One-Off Wonders

The big business and even bigger fan base behind ‘capsule’ lines

When H&M announced that Jimmy Choo was creating an “affordable” line of shoes, clothes and accessories, it was as though the holy grail of style had been unearthed. Fashion blogs tripped over each other trying to get a first glimpse of the collection. So did otherwise mild-mannered folks for whom discounted Jimmy Choos represented an opportunity to dip a toe, or 10, into shoe nirvana.

“Come hell or high water, I had to have those shoes,” says writer/mom/sideline fashionista Melissa Bertolino, who was dismayed that line was not being released within striking distance of her Phoenix home. “I sent out a plea on Facebook to see if any of my L.A. friends were willing to pick up a pair for me. One friend was willing to do it—until she saw the line outside the building 20 hours before the store was opening. I received a message on Facebook that simply read, ‘Hell, no.’” Plenty of others were willing to endure daylong lines outside the 250 stores carrying the collection before the Nov. 14 launch. Everything sold out within hours.

Similar lineups/sellouts have been reported for H&M collections from Matthew Williamson and Roberto Cavalli, to name a few. An H&M spokesperson will merely say, “There has been great interest from our customers for all our designer collaborations.” H&M has been collaborating with high-end designers for lower-end offerings since November 2004, starting with Karl Lagerfeld—a collection that was reported to have helped boost the company’s profits by 22 percent that quarter. But while the retailer crawled across the United States (the first West Coast store didn’t open until fall 2005 in San Francisco), stores such as Target were making high-end fashion attainable for a whole nation of happy shoppers via the fashion stylings of Isaac Mizrahi.

Seeing the Mizrahi name next to such Target staples as Xhilaration, Merona and even Mossimo may not have elicited shrieks of delight from skeptical shoppers at first. But as the Target brand gained in whimsy, so too did the notion of throwing a few women’s garments in the cart alongside the garden tools and toilet paper; after all, who was buying up all that Mizrahi gear—a haul that was reportedly in the $100-million-per-year range? Mizrahi left Target after five years for Liz Claiborne in 2008, but the big-box giant is hardly lacking in fashion star power. Recent collections have included Anna Sui and Rodarte, and enthusiasm is reaching a fever pitch for upcoming collections from Jean Paul Gaultier (March 7 through April 11) and Zac Posen (April 25 through May 30).

“Target’s goal with any design partner is to identify designers who share their philosophy of offering great design and high quality at an excellent value,” Target spokesman Joshua Thomas says. “Target works hard to retain the spirit and point of view of the individual designer while also making the collection marketable to their guests.’’ Which is a nice way to say that Target (and H&M and Kohl’s, which famously features Vera Wang’s lower-end line) expects the designs to be first-rate even if the materials aren’t always as luxe, the cuts as generous or the prices as high.

“I have an appreciation for luxury brands and all the status that comes with them, but not the cash flow,” Bertolino says. “So when the designer lines come out at stores like Target and H&M, I’m always interested. Sometimes the merchandise is great. Other times, it’s obvious the materials and construction are cheap.” Ultimately, it is the combination of reputation, status, and price that draws in everyone from casual shoppers to designer enthusiasts—even if that enthusiasm doesn’t always translate to long waits.

“I was tempted to get a press pass for the Jimmy Choo H&M,” says fashion editor Dena Smolek of “When I read about the Choo madness, I was happy I’d passed. But when I learned that Rodarte for Target was released a day early at the West Hollywood, Calif., store, I jumped at the chance to [buy] three pieces that I wear frequently. I bought them because I knew the chances of being able to buy Rodarte’s RTW collection are slim to none, due to pricing. Given my good experience with Rodarte, I will happily check out the new Target collections as they become available. I have my eye on the Gaultier Trench Coat. Will I stand in line? Probably not.”

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