Monday, October 22, 2012

Maison Martin Margiela for H&M: Branding the anti-brand

At an age when designers try to push their logo over anything and everything, Martin Margiela defined the opposite of this tendency going as far as removing the labels from his own clothing (but the four stitches where the label would have been remained) and then subsequently, code-naming his lines with numbers between 0 and 23 (not all of them used though) in a which only made sense to insiders in the fashion circles*:

0 Garments remodeled by hand for women
010 Garments remodeled by hand for men
1 Garments collection for women
10 The collection for men
4 A wardrobe for women
14 A wardrobe for men
11 A collection of accessories for women & men
22 A collection of shoes for women & men
13 Object & publications
3 Frangrances
And if Maison Martin Margiela is still an obscure brand for the people at large, this is about to drastically change now that they are launching a collaboration with H&M. Whereas previous collaborations with the Swedish retail giant were subsequently labeled “unwearable” this one is being judged so even before its launch, for the Margiela team of designers is revisiting their iconic moments and re-issuing them for the collaboration.
But whereas the originals were artisanal in nature, it would be difficult to replicate than in mass produced H&M goods. Case in point the infamous hooligan jumper made from football supporters’ scarves was originally made from previously worn scarves scavenged from thrift stores, the new edition will be available in one model only understandably to make the whole effort economically feasible for both brands.
Margiela purists are up in arms over the collaboration already judging it unfaithful to the designer’s catalogue and everything he has stood for, as sample of what is being said is the following (taken from a post by a member of Fashion Spot forum): “Perhaps some of us actually have some respect for the original work? You know the integrity of it all, the thoughtfulness, the creativity, the workmanship. The fact that Margiela sourced and worked with the vast majority of his own materials which nobody does anymore these days. What's more, those elements simply cannot matched in this vein with any kind of authenticity never mind dignity. Needless to say, you'll have to excuse us if some of we fans are more than bemused by some of power hungry taking the last remaining morsel of integrity this house once boasted and using it to sell, sell, sell.”
Another input is this: “Martin Margiela created and reproduced from things or garments that were never really meant to be in 'fashion', like the staple sneakers from the Austrian military in 1943 (yes, the shoes actually had a label stating the source of inspiration), or a coat from an American factory that was previously the uniform used there. What H&M is now doing, is to copy Margiela's ideas and trying to tell people these are Margiela's original ideas and what the brand is, when the man himself didn't even meant for people to think so in the first place. So this 'reproduction' by H&M is very different from Margiela's idea of reproduction.”
Understandably, other shoppers are more lenient in their approach, specifically that the MMM (Maison Martin Margiela) has been acquired in majority by Diesel – which despite its own “be stupid” bonanza is only too smart when it comes to commercializing its brands: “I'm actually quite surprised by the snobbery and idealism of some here. What did Martin the designer think when he sold his label to Diesel...? It's Diesel, Martin. So, if we're to point fingers, then mine would be pointing at Martin first for allowing the commercializing of his label to happen. And let's be real here, since the beginning, Martin's always been very high fashion. His designs were splashed all over high-profile fashion magazines, and being sold at very high end shops with high price-tags.”
Whatever the merits of both sides of the argument, I am always impressed by how H&M tackles every collaboration from the marketing point of view. The first collaboration was with Karl Lagerfeld who, it seems, parted ways with H&M over the issue that they made large sizes of his garments. The list now includes Lanvin and Versace. But to the credit of H&M, their choice is often very eclectic, which includes Sonia Rykiel, Matthew Williamson, Stella McCartney, but also much more fringe brands such as Comme Des Garcons and Viktor&Rolf, and even Jimmy Choo and Anna dello Russo – going as far as teaming up with Madonna and Kylie Minogue.
With time, their collaborations became staples of the season, and they became more and more professional when it comes to teasing, staging and marketing them tailoring events to the size and overall brand perception of their guest designers.
Versace made a mass hysterics among consumers (some of them were hospitalized) and H&M made a launch part which featured Nicky Minaj and Prince among others Donatella Versace herself came and greeted the shoppers in London as they queued from the previous sunset to be able to get the much-coveted merchandise. Everything was over-the-top from the branding to the bags, to the window displays. But that was Versace has always been about – an excess in all things (specifically in the Gianni Versace era).
Second in line after the website-crashing frenzy of the super luxury brand came the collaboration was with Marni, a totally different retro-ish inspired brand, much more niche when compared to its predecessor. But to put things into context, Consuelo Castiglioni is the antithesis of the flashy, platinum blonde, esthetic-surgery devout that Donatella is.
The Marni for H&M designs themselves were more muted, and although (or perhaps because) they very much in tandem with Marni’s own mainline, they still managed to find appeal among customers – albeit different ones from those who queued from Versace (apart from the hardcore fashionistas and the ebay resellers which have plagued the collaborations prompting H&M to issue limitations as to time spent inside the stores and quantities of merchandise sold per shopper).
Everything about the pre-launch was more Marni, the ads were less flashy, and Sofia Coppola was brought on board to direct a TV commercial which – with its laid back mood, Moroccan setting, and super-8 colors – did the job splendidly of both, showcasing the capsule collection but also drawing a gigantic mood board about the essence of Marni.
Which bring us back to Margiela. A man who has left his own brand in 2009 following what was seen as the end of an era, and an act of supposed rebellion over Diesel’s Renzo Rosso who was turning the brand into a much more commercialized name.
In that same vein, here’s a third quote from the Fashion Spot forum which might also shed a light on the who affair: “And for me it strikes me as a paradox that people say Margiela was anti-luxury but then portray him as an elitist. Someone that would be horrified that the masses would use designs inspired by his clothes. I do not think at all he came across that way. We may not know what we think about this collab, but we certainly know he was not running a charity, or some pseudo artistic experience just the sake of it, he was running a business. He deemed Diesel good enough to take over his name, what makes people think he would be above connection himself with H&M?”
And yet, apart from the controversy itself, which perhaps does not even trickle to the average consumer, H&M is once more on the top of their game. In terms of price points, the stickers on the outfits indicate a somewhat higher average than their previous collaborations (or at least this is what is transpiring from the items featured in the lookbook), which – along with the very edgy designs (going back to “unwearable” which was previously stated at the beginning) – is good enough to persuade the average shopper to remain home and for ebay scavengers to invest in what might not easily resell at three of four times its value online at a later stage.
MMM which never advertised when the man himself was still at its helm, find itself supremely well served with ads for the H&M collaboration shot by British photographer Sam Taylor-Wood. In the words of the British photographer herself: “I wanted to create an atmosphere that was both quiet and still. That each person was in their own emotional and physical thought space. A world away from the heady atmosphere of the usual urban noise." Once more, the brand was entering a previously virgin territory as never before they made advertisings which is one of the basic visual premises for selling a brand.
But MMM is mostly about minimalism, white color, recycling clothes, paint splattering, and anti-branding going as far dressing their designers in white lab coats and not appointing a successor to the founder when he left, so it would be interesting how H&M are going to do their window displays, and point of sale dress-up. In other words, how is H&M going to brand the anti-brand?
Pick a number between 0 and 23 and you might have the answer! Actually, the answer is 15(th of November when the collection hits the stores).
Right? H(&)MMMM…….. Stands for perplexity over H&M and MMM.

*various pieces of information for this blog post were taken from open sources on the net.

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