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Lagerfeld at H&M: Couture Goes To The Mall

DW staff (jam)June 29, 2004

Haute couture demigod Karl Lagerfeld has announced he's designing a line of clothing for the Swedish cut-rate retailer Hennes & Mauritz, H&M. The German-born designer for Chanel and Fendi insists he's not just slumming.

Karl Lagerfeld is now designing for the rest of usImage: AP

One might suspect it's a case of "oh, how the mighty have fallen," since the next collection from Karl Lagerfeld is not going to appear in boutiques you generally need an appointment and a trust fund to shop at, but at the Stockholm-based mass-market retailer H&M.

The question on every fashionista's lips: has Karl abandoned his traditional high-end clientele in favor of the great unwashed, who will be able to wear his tops, dresses and turtleneck sweaters this fall?

Not at all, says the revered 65-year-old designer with a penchant for ponytails, sunglasses and deep, dark, tropical tans. He's just moving with the tide as he sees it, taking his talent to where the fashion current's flowing.

"Because people who buy Chanel and other expensive things buy there, too," he said in an interview. "For me, this is fashion today. People wear t-shirts and jeans with exceptional things."

Hennes & Mauritz Laden in New York Fassadenansicht
H&M ShopImage: presse

Starting in November, Lagerfeld's small line of clothing and accessories he is designing, called "Karl Lagerfeld for H&M," will appear on store racks at the Swedish retailer, which specializes in serving up a non-stop stream of catwalk-inspired fashions priced for the hoi polloi.

En vogue for very little

The retailer, which opened its first shop in a Stockholm suburb in 1947, has hit fashion gold with its strategy of providing the dernier cri at inexpensive prices, with store collections that change at dizzying speeds.

Today H&M has 991 stores in 19 countries and more than 40,000 employees worldwide.

For Lagerfeld, the concept is fascinating, and he dismisses those turned-up noses who pooh-pooh anything that can be bought off a rack. It is "incredibly snobbish" he told Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper, and "fatal" to sneer at the masses. Besides, cheap doesn't necessarily mean low-quality in this day and age.

"[H&M] sent me a suit -- €49 -- it's divine," Lagerfeld gushed. "It's unbelievable -- the fit, everything. A lot of suits costing €300 are not as good as this one."

Lagerfeld himself, once on the pudgy side but now as skinny as some of the models wearing his creations, will even appear in the advertisements for the new line. But don't expect him to be bringing out a winter line for Wal-Mart.

"I'm doing this just once," he told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, "because it amuses me."

For those Chanel aficionados who can't live without their gold C's and big-buttoned suits, not to worry, Lagerfeld isn't abandoning his high-class roots. Besides being busy with the preparations for the mass-market début, he's also putting the final touches on Chanel's haute couture collection in Paris.