For 15 years running, high street behemoth H&M has had more than 20 designer, luxury brand and celebrity capsule collection and diffusion line collaborations. Since 2004, well-known names and labels that have collaborated with the Swedish fast-fashion giant include the late Karl Lagerfeld, Comme des Garçons, Lanvin, Balmain, Versace, Maison Martin Margiela, Marni, Erdem and Moschino. Partnerships like these have driven shoppers to H&M stores en masse, eager to get their hands on more “affordable” pieces from their favourite luxury labels.
This year, the fashion-passionate community waited with bated breath as the new much-anticipated designer collaboration was announced. The honour went to Paris-based Italian couturier Giambattista Valli, who is most famously known for his voluminous silhouettes — gowns with layers and layers of tulle that are feminine, dramatic and red carpet-ready. His clientele includes some of the world’s most glamorous women, who are often seen in his princess-worthy creations. It was social media superstar and model Kendall Jenner who unveiled one of the key pieces from the collaboration’s pre-drop collection — a shocking pink tulle dress with Valli’s signature layered ruffles — on her Instagram account during the Cannes Film Festival last May. That post garnered more than 5.1 million likes, an indication of how well-received news of this collaboration was.
When H&M approached Valli, he was humbled and immediately obliged. “I don’t think H&M knocks on the door of every designer. But they came to mine and it was an exciting moment for the maison.” It was more than just the honour of being asked that excited Valli, he tells Options in an exclusive interview. “Besides being in excellent company with past designers, I was extremely happy that this collaboration would allow me to share my love for beauty with an even broader audience and make the biggest number of people happy wearing my creations for their special moments in life. I am excited at the idea that they will be able to afford and collect something so unique, with the distinct silhouette that defines the DNA of Giambattista Valli.”
The full capsule collection will be filled with to-lust-for party dresses. They include a long, flowy gown cinched at the waist and highlighted by lace edging, a romantic maxi dress with micro floral prints and a fluttering of ruffles, a dramatic red dress that opens up in giant ruffles at the shoulders like the wings of an angel, a floral tutu with delicate tulle underlay, and shorter dresses that hug the body and bare the shoulders. While dresses take centre stage, sharp and skillfully tailored pieces will also feature in the collection — a short blazer with peak lapels, a long coat edged in floral motifs, cargo pants and leather trousers, and sexy miniskirts.
Eclectic accessories also form part of the line-up: a string of pearls modelled after what Valli himself wears, with a lip pendant molded from the designer’s lips, rings and sword earrings, Lolita sunglasses, animal-print scarves and fun heart stockings. Vertiginous heels with the lip motif share the footwear spotlight with booties as well as flat slippers while a demure and compact heart bag and a transparent acrylic minaudière complete the looks. All these pieces, which can be put together in different ways, embody the Valli girl — independent, cosmopolitan and nomadic in her style. She can go from an ultra-feminine gown to a sharp, tailored suit layered with quirky accessories because she is a style chameleon who adapts easily and effortlessly to any situation.
Valli also played with the fashion juxtaposition of high fashion-street athleisure and male-female dressing. “It’s part of my DNA to look at opposites and find the balance between them. The collection taps into the spontaneity that I love, to be rule-less and season-less in a way. You can wear a heavily embroidered dress in the day, men can wear dresses, women wear suits, everyone can interpret it their own way.”
Valli’s streetwear pieces include logo hoodies and simple sweatshirts with decorative embroidery. It is interesting to note that this is actually Valli’s first official foray into menswear. “Menswear was sort of a new field for me and I approached it in reverse. Instead of having women borrow pieces from the men’s wardrobe, as it usually happens, I explored the idea of men taking pieces, patterns and fabrics from the women’s wardrobe.”
Outerwear pieces in the collection strongly represent Valli’s take on the masculine/feminine spirit and his removal of gender labels. His coats, parkas and blousons are an absolute feat of eclectic style and personality, with different prints and a variety of adornments. The leopard-print long coat and embroidered black riding coat underline Valli’s “reverse approach” to menswear — they may have begun life in Valli’s women’s collections but they are now adapted and integrated into the men’s wardrobe. The Valli boy completes his look with a painted duffel bag, sunglasses and a beanie. Boots and crepe-soled lace-ups identical to the ones worn by the designer are also part of the offering, along with coloured and floral sport socks for that whimsical touch.
Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor at H&M, recalls working with Valli on this collaboration. “It was fun from [the] beginning to [the] end! Giambattista Valli’s work is obviously amazingly crafted, but what I admire most is how well thought-out it all is. From the pure design skill, expertise with fabrics, embellishment and colour palettes to the personal touches, Giambattista Valli is a very hands-on designer and gets excited by details. So it was equally exciting, educational and inspiring to work with him on that. And it was those personal connections he has with his clients and the Valli girls and boys that we could learn from — that it was possible to belong to an authentic community or, as Valli would probably see it, family, via clothing.”
It is H&M’s first collaboration with a couture designer, and while it may have been quite an undertaking to put together a cohesive, fast-fashion collection that embodies the DNA of his eponymous label, Giambattista Valli rose to the challenge magnificently. His loyal fans and new league of Valli girls and boys will surely not be disappointed.
This article first appared on Nov 4, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.