It didn't quite break the internet, but last week images of H&M's Balmain collection leaked online.
The reason that I consider this an unexpected collaboration is that at first glance it looks like a case of mixed messaging. A retailer that aims to offer 'fashion and quality at the best price' offers a high-end designer fashion line with a hefty price tag to match, yet everyone seems to love the idea.
In an interview with Stylist, Olivier Rousteing, the fashion designer behind the latest collaboration, talks about the price range - noting that although it's not cheap, it's the most affordable Balmain collection by far. He also admits: "Not everyone will be thrilled about it, it's not the normal fashion you expect at H&M"?.
So why does an unexpected collaboration work so well?
These designer collaborations have already proved their worth. They started back in 2004 with the launch of H&M's Karl Lagerfeld
collection, and have since got more and more attention after proving their success with sell-out collections and increased media attention each year. While H&M is known for its affordable fashion, it doesn't shy away from going all out when it comes to celebrity collaborations and campaigns. Olivier Rousteing himself commented on how it's H&M's way of making a statement.
Over the last few years, the fashion retailer has worked with huge names like Beyonc̩, Lana Del Rey and David Beckham, using leading figures to position the brand as an influential force in the fashion industry. The positioning, including the designer collaborations, is part of a carefully-executed plan to position the brand as an influential fashion icon.
H&M provides benefits to the designer, including positive profiling; most of the reactions I've seen so far have been full of praise. It also provides the opportunity to reach a new fashion-conscious market that isn't necessarily a target for designer labels.
H&M's audience is fashion and trend-focused, and the collaborations and celebrity endorsements provide inspiration as a form of influence. Its concept of "fashion and quality at the best price"? makes sense, as the collection is unique to H&M, and will be offered at the most affordable price ever offered by Balmain.
This type of campaign also creates an aspirational reference group
. Since Balmain is associated with some of the biggest names in fashion and music culture, such as Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and The Kardashians, this collection makes the designer label more attainable to high street shoppers.
The effect celebrity endorsement has on communication is something that can't be overlooked. The Stylist interview with Olivier Rousteing is just one example of the media coverage this collaboration has created.
Social media plays a huge part in this campaign too, and H&M knows how to use social platforms to make the most of its social media following. H&M's fashion and non-celebrity related tweets often fetch around 100-300 retweets and favourites, whereas announcements, such as the Beyonc̩ summer campaign announcement, can bring in thousands of retweets and favourites.
Without the celebrity tweeting from their channel, they've already communicated your message to thousands just by attracting attention by the mention of their name.
Twitter and Instagram are the perfect platform for this campaign. The collection doesn't officially launch until 5th
November, but search the official hashtag, #HMBALMAINATION, and you can already see thousands of pictures, from H&M's usual fashion-conscious customer's excitement to celebrity and fashion establishment approval. This gives H&M and Balmain a huge social media presence in the run-up to the launch by creating a buzz around both brands.
There's no doubt that this collaboration has given fashion magazines, bloggers and followers a lot to talk about and #HMBALMAINATION has created some great brand content.
The only thing I think it's lacking is the communication of certain messages, telling us why it fits with the H&M ethos and how the collection still means value and quality for customers. But then again, does H&M's market really need to be told why an exclusive, affordable Balmain collection is an amazing opportunity?
It's a story of influence done well, encouraging customers to visit H&M, buy the products, talk about the brand and share images and content. It's an elaborate way of getting people excited and giving them something to talk about.
Smaller scale collaborations
There are other great examples of unexpected collaborations that don't involve celebrities, focusing on offering something new, being exciting, inspirational and influential.
Still on a larger scale, but Levi's collaborated with a Los Angeles art museum, creating a range of limited edition jackets that were then put on display at the museum. This is another great example of an unexpected collaboration that opens a new channel of communication for both brands, allowing them to reach a new audience.
The Hundreds is a men's apparel company and online magazine. It teamed up with Taco Bell, the fast food chain, to release a line of Taco Bell-patterned socks. This collaboration is unexpected and a little quirky; it works particularly well for both of these brands as their strategies involve targeting millennials, allowing them to push both brands through new platforms.
Collaborations like this can work on a smaller scale. For example, an independent boutique could display its latest designs in a local caf̩ with an art wall, or a new confectionery brand could offer an exclusive range in a local salon.
As long as you're offering your audience something new and something they're interested in, it can give you the chance to be creative and make the most out of a brand partnership.
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