First came Lagerfeld, then Cavalli, Lanvin, Versace, Margiela and Alexander Wang to name a few. H&M’s collaborations with high-end designers have become a firm highlight in the fashion calendar. Most recently Balmaination took over and for a brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment Olivier Rousteing’s creations filled the shop windows of high street giant H&M. Since 2004 the Swedish fashion behemoth has been launching limited collections in collaboration with some of the most iconic fashion houses. These collections are always highly anticipated, sell out in minutes, and send the less affluent fashionistas into a frenzy. When high-end meets high street, it seems there is no length people won’t go to to get their hands on the coveted pieces.
The latest designer collaboration with Balmain was the 11th and most highly anticipated to date. People arrived the day before the collection was released to secure a spot at the front of the line. No wonder, seeing as the fashion world is has been going barmy for Balmain since the moment Olivier Rousteing took the reigns as creative director. His intricate designs range from heavily beaded dresses, to the bondage-inspired creations of the SS15 collection, to simple well-tailored pieces. His #balmainarmy includes the elite of the fashion it-crowd, with Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Jourdan Dunn fronting the H&M x Balmain campaign.
While both H&M and Balmain tipped the collection to sell out quickly, nobody quite anticipated the madness that ensued when H&M stores from London to Paris opened their doors on the 5th of November. In scenes which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of an apocalyptic action film, the swarms of people took over the shop floors and within a matter of minutes the collection was sold out.
Online wasn’t much better. Within minutes of being released, the website crashed for several hours as shoppers everywhere tried to get their hands on their very own Rousteing creation. This problem shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to the H&M IT department, as previous releases have led to the exact same outcome. It might be time for H&M to consider giving their website a regular once over—yes, even that’s possible dear H&M—to make sure it doesn’t buckle under pressure next time, so those not willing to spend hours waiting for the actual shop doors to open stand a chance of getting their hands on some of the designs. On the other hand, perhaps that’s half the fun.
Not all designer collaborations have been as big a success as Balmaination. Back in 2012 the collaboration with the design house Maison Martin Margiela ended up on the sale racks and the first ever collaboration with the ever-polarising designer Karl Lagerfeld was shrouded in controversy when he voiced his dismay that H&M had produced his designs in a size 16. His clothing, he claimed, was designed only with “slim and slender people” in mind. Well, Lagerfeld has always had his unique views… Olivier Rousteing on the other hand takes a different approach. He is “not the kind of guy that says, ‘Oh, it’s for this crowd only, and only they can understand.’” Rousteing has clearly understood what the designer collaborations are all about: to make high-end fashion available to the masses.
Of course, this inclusive approach to fashion does not sit well with everyone. For some, these collections will always remain fast fashion and as such a blemish in a world ruled by exclusivity. For those who perhaps view fashion more as a creative, feel-good outlet, rather than an exclusive club you can only buy your way into with the latest Celine bag, H&M x Balmain is a chance for Rousteing to expand his Balmain Army to a Balmain Nation.
And for Rousteing himself, “the essence of Balmain is happiness. It’s joyful. It’s not complicated. It’s more about feeling good. If you want people to feel good in your clothes, you have to feel good creating your clothes. And if you create with happiness you have no boundaries, no limits.”