Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Marni
By Stephen Millikin, SVP, Be Spoke, MSLGROUP New York
Democracy is sweeping the land…and the shopping malls and the High Street. In the latest example of what has been dubbed “the democratization of fashion,” today in Europe, Marni, the Italian label coveted amongst the fashion flock, will be the latest luxury brand to partner with the decidedly mass retailer H&M. But is this collaboration based on aesthetic vision, or is it a shrewd business strategy designed to drive sales and brand awareness?
Tapping The Mass Market
For centuries, fashion has been associated with privilege and exclusivity, and the Marni brand falls squarely into this association. Marni items have a distinctive style that is seemingly inspired by the Bel Designo movement of the 1960-70’s Italy, but updated with contemporary silhouettes, luxurious fabrics and textures, vibrant colors and bold patterns. They typically range in price from $60 for a pair of socks to $1,500 for a dress. However, the Marni at H&M collection will range from $19.99-$199, making it possible for nearly any aspiring fashionista to brag that the Marni label is part of their wardrobe.
Over the past decade, many upmarket fashion labels have been pursuing the mass consumer segment, where there has been a sustained attraction to luxury brands despite the ups-and-downs of the global economy. The objective of a co-branding partnership, like that between Marni and H&M, is to build brand awareness amongst a previously untapped segment of consumers. How? By creating new marketing opportunities such as a new distribution channel for the “guest designer” and this commercial by Hollywood director Sofia Coppola:
H&M will reap the benefits of having lines of shoppers extending out their doors, all waiting to snap up items from the Marni collection. It will also position the 65-year old Swedish company as a fashion-forward retailer. As an added benefit, H&M may even reach a new consumer base themselves, as luxury customers venture into the stores to purchase one of their favorite brands at a fraction of the price.
H&M is not the only retailer to capitalize on the business potential that these partnerships provide. In the U.S., Target stores have presented collections by Isaac Mizrahi, Rodarte, Missoni, and Liberty of London, just to name a few. Meanwhile, Japanese retailer Uniqlo has executed successful partnerships with Jil Sander, Phillip Lim, and Charlotte Ronson, among others.
However, H&M seems to have perfected the formula by selecting brands and designers that speak to its existing, young, fashion conscious customer base, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garçons, Matthew Williamson, Lanvin, and most recently, Versace.
These capsule collections also complement the “fast fashion” items regularly stocked by the retailer, allowing customers to mix high- and low-fashion in order to create their own personal style, and resulting in even greater profits for H&M. While sales figures for the Versace collection have not been made public, in January 2012 (the month the collection launched), H&M group total sales including VAT in local currencies increased by 12 percent compared to the same month in the previous year. Sales in comparable units rose three percent year on year.
Given the success of partnerships like these, from both a branding and financial perspective, they can now be found everywhere (Jimmy Choo and Hunter boots…really?) and you can certainly expect more to follow. But regardless of the corporate motivations behind this surge of democracy, I suggest you grab your coat and do your bit for the cause by marching to your nearest H&M. The Marni collection is really that good.
Stephen Millikin is SVP of BE SPOKE., a division of MSL New York that specializes in beauty, fashion and luxury goods. Stephen began his career in the world of fashion over 20 years ago at the iconic I. Magnin in San Francisco. Since that time, he has worked with well-known and prestigious brands such as Brioni, Joseph Abboud, Philip Treacy, Breitling, Swarovski, Hästens, Champagne Taittinger, Beringer Wines, Avon, Target, Banana Republic, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, and many others. He has also served in the cultural sector, having held positions with San Francisco Opera, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.