From the catwalk to the high street

There's big money to be made when designers embrace the mass market – but is the latest collaboration a risk too far? Rachel Shields reports
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The Independent Online

His glitzy dresses have graced catwalks and red carpets around the world, sported by A-listers Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Minogue, among others, but it seems unlikely that Hollywood's finest will be rushing to snap up Julien Macdonald's latest collection.

The Welsh designer's first jewellery line has just been launched at the budget retailer H Samuel, making it the latest in a spate of collaborations that have seen designers and celebrities clamouring to team up with high-street stores for a slice of the UK's lucrative mass market.

From Kate Moss to Giles Deacon and Roland Mouret to Lily Allen, famous people are stamping their names on everything, including perfumes, clothing ranges, sunglasses and homeware.

High-street shops are now so awash with "limited-edition" celebrity lines that new ranges pass almost unnoticed. The launch early next month of Roberto Cavalli's range for H&M has barely registered on the fashion radar, in stark contrast to the chain's much-hyped Karl Lagerfeld line in 2004, one of the first of its kind.

This over-saturation is proving no deterrent to either the celebrities or retail giants intent on stocking their products. And in most cases, the investment by retailers such as New Look and Mango is paying off. H&M, too, enjoyed a big boost last March when the launch of Madonna's line triggered a 17 per cent rise in sales that month in its stores around the world.

Yet the year's most hyped celebrity collaboration – Kate Moss and Topshop – has disappointed some retail experts. Sir Philip Green, owner of Arcadia, the group behind Topshop, ploughed some £3m into securing the fashion model, yet her first two collections hardly put a rocket under the group's finances. Annual figures released last week showed that Topshop's sales were barely up on last year's £100m, a muted rise given the boost to the profile of the brand.

Although celebrity pay packets are top secret, retail analysts say they will be amply compensated for lending their name and even their face to low-end brands. Julien Macdonald may have explained away his unusual collaboration with the insistence that he'd had a "soft spot" for H Samuel since visiting the store as a child, but the truth is probably a little more prosaic.

It is no secret that the designer, who also has a clothing range with Debenhams, is money-motivated. He has justified his decision to use fur in his collections by pointing out that it is extremely popular with his Russian customers and that it generates 60 per cent of his revenues.

Richard Hyman, who runs the retail consultancy Verdict, said designers and celebrities take only very small risks, but can make vast gains from high-street tie-ups. "They'll most likely get a flat fee, and then another bite of the cherry if it is very successful. And they will be paid more if the shop wants a second collection."

There is always a risk that collaborations could backfire, however. Becoming involved with H Samuel could be costly for Macdonald: the chain has never quite recovered from the own goal its former owner Gerald Ratner scored when he branded its goods "total crap".

"If a designer stays in safe territory, then it can be fabulous. But Julien is not a jewellery designer, and if he has stepped out of his comfort zone – especially with a company like H Samuel – he could be risking a huge amount," says Paula Reed, style director at the fashion magazine Grazia.

While this may prove to be the case, designers and retailers are continuing to reap the benefits of the trend. Indeed, many believe that it is consumers who are the ones losing out – paying above the odds for merchandise that may be of no better quality than the shops' own-brand goods.

Julien Macdonald and H Samuel

The Welsh designer of haute couture has just launched his first jewellery range through H Samuel, claiming he has had a 'soft spot' for its stores since childhood

Roland Mouret and Gap

The French designer behind the figure-fixing Galaxy dress saw his 10 designs for Gap fly off the shelves last year

Kate Moss and Coty

'Kate', produced by the fragrance giant Coty, was the best-selling scent in the UK within days of its launch

Jasper Conran and Debenhams

One of the first to see the potential of the high street, Conran has lent his name to low-cost homeware, fragrances and furniture

Stella McCartney and AdidasThe designer turned her first profit this year after boosting her profile with collections for Adidas, H&M and LeSportsac

Victor & Rolf and H&M

The Dutch duo's collection for H&M was a hit. They have since cashed in with a scent and a shoe line for Bloomingdale's in New York

Giles Deacon and New Look

Amid designing for Daks, Intel and even himself, Deacon finds time to churn out his 'Gold' collection for the cheap and cheerful chain