The first week of November is when high street shops bolster their efforts for what is traditionally their most profitable season: the pre-Christmas rush.
This year, two brands will go head to head: Marks & Spencer will launch its latest Alexa Chung collection on 1 November, while H&M’s most recent designer collaboration, this time with French brand Kenzo, will be in store on 3 November. Both are hyped to fever pitch and aimed at the disposable income of millennials. But will they be on Team Kenzo or Team Alexa?
There’s arguably more at stake for the Chung collection. M&S clothing sales fell 8.9% in the first three months of 2016 – the biggest loss in 10 years. H&M’s sales were be less than expected – and the worst in three years – but the company remains in the black, up 5% in the second quarter of 2016.
The two ranges are limited edition and have the kudos of a guest designer at high street prices. Both were created to lure customers tired of what the high street has to offer.
Chung’s range is inspired by the M&S archive and has a sweet, retro feel that draws on her personal style. Kenzo, designed by the American duo Carol Lim and Humberto Leon since 2012, is a cult brand known for its bold Tumblr-friendly prints and colourful streetwear worn by Rihanna and Katy Perry.
Graeme Moran, the head of fashion and features at Drapers magazine, thinks the Chung collection will win by a narrow margin. “It appeals to a broader range of people,” he says. “A girl in her 20s could have bought the trench in the last collection, and so could her mum, and that’s right for M&S.”
Kenzo, on the other hand, is a victim of timing. “I think the interest in designer collaborations is waning, and Kenzo aren’t at the peak that they once were,” says Moran. “If they had done this two years ago, it would have been insane.”
There has been equal excitement for both from the fashion industry. The white faux fur “crown” jacket in Chung’s collection looks poised to be the new “it” item after she posted it on Instagram. And Kenzo’s neon leopard print pieces have appeared on eBay for more than £700.
This is new territory for M&S. The first Chung-designed collection was announced in February, when the head of general clothing, Steve Rowe, described it as “a new womenswear collection, curated by Alexa, with heritage firmly at its heart”.
It was billed as the first of a forthcoming series of “M&S &” collaborations. Rowe, who has the unenviable job of reviving the fortunes of the retailer’s clothing department, is at least partly banking on the lure of the tie-up thanks to Chung’s accessible but cool appeal.
H&M, however, are the pros at celebrity collaborations. Their first, with Karl Lagerfeld, was launched in 2004; they have subsequently worked with A-listers including Madonna, Kevin Hart and David Beckham.
Their sold-out ranges have included Versace in 2011 and Balmain last year, which attracted queues outside the Oxford Circus store from 10pm the night before.
“When we started we had no idea how successful our collaborations would be,” says H&M’s creative advisor, Ann-Sofie Johansson. “But we soon realised … these partnerships were becoming ever more anticipated.”
Moran says the second Chung collection is less accessible than the first – “there are some pieces that I can only imagine Alexa wearing, like the leopard print slip dress” – but this may work in M&S’s favour.
“It feels more authentically her. So they’re getting the Alexa cache out of it,” he says.
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