The launch of the collection H&M x Balmain some weeks ago became a shopping madness. The collaboration between the affordable mass-market retailer and the high-fashion house will surely go down as one of – if not the – biggest collections of the year. H&M stores around the world witnessed huge queues. Some shoppers got in line 12 hours before the collection went on sale. The pieces from the collection sold out in a flash. Supplies were gone within three hours. Similarly, online shop hm.com was quickly overwhelmed with demand.
Some fashion experts looked down their nose to this Balmania phenomenon. They considered Balmain DNA is all about unique, as it is the case for every luxury house in the game. Therefore, making affordable what is usually not de-value the brand.
Truly, crossovers between high-end brands and mass-market retailers entail a potential image risk to the former. But to deny any possibility of a win/win situation for both players when this kind of initiatives are implemented properly is not to understand the changing landscape of the branding paradigm in 21th century. And the increasing potential of brands collaboration too.
For start, chain and designer benefited from the enormous resulting publicity and online chatter. Both brands created near hysteria about products for very little investment in traditional marketing. The H&M collaboration took usually-pricey Balmain’s reach much wider, especially among younger demographics that fashion industry is always interested in.
For sure it helped the 1.2 million followers in social networks of Balmain’s 30-year-old creative director, Olivier Rousteing. Being certain most of them can’t actually get his designs, the one-off collaboration allows Balmain to offer genuinely affordable alternatives to its loyal, window-shopping following, spurring the “Balmaniac” cult of celebrity-obsessing, trend-ravenous tweens and 20-somethings, also known as the Swedish chain’s prime consumer market.
This paradoxical “exclusive openness” could be also considered a strategic move by both the retailer and the designer to counter the increasing encroachment of counterfeiters. If fans can access anyway any counterfeit piece of fashion in an attempt to be part of Olivier’s cool club, to open the possibility of doing it with purse-friendly original designs is probing a clever way to compete with unauthorized knockoffs.
Besides, a study from the Luxury Institute showed that affluent shoppers are not usually turned off by luxury brands partnering with mainstream brands. The study concludes the risk of brand dilution in partnerships is much lower than in other strategies much widely applied and accepted like, for instance, brand extension in a bigger range of products. According to this study, a limited-item, limited time collection allows a luxury company to expand the brand while maintaining its exclusive appeal.
Anyway, two facts regarding H&M’s latest experiment in high-fashion-on-the-high-street seem to indicate its extraordinary success was due mainly to the positive nature of a brand collaboration itself as a way to create and offer something that cannot be achieved other way.
First, contrary to the success of this collaboration, nobody could claim that the elaborately beaded, brass-buttoned, faux military regalia typical of Balmain designs was part of any major fashion trend before the launch. And secondly and more significantly, the implication of H&M meant something else to increase demand of Balmain fashion than a more affordable price: When impossible to buy at the stores pieces of the collection created for the average budgets, some of them reached in ebay even higher prices than paid for the original steeply priced designs worn by wealthy celebrities like Kim Kardashian that made them so popular in the first place.