Hit or Miss: designers on the high street

— Amy Peat contributed with this article

For many years, designers have been branching their work out on to the high street to bring their designs to the masses and make luxurious fashion accessible.


Designers are increasingly reaching out to the High Street. Photo: Santi Oliveri

For many of us, designer clothes are only there to longingly look at, unreachable on our student budgets. So, in these rare circumstances, looking to the high street is the only way to get a designer touch to your wardrobe.

The trend was started by Debenhams, who collaborated with Phillip Treacy and Jasper Conran almost 15 years ago. This has since lead to a number of collaborations, where High Street shoppers have very enthusiastically welcomed designer threads at a bargain price tag.

On the arrival of Jimmy Choo’s line for H&M last year for instance, women were only allowed to purchase one pair of shoes in a certain size/colour, just to ensure there was enough to go around.

Lauretta Roberts, development director at the trend forecasters WGSN, said: “When it [designer lines on the high street] started, it felt like a fad that would run for only a few seasons.” When in actual fact, designer ranges for the high street are today more prolific than ever before. “High street designers pore over catwalk collections for ideas. This enables brands to take some control of that process, and profit from it,” she said.

The main attraction to these ranges is the price. Take Matthew Williamson, for example. He is one of the many celebrated ‘Designers at Debenhams’ who is now making a small fortune by aiming at a mass market, women who have more than a high street budget, but less than a designer one.

Looking to the Matthew Williamson ‘Butterfly’ collection for Debenhams, the most expensive item is £120, for an ‘Ivory fan print maxi dress’, made from 100% polyester and is machine washable. Whereas with Matthew Williamson’s ready to wear spring/summer 2010 collection, the cheapest item comes in at £150, and this for a string bikini.

To get a maxi dress similar to the Debenhams one, you’re looking at a hefty bill of almost £1000, due to the materials used. The maxi dress in Matthew Williamsons ready to wear collection is 100% silk.

One thing which some critics of designers of the high street will protest is that the name of a designer being put to an item which is cheaply made and sold for fractions of the price, cheapens the brand itself. Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, recently said: “Every D-level celebrity who thought they could make a quick buck by designing a handbag or whatever is going to disappear. And I think that’s a good thing.”

The concept behind much designer fashion is that it is exclusive, unlike the high street. Once clothing is produced for the masses, it eliminates any exclusivity or designer feel.

Despite these drawbacks, more and more designers are doing business on the high street. ‘Gold by Giles’ for New Look is in to its 10th season, and Henry Holland has just launched his ‘H by Henry’ range to Debenhams.

Sonia Rykiel has designed underwear and knitwear for H&M, a shop that’s also seen collections by Stella McCartney, Karl Lagerfeld and Viktor & Rolf. The amount of designers flocking to the high street suggests that it’s a great opportunity to make money and appeal to the masses.

So relax, it seems that designers love to make lower priced clothes for us to enjoy. As it benefits the designers and us fashion followers – what’s the harm?

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