Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lanvin for H&M

Lanvin and H&M are teaming up to create a line of more affordable couture clothing, coming out late November. The brand is following the trail blazed by designers like Jimmy Choo, Comme des Garcons and Stella McCartneys who have all designed for the megastore. These collections have always given me pause and this one is no exception.

One the one hand, this is a fantastic way to get the work of fashion geniuses for a fraction of the price. And Alber Elbaz is, of course, a genius and I trust him never to put his name to a collection that is anything less than visionary. Fashion can be such an elitist, exclusionary business that making it more universal is, in some ways, a very good thing.

But in other ways, it seems like another way for the more elitist and exclusionary members of the fashion world to further differentiate themselves from the average shopper. The clothes hanging in H&M stores will not be the same as those in Barney's or Neiman Marcus, and all the parties involved know it. They won't be the same caliber and owning them will not be the same as owning an original Lanvin. And while reasonable people know that a beautiful piece of clothing is a beautiful piece of clothing is a beautiful piece of clothing, not everyone in the fashion world is a reasonable person*. It would be naive to say that price and exclusivity aren't a part of fashion. That status and wealth are not inextricably tied. Millions of credit card statements speak to that.

And millions of credit cards will be swiped in H&M stores specifically because they are buying something that has a Lanvin label. Which is fine, but it's spreading the idea that the label is the most important part of an article of clothing. Is that something we want to pass on to the next shopping generation?

This is all very noble of me to say, but my conflict about this collaboration also stems from a more personal and morally ambiguous place. I like the idea of scrimping and saving for a Alber Elbaz dress: a work of art to wear, a piece created with the female form deeply in mind. I like the idea of finding a dress that feels as though it was designed for me- as though hours of work went into creating a piece of clothing that fits seamlessly into my life and wardrobe. I like this idea better than that of getting a mass produced item with the same label at the mall. Does this mean I'm buying into the idea that only money can create style? Probably. Does this mean I don't believe I can't find the same thing for $3 at my Goodwill? No.

Furthermore, if I abstain from getting something from this latest H&M venture, it will partly be out of a desire to shun the mainstream. And isn't shunning something just because it's mainstream just as bad as liking something because it's popular? I've always rolled my eyes at the goth tweens who shop at Hot Topic because "Forever 21 is so, like, mainstream": Hot Topic is just as much a corporate manipulation of teenage desires as Forever 21, Claire's etc.

Okay, so what? So I'll treat the collection like any other. I'll buy something if I love it, I won't if I don't. Easy, right?

*shocking, I know. You mean Mr. Karl "I am a sort of vampire" Lagerfeld isn't the pinnacle of logic?

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