Designer Collaborations: Past Factors Define Future Success

With every new era come new trends that inevitably change the face of the fashion industry, as we know it.  And no other trend has been more influential than designer collaborations, bringing luxury fashion to the everyday consumer.  

But with so many of the partnerships available and no sign of the trend slowing down, how can a designer collaboration truly be successful?


The Way They Were

When Isaac Mizrahi paired his playful style with American retailer Target to create in 2003, the fashion industry had never seen a design collaboration in action. Thought before to be alienating to the luxury client, Mizrahi was the first to try a mass-market partnership and boy did it pay off.  The Isaac Mizrahi for Target Collection sold for 5 years from 2003 – 2008 and reportedly earned over 300 million US dollars a year.

Karl_Lagerfeld_for_H&MKarl Lagerfeld, the outrageous genius behind Chanel, followed suit in 2004 by releasing a collection exclusively at Swedish retailer H&M. Although only sold in half of H&M’s then 1000 locations, most Lagerfeld’s pieces quickly sold out at stores, surpassing both the expectations of H&M and Lagerfeld himself. 


Today’s Success Stories

Today most mass-market retailers, with the notable exception of Zara, have released designer collaborations.  And since 2004, many have been successful: Kate Moss for Topshop, Lanvin and Marni for H&M, and Jason Wu for Target, just to name a select few. 

But in most recent years, the oversaturation of the designer collaboration market has become overwhelming.  And yet some designers have managed to unveil truly successful collaborations due to two key factors: the product adhering to the designer’s aesthetic and the price point being reasonable.  Two factors that clearly defined the Mizrahi and Lagerfeld collections of yore.

Prabal_Gurung_for_for_TargetThe fashion industry’s most recent design collaboration, Prabal Gurung for Target is a great example of this.  Released last week, this collection has already been marked a success with most pieces sold out the first day.  And just like the Lagerfeld collection in 2004, which David Wolfe of The Doneger Group said “looked like Karl had designed it”; the Gurung/Target designs fit his aesthetic to a tee. 

The price point was also extremely good as his signature floral dresses cost around 35 US dollars, with shoes costing about 30 US dollars.

Anna_Dello_Russo_for_H&MAnother recent successful collaboration was Anna Dello Russo for H&M.  Anna Dello Russo designed a collection as brand and bold as she is herself.  And customers responded as a broad range to H&M to purchase this collection, with a company spokesperson saying, “It defied expectations, since it's not strictly speaking a designer collaboration”



Key Factors at Play

To drive home how important the design aesthetic and price point is to the success of a designer collaboration, one need only look at two other recent collaborations that were not as successful: Maison Martin Margiela for H&M and Neiman Marcus + Target.

According to the Huffington Post, Maison Martin Margiela for H&M failed to connect because their pieces cost between 200 – 400 US dollars, much higher than the average H&M customer is accustomed to or willing to spend.

As for Neiman Marcus + Target, the partnership also saw designers creating pieces not in line with what they usually sell.  As the Business Insider points out, denim brand Rag & Bone sold shot glasses for Neiman Marcus + Target.


A Look to the Future

Clearly designer collaborations are not going anywhere any time soon, so designers and retailers need to take special care when embarking on a retail partnership.  The success or failure of such a collaboration, can have a real impact on the brand’s overall business and reputation. 


In today’s market, truly not all collaborations are created equal.