On the High Street: The Rise of Designer Collaborations.

29/12/2011 22:20 GMT | Updated 28/02/2012 10:12 GMT

How many people woke up on Christmas morning to find stockings stuffed with Hello Kitty for Liberty lip balms? How many others are ironing their Versace for H&M party-dresses in preparation for New Year's Eve?

It's been the year of hysteria-inducing designer/high street collaborations. Louise Gray's beautiful range for Brora was an indisputable highpoint. Similarly Jean Paul Gaultier for La Perla was top of the Christmas list. But other unions warrant less praise.

I think we can all agree that no one needs to see another pair of legs clad in Henry Holland for Pretty Polly faux-suspender tights staggering their way out of a nightclub, invariably matched with unflattering denim shorts and patent stripper heels.

But the real villain in this tale is H&M. It was the nifty Swedish retailer that got us into this mess with their relentlessly publicised partnerships. There was Stella McCartney-mania, panic-buying at Jimmy Choo and fights at Lanvin. Then this year saw the grand king of collaborations, the dictatorial overlord of the highstreet, Versace for H&M. The collection dropped with an impact that rivalled Chernobyl, its influence seeping and spreading across the world, contaminating fashion magazines, billboards and every Christmas party in a twenty-mile radius of an H&M store.

Pumped up by the success the retailer announced that they would soon be wheeling out another collaboration, this time with Marni. Oh Marni, sweet, noble Marni. How the mighty have fallen. Once the preserve of the chicest, smartest women this wonderful Italian brand has sold its soul to the mass-produced, conveyor-belt devil.

Even as we speak the store is gearing up for the release of the Versace 'cruise' collection, perfect for all those H&M shoppers who aspire to vacation on the Playboy yacht sporting a Spice Girls circa-1996 strawberry print bikini. The high street is mocking us.

I understand the premise - great fashion at affordable prices. The democratisation of style. Except this is not great design and it's not great quality. And most ironically it's still snapped up by an elite group. Those leisurely few who don't have nine to five constraints and can spend half their Thursday morning queuing on Regent Street, or, most likely of all, those who shun the scrum all together and can afford to buy up the collection where most of it ends up anyway - eBay - at a 10-fold mark-up, the same price as the designer label itself. And so the rest of us are left to skim through the average, non-branded slim pickings served up on regular shopping days. Fantastic.

But why are these collections so popular in the first place? The two greatest appeals of designer clothing are quality and exclusivity; the fact that people know that the unique item you are wearing cost the same as the mortgage on a small flat in Ealing. High street collaborations offer neither. They are poor quality, no less itchy or ill-fitting than any other mass-processed item. And given that the collaborations come with such zealous propaganda they don't even boast a veneer of individuality, as everyone who's stepped near a newspaper can instantly recognise at a glance the forty or so heinous items in the collection.

So why the unstoppable appeal? High street collaborations are just one of the many bizarre bandwagons that we've all jumped on. They are the fashion equivalent of cheap 'pre-theatre' meals at fancy restaurants - rushed, careless and nothing like the real thing.

The mindless positive reviews don't help. The Versace for H&M collection became the toast of the fashion town, as Kanye West, Anna Dello Russo and the stylist to every single X-Factor contestant in Christendom fought to get their hands on it. Why? Did they see something the rest of us didn't? It was emblazoned with prints that made the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air look understated, and made of clingy fabrics and fall-off-after-one-wear studs - a very similar aesthetic to the clothing on the racks in neighbouring Primark. The very same rails that sleek fashion-editors regard with disgust, sashaying past clutching their Whistles discount cards, thanking their lucky stars that they have access to the minimal cashmeres of the upper high street. But when branded with a 'Versace for H&M' rubber stamp these lurid items magically move up the style ladder and the fashion-pack blindly follow, seemingly unable to see that they are essentially wearing a Hawaiian print wetsuit. Proof, if ever it was needed, that it's not what you are but who you are by that matters in fashion.

So when you enter a party clad in Donatella's yellow mini-dress, or head down the street in her tropical corset, make no mistake, few will glance at you with jealousy, wishing that they too had the vision and easy elegance of you, the sartorial wizard. No, instead the sane will think of you as that sad trend-slave who queued in the cold. Best get in line for Marni 2012 then.