Lately there has been a lot of buzz around designer collaborations. Nearly every mass market retailer you walk into today has items labeled with a designer’s name, whether it be for apparel, accessories or housewares.
Last week, my roommate came back from Target with a vibrant Prabal Gurung shirt, on the day the collection was released. All excited, I rushed onto Target’s website to see what other goodies I could find from the collection. But I suddenly stopped and thought, who is Prabal Gurung anyway? And what is all the hype about if most people buying his collection have never even heard of him before?
Then I rememered a month earlier, being in Target and seeing a whole section dedicated to the Neiman Marcus Holiday 2012 collection…at 70% off! This was only a month after it was released! The collection has since been considered a total flop. Which made me wonder, what is happening to designer collaborations? Are they here to stay, or is the concept becoming obsolete?
The trend in designer collaborations started about 30 years ago when designer Halston collaborated with JCPenney, introducing a more affordable Halston III line at JCPenney. The trend was revived in 2003, when designer Isaac Mizrahi collaborated with Target. His collection was a huge success, going way further than just womenswear, to eventually include lines in housewares, accessories and bedding.
Other successful collaborations we have seen over the years include Karl Lagerfeld for H&M in 2004, Vera Wang for Kohl’s in 2007, Jil Sander for Uniqlo in 2009, Christian Siriano for Payless in 2010 and Missoni for Target in 2011.
Looking ahead to this Spring, however, many designer collaborations are not well-known. New York based designer Prabal Gurung released his collection for Target stores and online early this February. He has dressed First Lady Michelle Obama in the past, but other than that, I would not call him a big-name designer.
In April, JCPenney will release its designer collaboration with London-based fashion designer Duro Olowu. Also having dressed Michelle Obama, Olowu is just beginning to make a name for himself in the United States but is not yet well-known. Check out the collection’s lookbook here.
In the past, designer collaborations were all about making usually unaffordable designer items available to the mass public. Now, it seems that most collaborations involve designers who are virtually unaware to the public. And even for well-known designers, many are missing the mark. It has become less about creating quality, affordable designer garments, and more about increasing brand familiarity for new designers as well as mass retailers. But is that really what customers want? Only time will tell.