Susannah Frankel: The art of being stylish without appearing to try very hard

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The invitation was emblazoned with an illustration of Karl Lagerfeld's face. Le tout Paris was there: Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mrs Roman Polanski), Ines de la Fressange, Amanda Harlech, a clutch of big-name models and the editors of any French fashion glossy worth mentioning.

Were they attending the launch of the latest must-have accessory courtesy of the Lagerfeld-designed megabrand Chanel? Well, no, the Pompidou Centre, previously the location of such auspicious fashion happenings as the Yves Saint Laurent swansong haute-couture retrospective, was, on this occasion, given over to a party for the unveiling of Karl Lagerfeld's collection for none other than Swedish high-street chain, H&M.

That was more than a month ago. The range went on sale worldwide last Friday and sold out in a matter of minutes from almost every H&M store.

The securing of probably the world's most famous designer was, of course, quite a coup on the company's part. Far from transforming itself from relatively anonymous fashion retailer to major international player overnight, however, H&M has been raising its profile slowly but surely for some time.

Recent ad campaigns have featured the famous faces of Claudia Schiffer, Johnny Depp, Pamela Anderson, Heidi Klum and Benicio Del Toro, a roll-call that more than holds its own even in today's celebrity-saturated market.

As far as the clothes themselves are concerned, as well as providing the requisite wardrobe staples - a perfectly adequate, reasonably priced suit for work, for example, or equally functional roll-neck sweater - H&M can these days always be relied upon as provider of high street interpretations of designer clothes before the originals hit the Bond Street stores.

And while Top Shop is aimed predominantly at the teen market, H&M is pulling in an older but equally fashion-conscious consumer who would rather visit a store with a less clubby ambience to buy their clothes.

This is, of course, just the sort of customer that Marks & Spencer would like to be wooing but which continues to elude them. While H&M has Lagerfeld, the M&S initiative to bring in designer talent - following in the footsteps of Debenhams and, of course, Top Shop - is so low-profile it's barely there.

Marks & Spencer's attempts to sex up its image, meanwhile, are nothing short of embarrassing: it's just not the type of thing that sits comfortably in this much-loved but floundering store.

It's no secret that M&S, once home to some of the best basics in the world, is now jack of all trades, but master of none. H&M, on the other hand, like its interior design counterpart, Ikea, has mastered the art of stylishness without ever seeming forced right across the board.