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Versace: What's the bright idea?

Luxury brands have never seemed further from reach, but Versace's shrewd link-up with H&M delivers glamorous fashion at a budget price

Susannah Frankel
Friday 11 November 2011 01:00 GMT

"Iconic pieces for young people – the essence of Versace" is how Donatella Versace describes her collection for H&M, which previewed in London yesterday and goes on sale online and in H&M stores worldwide at 9am next Thursday. Expect camping on pavements, queuing around the block and sharpened elbows when this, perhaps the finest designer offering from the Swedish high-street giant to date, drops.

H&M's link-ups with some of fashion's biggest names began in a blaze of publicity in 2004 with Karl Lagerfeld – and that sold out in a matter of hours. Its creator – who starred in the accompanying advertising campaign – has since said the experience was responsible for making him a household name.

In fact, Ms Versace, who is already among the most famous faces in the industry, was originally approached by the powers that be at the chain two years ago. At that point, the designer was concentrating, she said, on her own business, which was in the throes of restructuring following the 2008 crash, so she turned it down.

"I wanted to stabilise the main collection everywhere in the world," she told Women's Wear Daily earlier this week. Now though, with sales at Versace on the rise and its business and profile growing as a result not least of young British designer Christopher Kane's reinvention of the younger Versus line, the company has finally taken the plunge – and it couldn't be more timely.

Always among the most influential names in fashion, if less visible to a mainstream audience in recent years, only this season Riccardo Tisci's Givenchy, with its panther and pansy-strewn leather, owes more than a little to the label Gianni Versace founded. For the forthcoming spring, Lanvin's Alber Elbaz and Dolce & Gabbana have proved more than happy to pay homage to the baroque sensibility that first made Versace the label beloved by the fashionable woman – and indeed man – who dressed to impress back in the 1980s.

More significant still, Lady Gaga wore archive Versace for two recent videos, ensuring that all those too young to remember its audaciously glamorous style the first time around are now more than a little enamoured with it too. "The reaction to her was amazing," Ms Versace confirmed. "Everybody was writing on our website to ask where they can find this and that."

In New York, where the H&M collection was shown on the catwalk this Tuesday in spectacularly – and typically – star-studded style, the actress Jessica Alba, a long-time devotee, told red carpet commentators: "I just think it's so cool that every girl can now know what it feels like to wear Versace."

So what exactly does every girl have to look forward to? Many a glorious print, first and foremost, at least some of them taken from Gianni Versace's archive. Donatella famously took over from her brother following his murder in July 1997 and has not revisited these until now. And so a bolero jacket comes emblazoned with a tropical beachscape bodice and leopard-print arms (£69.99), a skirt stamped with an equally splashy sunset costs a mere £39.99; leggings (£24.99) and vests (£29.99) come covered with the very Miami palm print that Jennifer Lopez and her considerable assets whipped up a storm wearing in 2000.

Then there's a black leather shift studded with gold curlicues (£179.99) and teeny tiny dresses in signature gold and silver metal mesh (£149.99). Menswear is no less loud and proud. Palm print shirts (£24.99) and T-shirts (£14.99) are just as sensational as their feminine counterparts –or sir might like to snap up a wickedly tailored fuchsia pink suit for a mere £144.98.

In the past, everyone from Stella McCartney (2005) to Viktor & Rolf (2006) and Comme des Garcons (2008) have designed capsule ranges for H&M, all of which caused consumer mayhem, not to mention garments selling for as much as ten times the original price on eBay in the months that followed. It's a canny set up for the designer in question. The visibility gained by hooking up with a name that holds its own on every high street internationally and with a production and marketing budget to match is worth more than its weight in gold.

For fashion fans unable to buy into their favourite designers as recession bites and the luxury market shows no signs of reducing its prices, the idea of getting a pre-Christmas injection of glamour at H&M at an achievable – if higher than usual – price is very attractive. For H&M, meanwhile, such a hefty dose of fashion credibility in an overcrowded market is nothing short of priceless.

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