By now it's become a familiar story: A fast fashion designer collaboration causes a frenzy. People line up outside stores for hours, or sometimes days, ahead of time, like groupies waiting for concert tickets. Once inside, they grab whatever's left in a supermarket sweep-of-a-scene. Said collaboration is a sellout, often crashing a retailer's website, and making worldwide headlines for X designer and brand.
Well, this time it's Balmain for H&M, the collection that lets commoners dress like Kardashians in bold embroidered mini dresses, jewel-toned hip-draped miniskirts as skimpy as a satin turban, ribbon-embroidered jackets and wide jeweled belts.
The H&M collection was a chance for Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing, 30, to knock off himself; several pieces in the cheap chic collection are near-direct copies of what he's done for the Paris runways, only at a fraction of the price. (The collection ranges from $34.99 for a logo T-shirt to $649 for a black beaded men's jacket.) Even the model army is the same: Kendall Jenner, Jourdan Dunn and Gigi Hadid star in the ads, just as they often do on Balmain's runway.
But unlike designers of previous H&M collections such as Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant and others, Rousteing has something special: a lock on the reality TV/social media zeitgeist that millennials eat up.
He's been promoting the Balmain H&M collection to his 1.6 million Instagram followers for weeks, interspersing pictures of the collection using the hashtag #HMBalmainNation, with shots of Kim Kardashian, Jenner, Chrissy Teigen, Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce in his high-end designs.
He's also partied his way around the world, sipping champagne and celebrating the #HMBalmainNation with a runway show on Wall Street in New York City, at a house party in Los Angeles, and Wednesday night on his home turf in Paris, at the Paris Stock Exchange, dutifully posting photos from all those events, too.
The pitch? H&M is giving future Balmain customers the chance to buy into the hype at a super-low, one-time-only price. The reality? Most people will never be able to afford Balmain's top-of-the-line creations, the most embellished of which can cost as much as a small car.
Even without the designer, a VIP preshopping event at the H&M store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on Wednesday night drew a starry crowd, including Cindy Crawford and her model-daughter Kaia Gerber, Dylan Penn, Chris Brown and Tyga. It's easy to imagine where they will be going in their H&M party clothes.
What I wonder is where everyone else shopping the collection Thursday in 250 stores around the world will be wearing the super-short, curve-punishing, hyper-embellished, rock 'n' roll collection? The neighbor's holiday party? A date at California Pizza Kitchen?
Rousteing's niche is dressing the Kardashian-Jenners for the red carpet, but the red carpet is not real life. And on Thursday morning, as scrums broke out at H&M stores in Regent Street in London, his most famous customers were nowhere to be found.
They didn't need to be; they've already got the real thing.