Let's stitch together

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2012, 12:00am


Winona Ryder teeters atop high wedge-heeled sequined sandals, her hair affixed with a tiara, her slender body in a chic polka dot ensemble. Later, Drew Barrymore appears, wearing knee-high boots and more polka dots.

The two are among a gathering of celebs in prettily printed dresses and separates that will soon be seen on fashionistas everywhere - those who can get their hands on them, anyway. The occasion is the recent unveiling in Los Angeles of fashion empire H&M's latest designer collaboration, this time with Italian label Marni.

The Swedish fashion house, together with Marni's creative director Consuelo Castiglioni, joined forces to throw the A-list bash, also attended by actress-du-jour Jessica Chastain, Milla Jovovich and Freida Pinto. The location: the aptly chosen Sowden House in Los Feliz, designed by Lloyd Wright, known for its Mayan architecture and 2.4-metre gas torchieres - all of which served as a dramatic backdrop for the collection.

The Marni at H&M line - which goes on sale on Thursday in Hong Kong, along with 260 H&M stores worldwide and online - comes after the hugely successful collaboration between H&M and Versace. In the past, the clothing giant has forged partnerships with some of the world's most noted designers, including Roberto Cavalli, Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney. Dyed-in-the-wool fashion fans have been known to take the day off work to queue up for the hot new offerings, and entire stores are usually cleared of new merchandise within days. When H&M had its first guest designer - Karl Lagerfeld - in 2004, everything sold out in an hour.

'It's nice to have it for spring,' says H&M's creative adviser Margareta van den Bosch in her suite at the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills, hours before the Sowden House party. 'The jacquards, the prints, the mix of fabrics, the styling ... they are so suitable for this season.'

In shaping H&M's pedigree as a partner with some of fashion's most sought-after names, Van den Bosch has become one of the world's most influential style makers. In each pairing, the Swedish conglomerate, known for its inexpensive renderings of catwalk trends, fuses with a prestige designer name, offering the label without the hefty prices.

The trend has been successful in many ways: designers previously inaccessible to legions of shoppers can now acquire a whole new fan base, while, for H&M - well, few things are more precious in fashion than anticipation.

Van den Bosch says she has long admired the Marni aesthetic - the label's rich association with colour, texture and boho-chic vibe. As with the other brands she's worked with, and while concessions have to be made to H&M's pricing structure, store layouts and other logistics, she says she wants to ensure that the designer label's DNA has not been compromised.

'We've built a big audience, and the collaborations have always been successful,' she says. 'Designers have seen it does not damage their brands.'

She describes this collection - which consists of men's and women's wear as well as accessories - as 'art- and ethnic-inspired', and says that even diehard fashion purists will see it as true Marni, albeit at less-than-Marni prices. A silk jacquard skirt in a porthole pattern print costs US$59, a matching jacket is US$99 and T-shirts are less than US$20.

The collection is replete with patterns: the large polka dots are a recurring theme, often worn in clashing shades. Castiglioni has never been one to shy away from throwing unlikely patterns and colours together, a look that is a core element here. So black and brown striped leggings are worn under silky shorts in a white, red and navy micro-dot design, and a blue top covers yet more circular motifs, while dresses have large, abstract patterns. There's barely a solid colour in sight, says Van den Bosch, and no typical summery pastels. Instead, rich greens, burgundies and browns underscore the women's line.

The same quirky aesthetic can be seen in the men's category: board shorts in light black wool are paired with an abstract print shirt and ultra-straight tie, and some of the same circular-printed patterns from the women's line show up in short-sleeved shirts and breezy romper shorts.

Accessories reflect a downtown vibe, ranging from silver metallic high-heeled pumps (worn with striped socks and a skirt), to flat open-toed sandals.

'We think this will bring new customers in,' says Van den Bosch. 'We have noticed that when we do the guest designers, it's not the same person who shops with us.'

There will be more, says Van den Bosch, although she maintains that recent reports of H&M signing with Tom Ford for a line are just rumours.

Still, she does confess to having a wish list of whom she would like to work with next. 'But of course, I cannot say,' she says.