Down a peg or two
Fashion purists will be shaking their well-coiffed heads in dismay at this image: Lanvin's creative director, Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur and one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people, Alber Elbaz, is crouching over a pile of H&M stationary, sketching outfits for the proles.
The meeting of these particular titans, from opposite corners of the fashion spectrum, is a symbolic and an aesthetic revelation. Lanvin, the pinnacle of elitist, timeless, artisanal French luxury is collaborating with H&M, the naughty symbol of ubiquitous fast fashion.
But let us not forget that Lanvin, and Elbaz, follow in the footsteps of Karl Lagerfeld, Viktor & Rolf, Matthew Williamson, Stella McCartney, Sonia Rykiel, Comme Des Garcons, Jimmy Choo and even Madonna, by joining forces with this high street giant for limited collections. Lagerfeld and McCartney ranges both sold out in hours and reportedly saw a big boost in same-store profits in the month of launch.
The closing gap between high fashion and high street is evident in the countless diffusion lines, celebrity designers and cross-market collaborations. They have satiated easily bored consumers in a competitive environment.
Fans of these hugely successful cut-price designer collections argue that this is not a dumbing down of high fashion but a democratisation of it.
Lanvin for H&M is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated collaborations this year. But taking couture to the high street is never straightforward. It can access a profitable new market, with PR exposure with a hefty pay cheque - or utterly destroy a brand.
Some prove to be winners: Kate Moss for Topshop and Stella McCartney for adidas are case in point, but does anyone remember (without cringing) a clueless Lindsey Lohan for Ungaro or mismatched Rouland Mouret for GAP?
The Moroccan-Israeli designer Elbaz is a likely candidate to succeed in this democratic endeavour. Having updated the Guy Laroche brand in 1997, Elbaz then impressed with his ready-to-wear for Yves Saint-Laurent Rive Gauche, where, until the Gucci Group takeover, he was groomed to become head. In 2001, Elbaz was triumphantly appointed artistic director of Lanvin in Paris, after the company takeover by investor group Harmonie.
As France's oldest couture house, founded in Paris in 1889 by Jeanne Lanvin, the label is characterised by the kind of modern, elegant pieces that remain formidable, luxurious and fashionable beyond seasons. Elbaz began turning the conservative fashion house around, introducing fresh new philosophies to Lanvin's classicism, transforming it into a powerhouse. Critics and press lauded the beautifully tailored feminine clothing, and use of winning materials such as silk chameuse, washed silk and tulle.
Initial responses to the collection images have been exciting - Elbaz is insistent that rather than taking Lanvin downmarket, his aim is to make affordable luxury for megabrand H&M.
The Lanvin for H&M collection features lots of mysterious black, with tailored tuxedo jackets, considered silk draping and asymmetric dresses with puff sleeves and exaggerated ruffles - classic Lanvin motifs. The gently tailored separates focusing on a strong shoulder, slim top, and for women - a pinched waist, have translated Elbaz's signature to this credit friendly line.
Many items have Lanvin's softness, sexiness and simple feminine cuts but is also reminiscent of vintage Yves Saint Laurent - dark, smoky, Helmut Newton glamour. Considering Elbaz's history with YSL and the catwalks being full of references to the late designer, the influence certainly brings a taste of high fashion to the high street.
A bright one shoulder silk dress in candy pink, midnight blue and a bright mustard yellow (HK$1,490) is bound to be hit, along with a couple of black (the long-sleeved structured dress likely a favourite) and rose print cocktail numbers. A few girly items, overloaded with frills, betray an obviously younger and less sophisticated customer and seem to be there to balance the Lanvin maturity.
The men's collection was, unsurprisingly, a little more consistent. The silhouette was well tailored; a light khaki trench (HK$1,290) and a double-breasted wool coat (HK$1,990), particularly, have a designer feel - classicism with a contemporary twist. More formal pieces are kept sleek and black, tops fitted, whereas accessories take on a more colourful and vibrant edge. Muted cardigans, thin lapelled jackets and cool, crisp shirts with stitched detailing should all prove popular.
With Lanvin dresses usually costing tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars, almost all items of the 60-piece collection are, at under HK$2,000, a relative bargain.
For the worldwide launch next Tuesday (the US launch is three days ahead) we predict mayhem and huge queues, even in Hong Kong. I am much too delicate to sleep rough on Queen's Road Central for a nice tuxedo jacket or dress, but I'd certainly like to see the rest of you try.
Hits and misses
H&M's high-end collaborations have mostly been commercial hits, ranging from high-octane pieces for glamour pusses by Roberto Cavalli to the quirkiness of Japanese brand Comme Des Garcons by Rei Kawakubo.
Karl Lagerfeld - 2004
Serious and razor sharp - some of the collections sold out in hours. Commercially and critically a success - but controversial as Lagerfeld reportedly complained about designing for bigger silhouettes and H&M's limited production quantities.
Viktor & Rolf - 2006
More avant-garde than commercial, the design duo brought a bit of much-needed sophistication to the high street, with cool, collected designs rarely seen in this price range. Absolutely refreshing.
Roberto Cavalli - 2007
Leopard print revival! Italian and sexy with a twinkle in its eye. This collection was all about La Dolce Vita, and cared little for subtlety. A little retro, a little red carpet - the combination was glamorous and popular.
Matthew Williamson - spring 2009
Exotic spring/summer pieces brought an ethereal sense of travel and the East in colourful signature prints with a glamorous 70s holiday feel. Smocks, kaftans and flowing dresses for women - Williamson also ventured into menswear for the first time. Near misses
Stella McCartney - 2005
Yes, a giant commercial hit, also selling out quickly. Aesthetically nothing striking - wearable, modern and feminine but many also called it tame.
Madonna (below) - 2006/2007
Icon and superstar she may be, noted fashion designer she is not. An extensive collection and cool campaign ad but the pieces were hit or miss. Luckily, the pop star thing is going well.
Jimmy Choo - autumn 2009
Rock and roll by Tamara Mellon. Accessories channelling a younger Choo fan with plenty of black, straps and studs. A few worthy women's items but menswear was lacking in imagination and the footwear looked tacky and badly made.