Designer tie-ups: A high street love affair

A-list celebrities and fashion chains have forged enduring partnerships. But do they actually work? Susie Mesure reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It is the one trend that refuses to die. Fifteen years after Debenhams sparked a retailing revolution with its diffusion collections by the celebrity milliner Philip Treacy and the designer Jasper Conran, the fashion for red carpet labels to seek tie-ups with high street stores is still going strong.

This month sees Jimmy Choo, shoemaker to the stars, join the list of catwalk names that have lent their design credentials – to H&M, the Swedish fashion giant that has exploited the trend most successfully in recent years. The collection by Jimmy Choo, which will span shoes and clothing, is tipped to spark a frenzy when it goes on sale on 14 November.

The success of designer tie-ups, which include Kate Moss for Topshop and Giles Deacon for New Look, has surprised even seasoned retail observers, who felt the plethora of me-too collections that followed H&M's 2004 tie-up with Karl Lagerfeld would have killed the trend long ago.

Lauretta Roberts, development director at the trend forecasters WGSN, said: "When it started, it felt like a fad that would run for only a few seasons." But the news that a top designer is lending his or her talents to a high street store can still excite shoppers, as is evident from the recent clamour for Jil Sander's +J range for the Japanese retailer Uniqlo. Stella McCartney's first children's range for Gap Kids, which goes on sale tomorrow, is also expected to be popular.

An analysis of H&M's sales figures for the months that its designer lines hit its stores reveals just why the Swedish chain has kept the collections coming. Every time it launches a fresh collaboration, which it does at least twice a year, the pulling power of a catwalk legend draws customers to its stores. Most striking was the 24 per cent sales fillip it got in November 2004, when its debut Karl Lagerfeld line sold out across Europe within hours of going on sale.

For brands such as Jimmy Choo, designing a range for a retailer like H&M buys bigger exposure among new potential customers. It also – briefly – stops retailers from ripping off their designs. Jimmy Choo is famously litigious, suing high street chains including Oasis, Warehouse and Marks & Spencer for copying its bags and shoes. "High street designers pore over catwalk collections for ideas. This enables brands to take some control of that process and profit from it," Ms Roberts said.

Not that each collaboration works. H&M stumbled with its choice of Madonna back in March 2007, while Gap's choice of the French designer Roland Mouret, best known for his tailoring, proved poor. And Lily Allen's range for New Look failed to pull in the crowds that turned up for similar alliances elsewhere.

Fashion experts believe the era of celebrity designers is waning. Phyllis Walters, the fashion industry executive who helped to launch the Designers at Debenhams range in the early 1990s, said: "It's a chestnut that's overrun. The public sees right through a range by a celebrity with two hit records." And Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, recently said: "Every D-level celebrity who thought they could make a quick buck by designing a handbag or whatever is going to disappear. And I think that's a good thing."

Even H&M admits its designer collaborations could eventually run out of steam. Margareta van den Bosch, its creative director responsible for wooing candidates, said she "didn't think" the trend would last indefinitely. "We want to keep updating and renewing ourselves to surprise our customers," she added.

Click here to launch our guide to the best and the worst in the world of designer tie-ups.

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