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What’s in a name?

Despite arguments over their effectiveness, celebrity and designer tie-ups continue to generate sales for multiples.

Last week it emerged that high street chain Marks & Spencer has reaped the benefit of its tie-up with Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field, scoring £1 million worth of sales in the collection’s first five days.

Meanwhile, British designer Alexander McQueen signed a deal to create a diffusion collection with US value chain Target, UK department store Debenhams has reignited its relationship with designer Matthew Williamson for its Designers At range and Swedish retail giant H&M has launched a designer collaboration with Commes des Gar篮s founder Rei Kawakubo.

New life is being breathed into celebrity designer collaborations, suggesting they remain a long-term income stream for retailers, designers and brands. M&S’s Field tie-up was a bright spot in a difficult year – it reported falling profits and like-for-like sales last week. The collection, which was available in full in 10 stores and online and had selected pieces in 50 additional stores, was a one-off one-season-only deal. But its success did not just add sales, it also garnered publicity and added fashion credibility to the offer.

A few years ago, designer collaborations and celebrity endorsements were everywhere. Actress Kelly Brook launched a swimwear line at young fashion chain New Look, WAG Coleen McLoughlin was the face of George at Asda and menswear designer Kim Jones was designing for sports brand Umbro.

They all had varying degrees of success but the end of the celebrity tie-up seemed near when McLoughlin was dropped this year, after Asda decided that celebrity tie-ups had lost their impact. The company said shoppers now wanted to relate to real women.

This has not stopped department store House of Fraser signing up supermodel Yasmin Le Bon as the face of the brand. Even its department store rival John Lewis has decided to hire model Karen Elson this autumn to front its womenswear campaigns, a move hailed as a sales-boosting success.

However, it is product collaborations that are the real money-spinner. Model Kate Moss’s range for Topshop boosted the young fashion business’s sales by £3.5m in its first week when it launched in spring last year and key pieces from this year’s Christmas range sold out hours after going on sale last month.
Tie-ups do not only benefit retailers, as designers look to considerably boost their income with a level of effort far less than that involved in creating their own mainline catwalk collections.

McQueen’s collection with Target will launch next spring, and will represent his first foray into mainstream retail. The collection will be based on the designer’s diffusion line McQ. Meanwhile, Williamson is to expand his output with Debenhams’ Designers at range by relaunching its womenswear component two years after it was dropped to focus on accessories. A source close to Williamson said: “Designer tie-ups can be a great way to improve designers’ finances. The tie-up with Debenhams is likely to only cost Matthew about four days work per season.”

Signing up a designer or celebrity can be an expensive business. It is estimated that Kate Moss’s collaboration cost Topshop £3m in the first year, so banking on a name is a risky business. But this has not stopped H&M, which has pioneered the designer collaboration in the young fashion market. This week, it launched its latest collaboration with Commes des Gar篮. While H&M is developing the designer tie-up to perfection and has made it part of its long-term business model, more retailers are following suit.

Designers have become less nervous about diluting their brand equity by collaborating with a high street business, as shopping across value and premium sectors has become the norm. Retailers and designers will want to take advantage and so the designer collaboration is likely to be here to stay.

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