Design collaborations on the high street

Will Neisha Crosland, James Irvine and Sebastian Conran be household names when the summer’s over?

Silly season it may be with stupid stories making the headlines but this August is brimming with hot news in the design world. The buzz at Chelsea Harbour and other design savvy hubs is honing in on collaborations between high end designers and mass market shops.

By selling home wares on the high street, Neisha Crosland, Sebastian Conran, James Irvine and Ben de Lisi are reaching a wider customer base than ever before.

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Responding to current market conditions, leading brands are turning to high end designers to raise their style credibility while proving that good design need not be expensive. Like the imminent sartorial partnering of H&M and Jimmy Choo, home ware shops John Lewis, Debenhams and Muji now look to serious designers to pull in sales. The shops are rolling out lower priced, beautifully designed lines by respected names.

In a bid to support home-grown talent and raise their game in the trend stakes, John Lewis is forging attention-grabbing partnerships for its Autumn/Winter collections. High flying names - previously too expensive for the high street - including Neisha Crosland, Sebastian Conran, Nick Munro and Matthew Hilton are partnering with John Lewis. It is quite a PR coup to have bagged Crosland; her hotly anticipated collection of wallpaper, fabrics and bedlinen (inspired by Elizabethan and Jacobean England and oriental Shanghai deco) is her first entry onto the high street. Crosland justified her decision in the collaboration by saying, "I love the way that John Lewis do not get carried away by the cult of celebrity trend, but invest in solid, consistent good quality."

John Lewis is one of those rare establishments that gives most people a warm and fuzzy feeling. Trusted and proud of its heritage, John Lewis invokes a feel-good factor rarely found among its competitors and yet prior to this Autumn/Winter collection, it was not at the forefront of cutting edge creations.

Sebastian Conran, son of Sir Terence and design legend in his own right says, "Anyone who knows me will have heard me say, 'If you can’t get it at John Lewis, then it’s not worth having.' So, I was absolutely delighted to be invited to help develop this collection."

Set to rival Jamie Oliver's range, Conran’s new John Lewis cookware collection of 15 innovative cookware essentials is affordable and sleek. His favourite? A hob-to-table stockpot steamer that doubles up as a colander.

This isn't the first season that acclaimed designer Nick Munro has partnered with John Lewis but critics are keen to scope out his new upholstery collection there. Sumptuous cushions and solid walnut feet give the sofas and footstools an air of high end design but - and here is the key bit - at high street prices.

On a mission to prove that quality design by reputable names need not cost the earth, Debenhams have long championed their Designers at Debenhams collections.

Seasonal highlights include John Rocha's red petal cushion (£30), printed teardrop mirror frames by Betty Jackson (£12) and a funky peacock cushion (£20) from Julien MacDonald. But the real triumph this autumn is their latest collaboration. Fashion hotshot Ben de Lisi, famous for dressing the likes of Kate Winslett and Elizabeth Hurley, has turned his pencil to creating colourful home ware for Debenhams. Reds and greys feature prominently in de Lisi’s home range; worthy of particular mention are his super cool red dog cushions (£15) which smack of Warhol graphics.

De Lisi’s home range is not exclusive to Debenhams. Since closing his womenswear line earlier this year, he has been working with The Grosvenor Estate on a luxury apartment in Mayfair which is due to launch this month - and also his bathroom and kitchen ranges with Abacus Direct.

Last week, another thrilling collaboration hit the shelves. Muji, the Japanese lifestyle chain has teamed up with iconic German company Thonet led by British designer James Irvine and German furniture manufacturer Konstantin Grcic. The "Muji manufactured by Thonet" collection is very much a case of East meets West. The result of the surprising partnership is an affordable collection of simplified, stylised Thonet designs made of bentwood and tubular steel. Look out for Irvine’s Bentwood chair (£215) and a beech table/ desk (from £325) designed exclusively for Muji.

Design followers observe with great interest new partnerships between mass market shop and high end designers. For many shops, it is a shift in strategy. By teaming with world established designers, the shops are consciously deciding to up their own design credentials. It is as though they are looking for leadership through others - which some say, hints at a lack of their own brand identity. The same can be said of IKEA’s PS range. By selling product by higher end designers, the Swedish emporium makes good design more affordable and encourages punters to think the shop is design led.

Politicians and news readers may be on holiday this month creating a silly season of headlines but the design pages are bursting with hot collaborations between designers and shopkeepers. For designers, it’s rather like hoping to be picked for the school team; for the buyers, it’s a question of picking the right brand for their reputation. May the best team win.

Annie Deakin is Editor of

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