Unpacking the High-Low Fashion Collaboration

November 6th, 20179:00 am @

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With every new season comes a new limited-edition, capsule collaboration between fast fashion giant H&M and a select luxury label. Last year’s immensely successful joint venture with the Parisian fashion house Kenzo gave buyers a chance to get their hands on exclusive, ambitious, boldly-patterned pieces at a lower price.

This year’s pick: Erdem. The eponymous brand, helmed by the London-based, Turkish-Canadian designer Erdem Moralioglu, is known for its lush floral prints, rich textures, and fine craftsmanship. Naturally, the collection has many people wondering: will quality be compromised for the sake of commerce and the fast-fashion culture?

Fast fashion is desired for its affordability as well as for its disposability. It appeals to the consumer’s impulses, which are, in turn, driven by the trends dictated by luxury fashion designers. When a high-end label sells a particular trendy item for a sum of four figures, such as this pyjama-style blouse, Zara re-creates the product and sells it for almost one percent of the price.

But the Gucci blouse is made to last a lifetime, whereas fast fashion is designed to be disposed of after a few months of wear. As a solution to this price-quality dichotomy, the high-low collaboration was conceived, giving consumers a taste of fine craftsmanship and high-quality design at a (relatively) modest price. Take a look at Erdem x H&M’s take on the pyjama blouse, on sale for $139:

hm-x-erdem-menswear-e

These collaborative efforts seem to benefit both parties. Both retailer and the designer get a boost in sales and a considerable increase in brand recognition. The collaboration is also a means of “democratizing” fashion, that is, bringing high fashion to the masses.

But is this really a sustainable model? 

Unsurprisingly, this is an enormously controversial issue for the industry. On the one hand, it ameliorates the stereotype of elitism surrounding it. By bringing a sample of the high-end clothing usually reserved for celebrities, models, and upscale clientele to the mass population, designers promote inclusivity and increase accessibility. On the other hand, concessions are inevitably made for the sake of mass production. Luxury designers are forced to reorient towards a consumer-driven model, sacrificing quality and craftsmanship for sales. The creative and time constraints imposed by the ever-changing consumer taste becomes a source of woe, and the very fabric of haute couture is compromised. Designers, magazine editors, and other industry elites lament the death of “fashion-as-art” and the rise of commodity culture.

Is there a right side to be on? Of course not. But considering fashion is undeniably a part of our lives, it is important to consider these views and their relevance as we inevitably play our own role in modern consumer culture.

Images courtesy of H&M.