A Swedish clothing giant and the stars

Have celebrities taken over global fashion for good? Take a look at Swedish apparel giant H&M, for instance, and the answer might very well be «yes.» There’s the M by Madonna collection – designed by the star in tandem with the company’s head of design – it hit H&M stores in mid-March. By now, however, the Madonna collection might be considered old news, since a fresh beachwear line – from bikinis to towels and peasant skirts – inspired by another world idol, Kylie Minogue, will go on sale mid-May. The predominantly turquoise H&M Kylie collection comes with a charity angle – 10 percent of the price of all items sold worldwide will be donated to WaterAid. Celebrities and celebrity fashion designers have offered the company a dream marketing tool. It started with Chanel master Karl Lagerfeld, known for his general irreverence and appetite for stirring up the fashion world. Clients flocked to their local H&M stores for what were immediately tagged «collector’s items.» Other collaborations followed: Stella McCartney suggested a collection defined by her cool tailored and feminine pieces, while Viktor & Rolf showcased their signature take on romanticism. «Our designer collaborations have proved that fashion and design are not a question of price,» Doris Klein, country manager for Greece, told Kathimerini English Edition in an e-mail interview. «These collaborations also show the strength and breadth of H&M’s offering. The attention they receive strengthens our brand image as an international fashion company.» Ultimately, these limited collections are but a small part of a brand, whose motto is «fashion and quality at the best price.» Make that «fast» fashion as faithful customers visiting any of the 1,300 stores around the globe will find something new every day. Stretching from Dubai and Kuwait to the newly opened store in Shanghai, the company is now present in 28 countries with more than 60,000 employees. Not bad for a company established by Erling Persson in Vasteras, Sweden, in 1947. H&M recently made its entry into the Greek market, with a first store opening in downtown Athens just a few weeks ago and a second outlet in the Avenue commercial center in Maroussi scheduled to open shortly. The company’s biggest market is Germany, followed by Britain and Sweden. The company doesn’t own any factories, operating instead with approximately 700 independent suppliers scattered around Europe and Asia. In all, 2,000 production units employing more than 700,000 people produce collections for women, men, teenagers and children, as well as accessories and cosmetics. Given the multitude of designs and products, is H&M a leader or a follower of global trends? «We are a design-driven international fashion retailer with 100 in-house designers and 100 buyers who anticipate trends and interpret them for a fashion-savvy customer,» said Klein. «We offer our customers new and updated fashion every day. We buy our garments on a running basis (multiple times a year) to ensure that we always have the right fashion mix in store. In a world dominated by speed, how does the Swedish brand differentiate its product from country to country, from one continent to the next? «Information spreads rapidly, not least through the Internet, music, films and travel, allowing fashion and trends to have a quick impact and effect on demand,» noted Klein. «Like many other things today, fashion is global. The differences between regions are nowadays minor. Strong brands and clarity attract customers. This gives the stores an increasingly important role to play: to attract customers and inspire them to shop.»

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