In 2004, H&M released its first collaboration with a high-end designer: Karl Lagerfeld. In a TV ad for the collection, aristocrats appear shocked and disoriented upon learning the news, feeling « betrayed » and calling the project « cheap ». Karl appears at the end of the spot to settle things: « cheap » is a matter of attitude, not a matter of material wealth. One can argue such work was motivated by a desire to make luxury and high-end style accessible to all, democratizing designer clothing because wealth does not make one stylish, style does. Since then, H&M has developed 14 collaborations with luxury designers such as Lanvin, Versace, and the latest to date, Balmain. Although it allows both brands to get great publicity, the biggest benefit arguably went to the Swedish retailer in terms of fashion credibility and noble-inspired legitimacy. Luxury branding used to be hesitative prior to engaging with popular culture or popular brands. The relationship would be as perceived as the luxury brand almost doing a favor to popular culture by elevating it to its level. However today, this dynamic has shifted, not in the sense that designers benefit from H&M’s image, but because the luxury sector is being drawn toward a rather popular set of codes: the streetwear scene.
It first seems unlikely that the ancient mores and conventions of luxury designers would aspire to the ways of the cheap and simple youth. As a matter of fact, brands have generally been repositioning themselves to adapt to the Millennial generation, a population segment that tends to perceive luxury as “a lack of common sense”, standing for “overpriced, poorly considered products” (Jasper Morrison, stylus article http://www.stylus.com/fktcbn). As a response to the youth going back to basics, luxury brands have been aspiring to turn everyday commons into something unique and precious. Appropriating streetwear codes has become a way to restore luxury’s major feature of being a source of avant-garde creation, with the street being the main cradle for inspiration.
Among this aspirational pauperization, the skater culture is a trend that has become highly relevant in the luxury fashion world, through collaborations such as Louis Vuitton x Supreme, but also as a whole new aspect of brands such as Chanel, whose latest Gabrielle ad campaign portrays Cara Delevingne with a beanie and a skateboard, a rather casual stance on high-end fashion. Maison Valentino has also been showcasing its products through the skater culture lens on its Instagram. While skate might be streetwear’s original “turf”, luxury fashion adds street credibility to its heritage by appropriating this environment.