Useful and Beautiful? William Morris and H&M

Coincidentally, two days after I asked whether the bourgeois elite ever matched their upholstery to the fabric of their dress, I took myself to the William Morris Gallery to work out what I thought about the H&M x Morris & Co. collaboration. Spoiler: while I am decidedly annoyed with myself for buying a pretty but unnecessary book about mazes (labyrinths have been on my mind – what else?), I remain ambivalent about the latest of the Swedish fashion chain’s myriad partnerships.

A West End window, emblazoned with the autumn partnership. Photo by author

On H&M’s campaign page, the shopper is encouraged to get lost ‘in a world of exquisite original patterns and modern tributes to the work of William Morris, one of the nineteenth century’s most celebrated designers’, in celebration of ‘nature, style and timelessness’. Two models stride through a moor where they offer daisies, peer through windows, dunk enamel cups in basins, and snap pics with a vintage camera, self-referentially underscoring the ad’s amateur film footage look to induce the brand of lifestyle envy that only the 30-second fashion advertisement can. Then: an array of womenswear, ranging from £5.99 to £79.99, though neither the fabric hairband nor the wool-blend coat book-ending the spectrum represent actual collaboration pieces. Out of 90 products, 33 are William Morris & Co. x H&M. And so while there is nothing extraordinary about a two-pack of knee socks, the collection is meant to be a composition of heavy, heady historical references attenuated by standard H&M basics. Pair pleated skirts, maxi dresses and printed wide trousers with knit jumpers, Chelsea boots and faux fur coats: one can ‘curate’ outfits in a way that, in the age of online shopping, would normally never bear mentioning but which happens to resonate particularly with Morris’s artistic ethos: hand-picked Art for Art’s sake…and for everyone else’s.

A selection of pieces from the H&M x Morris & Co. collaboration. From https://
www2.hm.com/en_gb/ladies/shop-by-feature/1288a-morris-co-x-hm.html?sort=ascPrice&imagesize=
small&image=stillLife&offset=0&page-size=90

William Morris was one of the 19th century’s romantic, disappointing sons who abandoned a future in the church in favour of much more earthly realms. Getting a taste of artistic camaraderie after falling in with the Pre-Raphaelites, larking about on Rossetti’s hilarious ‘Jovial Campaign’ and embarking upon a group artistic housewarming project, he and six partners—whom he eventually bought out—founded the interior decorating business Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861. Disillusioned with modernism and industrial modes of production and radically nostalgic for an age of highly artisanal craftsmanship, Morris pioneered a sort of anti-Industrial Revolution. As a progressive socialist and firm believer that beauty belonged to the masses, he also understood the limits to what could only ever ideally be a democratic model, apparently regretting that his ‘his high quality, handmade products were beyond the means of ordinary working people’ (William Morris Gallery). In a move similar to that of 19th century couture houses, his evolving company launched more affordable lines to attract a wider range of clientele – the interior design’s analogue of fashion’s ready-to-wear.

Mannequins dressed in collaboration pieces at H&M. Photo by author

While the ideal Morris client would have afforded an exquisite, hand-crafted, bespoke interior – despite the designer’s empathy for broader swathes of society – there is nothing inherently bespoke in today’s accessible, ubiquitous fashion lines. To be fair, what H&M has done is, superficially, no different from what countless museum gift shops – commercial spaces with much closer ties to art and history – do: if the scarf my mom wears at the Huntington Gallery is not printed with a Morris design, it certainly shares the look. Even his contemporaries ‘dressed themselves with his wall hangings’ (William Morris Gallery). Perhaps it is simply that, what with H&M as an established, popular clothing store, I am more inclined to critically analyse the partnership in terms of fashion and art history and get caught up in notions of integrity; and because Morris had such striking aesthetic principles, I am more invested in an ideological dialogue that I find lacking. Ultimately, the collaboration between Morris & Co. and a mostly-affordable fast fashion company that tends to satisfy and disappoint me at an equal pace oscillates between seeming antithetical and completely fitting. I have not purchased anything, nor do I plan to, and, as mentioned above, I remain ambivalent. But perhaps it would be more fitting to frame this ambivalence as a blossoming response to William Morris’s motto, ‘Si je puis: Pourquoi pas?’

A Portrait of Jeremy Scott

How did Jeremy Scott capitalise on his ‘aura’ whilst simultaneously crowning himself the Founding Father of (21st century) Fast Fashion? 

The campaign artwork for Jeremy Scott’s 2018 Moschino X H&M collection, at H&M’s Regent Street flagship store, London, 2 November 2018. Photo taken by author

‘Some company recently was interested in buying my “aura”. They didn’t want my product. They kept saying, “We want your aura”. I never figured out what they wanted. But they were willing to pay a lot for it. So then I thought that if somebody was willing to pay that much for it, I should try to figure out what that is.’ -Andy Warhol

I am unsure as to whether Andy Warhol personally believed he was successful in ‘figuring out’ the marketability of his ‘aura’, but he most certainly triumphed in utilising its inherent mystique to cement his place within the Western art historical canon. If you see a Warholian work of art, the shadow of his authorship looms over its image: his soup cans, his saturated Marilyns, his acidic hibiscus flowerpieces—each undeniably drenched in the saccharine scent of his ‘Pop’ personhood. In the figure of Jeremy Scott, I am reminded of Warhol’s mass-appealing ‘aura’. However, in Scott’s case, his aura’s RRP is far more affordable, and by next season (or by the time his next collaboration drop hits), it will have metamorphosed to possess an entirely new face and/or aesthetic. 

Campaign artwork for Jeremy Scott’s 2018 Moschino X H&M collection

In the campaign artwork for his latest Moschino collection, in collaboration with H&M, Scott places himself front-and-centre. A large, gilded portrait bust of Scott eerily hangs in the backdrop, his icon securing his role as Creator of the collection, the luxury Italian fashion house he directs, and a generation of kitsch-kids who will queue for hours on end to invest in their own slice of 21st century pop-culture history. I was somewhat stunned by the intoxicating jolt of hysteria I experienced viewing this bust of Scott through the glass of H&M’s Regent Street flagship store on my walk to work. There were so many burning questions: Is he aggrandising the role of Designer? Is he mocking himself? Is the use of a sculptural relief with such strong classical connotations important? Why, oh why is it gold… 

Campaign artwork for Jeremy Scott’s 2018 Moschino X H&M collection

I am not shocked by Scott’s use of license in this play on portraiture: he has always heavily publicised the indoctrination of his self-image within Moschino’s branding. In conversation with Alice Casely-Hayford of British Vogue regarding the Moschino x H&M drop, Scott stated, ‘I started with the thought of how to make it the most Jeremy Scott for Moschino collection ever.’ I am not even shocked by the garishly bombastic representation of the self that lingers in this spectral, chain-ridden bust. Jeremy Scott has consistently inspired a playful subversion of the fashion industry’s grandiosity, with his Moschino collections of the past five years undoubtedly poking fun at the veil of exclusivity that shrouds the luxury goods market. 

Behind-the-scenes image of Jeremy Scott and model Gigi Hadid on set for the Moschino X H&M collection campaign

Franco Moschino himself similarly antagonised the culturally accepted signifiers of consumption through his irreverent humour and socially-conscious campaigns—which, likewise, featured himself.

I am, however, shocked by the forward motion of Scott’s cult of personality. A strong, creative character that functions as a personified embodiment of the luxury brand under their direction is not necessarily a negative, it is far less common that a fashion house is governed by an introvert. However, the Moschino brand now, in 2018, cannot be examined without the inclusion of Scott; his authorship is a function of Moschino’s further discourse, and consumers invest consciously into his strategically marketed, highly covetable ‘aura’. 

A picture of Venessa Lee after collecting her goodies from H&M’s Regent Street flagship store on 8 November 2018, day of the Moschino X H&M collection drop

Queues outside H&M’s Regent Street flagship store on 8 November 2018, day of the Moschino X H&M collection. Photo taken by author

Hot tip: type “HMMoschino” into the gif feature on your Instagram Stories for a hilarious insight into Mr Scott’s 21st Century aura. You’re welcome 😉 

And I don’t know about the wider consensus but I’m looking forward to future @diet_prada content on Scott, coming soon to an iOS or android device near you.

The copy-cat scandal that @diet_prada reported on in September 2017, regarding Norwegian womenswear designer and London College of Fashion graduate Edda Gimnes and Scott’s Spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection for Moschino

References

A. Warhol, ‘THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again): 5. Fame (1975)’ in ON&BY ANDY WARHOL, ed. Gilda Williams, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 2016, p.53 

Alice Casely-Hayford, ‘A First Look at the full Moschino x H&M Collection’, British Vogue, 25/10/2018. Online edition. https://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/hm-announces-collaboration, accessed 15/11/2018 

Alexander Wang x H&M Collection

Wang H&M

Another year, another collaboration – Alexander Wang x H&M

After an endless slew of sneak peaks, ad campaign previews and instagram teasers, the highly anticipated Alexander Wang x H&M collection, announced at Coachella in April, finally hit the stores on November 6th. The inordinately long queues of eager shoppers wrapping around several blocks across many cities, many of whom slept on the pavement to ensure access to the collection, and H&M’s website crash due to excessive traffic, are testament to the collaboration’s popularity and tremendous success. It took only a few days for the majority of the collection to sell out. However those disappointed in missing out, need not fret as several of the collection’s coveted items are available on eBay, although with fairly sizeable mark ups. For instance, one puffa jacket that retailed at £249.99 is currently listed on the site for a staggering £599.99.

A distinct athletic theme runs throughout the collection, with the clothing and accessories adhering to Wang’s signature monochromatic colour palette limited to blacks and greys. The fashion show promoting the line aptly had a running track as a runway, the center of which housed a gymnasium structure replete with bars, weights and a trampoline. While sportswear has increasingly infiltrated everyday street-wear, items in this collection contain functional detailing rendering them appropriately suited for the gym. The performance potential of the clothing is evident with the use of water-resistant fabrics, reflective strips, side ventilation zips and quick-drying t-shirts. The accessories of real-life boxing gloves, goggles and a magnetized Alexander Wang trophy cup underscore the sporty theme. Above and beyond the practicality of the collection is the tough and edgy vibe of the clothing that is achieved through the use of unconventional materials, fabrics and textures. The sweatshirts, t-shirts, leggings, coats, crop tops and bralettes contain mesh, scuba and latex detailing.

The fashion frenzy Alexander Wang x H&M elicited was easy to predict given the precedent of collaborations between high-end designers and low-end retailors. Such collaborations have become an annual staple of H&M, as the company has put forth collections by Isabel Marant, Karl Lagerfeld, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Jimmy Choo. Other retailors have jumped on the ‘high-end for low-end’ bandwagon, which has become a fashion formula that seems to ensure commercial success. For example, Target has released collections by Missoni and Phillip Lim, both of which incited levels hysteria tantamount to that of Wang’s collection.

The cachet of brand names is predominantly what attracts flocks of consumers and drives the success of such collaborations. One quickly detects a pattern when flipping through the Alexander Wang x H&M lookbook – the inclusion of ‘WANG’ is featured on virtually every article of clothing and accessory. The prominence of the designer’s name plastered throughout the collection’s items literalizes the phenomenon of brand desirability that permeates contemporary fashion culture. There is a strange pleasure that exists in wearing something discernably designer, as high-end retail is associated with exclusivity, notoriety and affluence. Introducing designer collections to more conventional stores and drastically lowering astronomical price points renders designer items accessible to the masses for a limited period of time. People feel compelled to take advantage of the rare opportunity to acquire apparel and accessories associated with a famous designer or brand name, despite the cheaper quality in comparison to actual designer products. The widespread phenomenon of brand obsession speaks to the way elements of dress are viewed as status symbols, where designer items are exalted to a position of eminence within the fashion hierarchy.

 

Sources:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/alexander-wang-launch-crashes-hm-website-and-items-are-already-for-sale-on-ebay-for-more-than-500-9844511.html