Pin It
Balmain H&M chaos in London
via @MyLenStyle on Twitter

Why we all lost it over H&M x Balmain

There was no way this launch wouldn’t create pandemonium – here’s how it happened

The doors open. A flood of people surge forward, sprinting frantically towards the rails, arms outstretched and ready to grab anything – everything – that they can lay their hands on, while a nervous looking sales assistant staggers backwards. This was the scene from one H&M branch yesterday, as the Balmain capsule collection officially launched – a lineup that featured embellished dresses, rope braided tops, and other plays on the house’s current signatures. Huge queues outside the one London store were complemented by police officers in riot mode, attempting to keep the mob in check.

Online, the H&M site went out worldwide, going under just minutes before the collection was due to drop in the US. Witnesses at the press launch at London’s Regent Street store the previous day reported scenes of “carnage”, with one shopper speaking of seeing a woman climbing up shelves to attempt to remove a dress from a display case (only to be restrained by security) and another wiping away a tear after a member of staff managed to find a coveted item in her size. 

“One shopper spoke of seeing a woman climbing up shelves to attempt to remove a dress from a display case (only to be restrained by security)”

But what whipped up such a consumerist frenzy? To say that the collection had been highly-anticipated would be a huge understatement – after an initial announcement back in May, which saw Jourdan Dunn and Kendall Jenner debut pieces from the line on the red carpet at the Billboard Music Awards when they arrived with designer Olivier Rousteing, it’s been continuously hyped – there were campaign images featuring Jenner, Dunn and Gigi Hadid shot by Mario Sorrenti dropped in September, a fashion show featuring a performance by The Backstreet Boys and the launch of a campaign film fronted by Jenner in October; all of which made a serious splash on social media. Then there were the well-placed celebrities dressed in the collection’s key pieces, weeks before it was released.

Not forgetting the fact that just under a hundred images of the clothes and accessories leaked last month, after a woman claimed she found them online and promptly uploaded them to Instagram – giving the world a sneak peek at what to expect from the collection (and what to add to their wishlists). Naturally, many were skeptical as to whether this was actually orchestrated rather than down to bad web security on the part of H&M. Closer to the launch itself, it was reported that people in Seoul had begun camping out a week before the collection’s release – many likely professional resellers, who were motivated by a desire to make money rather than a love of the brand.

Now launch day is behind us, it looks set to be the most show-stopping of all of H&M’s designer collections, which have included the likes of Alexander Wang, Lanvin and Maison Margiela. Indeed, a glance at the site shows only one item from the collection which isn’t sold out, and a look at eBay shows pieces going for double the RRP and with tens of bidders still eager to buy, despite the inflated pricetags. The collection itself was meticulously crafted to ensure sales success – a mixture of more expensive pieces that ran into the hundreds of pounds were sold alongside budget-friendly options, like bandeau tops for £14.99. 

The key to it all was arguably simple: hype. In a few relatively short years, Balmain has gained a reputation as the favoured brand of the world’s biggest megastars – Kim, Kanye, Rihanna, Gigi, Naomi and more all have ties to the house and its dynamic designer Rousteing, himself a celebrity in his own right. We’re living in an age of Instagram aspiration – whenever they wear something, millions of people pay attention. The collection was a chance for their followers to get in on the action.

It sounds obvious, but it’s a point worth making – despite the eye-watering cost of his clothes, Rousteing is one of fashion’s biggest proponents for democracy. He’s partnered with Dazed to give a competition winner the chance to attend one of his shows, and uses Instagram as a way to connect with a young, global audience of fashion lovers. “I’m not the kind of guy that says, ‘Oh, it’s for this crowd only, and only they can understand,’” he once told us. “I hate that. I’m the happiest person when everyone can understand my show. I love when 14-year-olds write me on my Instagram going ‘I love your work, I love you so much for inspiring me.’” A collection with a major retailer like H&M is the logical next step, allowing almost everyone to buy into Balmain – but only if they’re willing to queue for it.

Still, the Balmania will certainly be isolating to some, who can’t quite fathom standing in line for hours on end in the hopes of buying a dress. It also comes at a time where the Rana Plaza factory collapse – which killed over a thousand garment workers in Bangladesh – remains in recent memory. H&M didn’t make clothes at that particular location, but remain to be the single largest buyer of garments from the country – and reportedly many of their factories still do not have proper fire safety measures in place, prompting questions over the ethics of mass produced, mass appeal fashion. It’s a cycle of chaos and consumption – workers frantically creating clothes for shoppers to frantically shove into baskets. It’s not clear where the collection was made, but one thing seems for sure – it won’t have come into the world in the same way as full price Balmain.

Conversations in fashion recently have centred on its pace – the way designers are under pressure to create collections in mere weeks, often juggling the global brands they work on. While it’s true that the speed of the industry is manic, it pales in comparison to high street chains. We may all lament the pace of fashion, but watching videos of people fighting tooth and nail over a piece of discounted designer merchandise, it seems clear that we’re only encouraging fashion’s hamster wheel to spin faster.