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A Victim to 'Masstige'

Collaborations between fashion houses and the high street are big news. Maison Martin Margiela launch their collection with H&M tomorrow, but at what cost to exclusivity? Francesca Butcher finds out. (Thumbnail credit Photo Credit: Dierk Schaefer )

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Maison Martin Margiela is known among the fashion cognoscenti for its contemporary and deconstructed style. Until recently the French fashion house, founded in 1988, had a rather enigmatic image. The label's founder, Martin Margiela, has always been somewhat of an 'invisible man'. Margiela never appeared at his own shows and was rarely ever photographed or interviewed. All correspondence from his atelier in Paris was signed 'Maison Martin Margiela', and written in the plural form. Even the Maison's label is elusive. The label was initially a plain white rectangle attached with four white stitches, visible from the outside, in an effort to challenge the norm. The unmarked label showed a quiet confidence in the clothes. For subsequent collections the label changed to include the numbers 0 to 23, to define between separate divisions such as womenswear, menswear etc. A spokesperson for the Maison in 2006 commented, 'we preferred to have people react to the garments, rather than the label attached to them. The clothes should work for your taste and your wardrobe, not just because they were designed by a designer, with a designer label.'

The label was bought by Diesel Group in 2002 and, in 2009, it was announced that Margiela had left the Maison. According to rumour, Margiela resigned as he believed the new ownership was affecting the authenticity of the brand, turning it into a global name, thus sacrificing its exclusivity. It was later suggested that Margiela had fled long before 2009. In his time at the house, Margiela proved that his clothes spoke for themselves, in an industry driven by image and larger-than-life personalities.

"From Jimmy Choo to Cavalli, H&M have been there, done that, and got several sold-out t-shirts, dresses, coats, and anything else they could wish for, to prove it."

After Margiela's departure, it appeared the brand was staying true to his mysterious ethics. In December 2009 the Maison, despite looking for a successor, announced that there would not be one. Instead, an anonymous team of designers took the helm. All staff working for Maison Martin Margiela still wear white lab coats. These clinical figures provide an antidote for the vain fashion world and emphasise the collectiveness of the fashion house. However, are all the recent efforts to cling on to Margiela's legacy about to be undermined by the up coming collaboration with the high street giant H&M? If the 'invisible man' were to have a grave, would he now be turning in it?

H&M are the second largest global clothing retailer, after Inditex. There is no denying their success. Alas, I am certainly not against the high street, my wardrobes are bursting with all the big names (Topshop, not Dior!). Yet, it is hard to see why H&M have scored collaborations with outstanding designer name after name. Karl Lagerfeld started the ball rolling back in 2004, and the world-class names kept on coming. From Jimmy Choo to Cavalli, H&M have been there, done that, and got several sold-out t-shirts, dresses, coats, and anything else they could wish for to prove it.

But despite this, of Brandz' Top Ten Luxury Brands, none have ever been near the high street. Luxury giant LVMH has never let any of their fashion houses expand to the high street. Louis Vuitton never even goes on sale; there seems to be a message here. Luxury goods are defined by their exclusivity, quality and longevity. After a brand sacrifices one of these qualities, then can it still be a luxury good? Unfortunately, when Maison Martin Margiela for H&M launches tomorrow and the hoards of eager shoppers burst through the doors, grabbing what they can, pouring through the rails, deconstructed coats sliding off the hangers, shop assistants pushing oversized dresses into plastic carrier bags, perspex-heeled boots littering the floor, we will then be left questioning the brand's luxury status. However, for Maison Martin Margiela, it is not just its luxury status at stake, it stood for so much more. It began as an avant-garde clothing line that challenged the fashion world, both with its designs and with its message. It was authentic and exclusive. It was not about image or designer status, it was about innovative, true design.

This is the democratisation of fashion. 'Masstige', prestige for a mass market, is a very appealing idea. 'Masstige' has been evident on the high street for many years, and it is only a growing market. This week alone Markus Lupfer has launched a collaboration with ASOS and H&M will launch their Margeila line. I do believe fashion should be available to everyone. At the end of the day, I am a student, and I would be a very hungry student if my closet were more Marni then Mango. Designer high street collaborations are fabulous for an array of reasons. The fashion house is able to bring its much-wanted aesthetic to an entirely new market; pleasing their buyers' pockets as well as their fashion-hungry eyes. Both the high street shop and the designer receive enormous amounts of publicity, in markets they might never have touched before, and in turn gain a new set of skills. The high street giant can experience new design techniques, which then are able to filter down to the factory floor. The designer label experiences publicity in a mass market and acquires a new generation of dedicated worshipers. Despite this, I still believe in luxury. Luxury is something to desire, it is something to aspire to. Luxury is defined by its uniqueness and its rarity. Maison Martin Margiela is, or was, a truly unique brand.

Come Thursday I will hopefully be wearing my Maison Martin Margiela for H&M draped dress as I, like millions of others, am a victim to 'masstige'. Lamentably, I will be wearing the black draped dress, as I will be in mourning. I will be mourning the cult of the Maison. As the clock strikes nine on the morning of November 15th, Martin Margeila's dreams of authenticity and exclusivity will have flat lined and the men (and women) in the white coats will be unable to resuscitate them; sorry H&M.

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