obsessed shoppers line up for hours for the mere chance to snag a piece from the collection. Since the retailer’s first designer collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, the hype has grown exponentially, and the launches are now essentially the same circus as Wal-Mart on Black Friday, only with higher heels and more fur. Target has seen similar success with its own designer collaborations, which have included Alexander McQueen, Philip Lim and Missoni, among others. Cities like Paris, New York and even Montreal are usually too cool to show enthusiasm for anything, much less retail giants. So why do these designer collaborations see the coolest fashionistas camped out in the cold outside of fast-fashion chain stores not usually known for their glamour?

The most obvious explanation, and the one offered up by the marketing departments behind these collaborations, is that these big chains are able to bring designer labels to the masses at reasonable prices. That makes sense. This is what stores like H&M and Zara do every day. They bring runway looks to the market at a price the average person can afford. Even if designer collaborations tend to sell for two-to-three times the price of a store’s typical collection, it’s still a fraction of what you would pay for a true designer label.

Until you look on eBay. Pieces from these collaborations are listed for resale online for hundreds or even thousands of dollars within hours. And they sell! It’s not uncommon to see pieces selling for more than five times the original retail price. While I’m sure cost is a factor for many of the people lined up, it’s hard to argue that the appeal of these collections is purely economic when you have people who are clearly willing to pay full designer price for them.

So, if it’s not just price, it must be styling, right? Maybe everyone lined up outside a store or obsessively refreshing their web browsers saw the preview of a collection, fell in love with a piece and absolutely had to have that gold-embroidered velvet jacket. And I’m sure that’s the case for some people, but certainly not for all. Many shoppers at these launches are frantically grabbing anything that might fit and resorting to cocktail rings and clutches if all else fails, just to be sure they don’t leave empty-handed. Can you imagine how disappointing a cocktail ring must be after you’ve waited in line overnight?

But these shoppers never look disappointed in their selfies posted all over the internet. They don’t seem tired. They certainly don’t look like I would if I hadn’t had access to plumbing for 14 hours. They’re beaming. They’re proud. They can’t wait to show the world their shopping bag, regardless of what’s in it.

And that’s what this is really about. It’s not about the prices or even the pieces. The hype has somehow become about the hype itself. It’s about telling the world you care so much about fashion that you will line up and fight your way through the crowd for what is perceived to be a super-exclusive piece. And that’s the same image those eBay buyers are paying for.

Sure, they have to spend a little - okay, a lot - extra, but they still get to brag about their find and project the image of someone who will do just about anything to get that awesome jacket.