Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mercury retrograde and the Margiela H&M fiasco

Photo credit here

I have been meaning to write this post for a longtime now, but somehow kept delaying it for the final act to appear, and it appeared quite savagely and dramatically. OK, it is no secret that I follow luxury marketing closely. Not because I am some avid fashionisto or whatever, but because it truly what makes people tick – this world which is untouched by many yet coveted by everyone (secretly or overly). And please do not dare disagree – otherwise please explain to me the existence of all the knock offs in the world, and why you own a Chanel lipstick or a Ferrari perfume (yes men, this one goes for you). That’s because these are entry-level tickets for you because you cannot afford the real thing (or the car in the case of the Ferrari).
So, what am I talking about? I am talking about this huge incredible fiasco that Margiela H&M turned out to be. I am not going to give you links which are now ubiquitous over the net, but if we go by the PR adage “don’t believe something until it is officially denied” then the Margiela line “tanked” (that was the unofficial word by the holier than thou page 6 of the New York Post).
As of today, the collection is being liquidated at a stunning 90 percent or more discount, the Beirut flagship still has everything on 50% off but the slashing is murderous especially in the States. European online store are offering what can be considered a 70% off. Compared to previous collaborations (specifically Versace, and a little less for Marni) this is a catastrophe.
Reasons are numerous – depending on whom to believe – it could be: the avant-garde designs, the larger of number of supplies in order to avoid eBay buyers, the much higher price points (Beirut had it much higher, the original retail prices were at least 25% higher than the European and American ones), the fast-fashion collaboration fatigue (not just with H&M but this becoming a ubiquitous trend for all high street merchants the magic has faded), hey even astrologically everyone knows that no event should be launched while Mercury is retrograde…..
But frankly, it was a brilliant plan that severely backfired.
Let me explain, I read somewhere that H&M only cares about how much press coverage it gets from every collaboration since the financial details with the partnering brands are not exactly know, what H&M is interested in is how much it gets covered in the press. And Margiela was a super opportunity to have a lot of ink spilled about them. And spilled it did – the frenzy was almost equal to the teaming up with Versace. Margareta Van Den Bosch creative advisor at H&M calls this “the halo effect” whereby people come to the stores asking about collaborations but end up purchasing the current collections (this is debatable though, because usually the collaborations attract a different kind of shopper than your usual H&M price-oriented and relatively classical in taste prototype buyer).
H&M whipped up the perfect launch party (minus the Kanye West presence – I know he is responsible for the now classic lyrics “what’s that jacket Margiela” but for heaven’s sake has commercialism no shame? Margiela was so secretive he wouldn’t even come out to bow for the audience at the end of the shows!), complete with celebrities and an art house dance show in a delabrated building in New York…. The term “candy clutch” became a mantra to anyone related to fashion…
Everything was pitch perfect – the lookbook left fashion bloggers gasping for air, the press and TV ad were shot by Sam Taylor-Johnson capturing perfectly what Margiela stands for – this obliqueness that is both witty and forgivable. The hype was slowly building as information first was a trickle and then became a flood (actually, it is a classic H&M technique, to keep the designs secretive but later massively flood the market with them with Vogue Russia usually getting the honors for the first fashion spreads containing the items).
Even launch day showed little of the signs that would later become problematic – sure, fewer crowds turned up for the queuing, but that wasn’t too obvious as fanatics started forming lines from the middle of the night onwards… But bit by bit, something completely went wrong.
It couldn’t have been the online reviews, it couldn’t have been people dissuading each other from buying, it was something more fundamental – more intrinsic. It was a mass of shoppers deciding it wasn’t worth it to check the collection out, it was people waiting for their lunch breaks before seeing what was going on at H&M (when you think people skipped work for the Versace and Lanvin collections)… It was simply indifference.
Two weeks down the line, just when people were starting to get what they ordered online during launch day, markdowns began, first a bit shyly, then aggressively, then miserably, then very humiliatingly – all of this on the backdrop of nasty reviews of H&M revoking the return policy dates, of people returning items massively to stores, and of a lukewarm-to-cold attitude from the general public.
Two very interesting bits of information however emerged at the same time – one was that Ivana Omazic (who did stints in many fashion houses but was mainly correlated to Celine) was appointed designer at MMM (Maison Martin Margiela – who left his own house a few years after Renzo Rosso the man who brought you Diesel bought majority stakes in MMM through his “Only The Brave” holding) – it is to note that since MMM works collaboratively there is no “head designer” and none was officially named after the departure of Margiela himself.
The other information was that MMM was finally given the appellation of Haute Couture by the very prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris therefore joining the very exclusive club which includes Chanel and Dior and other very coveted names.
So in light of these tidbits – here’s the original plan (most likely coming from Rosso himself who is a marketer like no other):
Knowing that the appellation of Haute Couture was on the way, Rosso was trying to make MMM a household name and what better way to do it than through the massive merchandizing arm of H&M. H&M, spotting a way to move away from its usual partnerships to team up with someone conceptual judged it a brilliant move to attract more fringe buyers who normally go to Zara for more upmarket and well-designed items. It was a fail-proof win-win all around.
Once the collaboration would be a soaring success and an almost sell-out the name of Oamzic would be dropped which would come right before the hard-earned and much-lusted after Haute Couture label would come. So the end outcome would be this: MMM becomes a very well-known name who just graduated to the league of the biggest fashion houses all while having a new designer on board.
Brilliant, and everybody laughs their way to the bank.
Until Mercury turned retrograde...

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