Last week, the fashion world was abuzz with the news that Victoria Beckham had designed a capsule collection for Mango. The joint announcement on Instagram garnered 22.5k likes and over 600 comments, with fans clearly enthused by the collaboration. (“I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,” read one comment). While scant details are currently available, we do know that the collection will include tailoring, dresses and versatile knitwear, as well as ‘day-to-night’ bags, accessories and shoes, with the sneak peek images showing white suiting and pastel slip dresses .

Designer collaborations with high street brands have become par for the course in the past two decades, with new ones announced every year, to varying levels of success. So why do designers keep doing them?

“A designer collaboration is a viable opportunity to increase market share while the designers maintain their market position,” explains Dr Bethan Alexander, Reader in Fashion Retailing & Marketing at the Fashion Business School, London College of Fashion. “The luxury market is facing unprecedented challenges right now, so it’s especially important. Maintaining sales is difficult, but the quick, relatively easy cash injection from collaborations is appealing.”

mango x victoria beckham

Mango x Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham for Mango

The earliest designer collaborations were in 2003, when Topshop started developing exclusive collections with some of London Fashion Week’s emerging designers, including Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou and Meadham Kirchoff. While this created a buzz on the shop floor and among fashion insiders, it was the arrival of Karl Lagerfeld’s collection for H&M in 2004 which really caused them to take off.

Always something of a trailblazer, Lagerfeld took a huge leap of faith when he agreed to work with H&M, at a time when the worlds of designers and high street fashion were miles apart. For him, there were obvious benefits and risks associated with it. From a financial perspective, he seemed certain to make a lot of money (he was reportedly paid a rumored $1 million fee), and on a personal level, it would also increase his fame and bring his work to the mass market.

Yet there was another, more intellectual reasoning for his decision to say yes, as Donald Schneider, H&M’s former Art Director, recalled to WWD in 2020, “He said ‘The future will only be about high and low. Everything else in between will disappear. The high I already had with Chanel and this would be perfect to get the low.’” However, were it to flop, and he’d be a laughing stock, his brand considerably cheapened.

karl lagerfeld for h and m

Courtesy of H&M

Karl Lagerfeld for H&M

H&M’s motivations are obviously easier to understand. Not only would it be a way to increase sales, but it would also increase their own standing to be associated with the king of fashion. It was a gamble that paid off on both sides (although Lagerfeld did later complain about the quality of the pieces), with the collaboration driving a 24 per cent increase in sales from October to November – the highest increase for H&M in two years – and selling out instantly.

Since then, H&M has launched 25 other designer collaborations, from Stella McCartney to Erdem, with no sign that the appetite for them is slowing down. “Our customers absolutely love the designer collaborations, and they still generate queues around the block when they go into our stores, which is fantastic,” shares H&M’s Creative Advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson. “I think the key is in always experimenting but also in always championing creativity. Our customers respond so well to cutting-edge fashion that they can’t get anywhere else at such an accessible price point. Ultimately, we believe great design should be for everyone.”

camille charriere for mango

Courtesy of Mango

Camille Charriere for Mango

Other high street brands have also followed suits, from Kate Moss for Topshop to Camille Charriere for Mango. So what’s behind the success?

“There are endless reasons why these collaborations appeal to consumers,” continues Dr Alexander. “Access to a desirable designer brand at a high street price, of course, but also image association, such as the positive emotions evoked from acquiring the latest collaboration.”

Another major factor in their success is the limited run model: once these pieces are gone, they’re gone. This is what leads to camping-outside-the-store queues – even today, when we are much more inclined to shop online. It also leads to bulk buying and reselling, a phenomenon that high street stores have undeniably tried to crack down on by limiting how many of each size shoppers can buy, after so many pieces have ended up on eBay at astronomical prices hours after they’d sold out in stores. The appetite for some of these early iconic pieces is still felt today: a cursory scroll of eBay shows that people are still reselling Kate Moss x Topshop now, almost 20 years later, while Depop reports that searches are up 45 per cent month on month, with 552 listings.

kate moss for topshop

Jason Kempin//Getty Images

Kate Moss for Topshop

Yet there’s no denying that shoppers have become exhausted by the endless conveyor belt of collaborations, which in some ways became a victim of their own success. Could Beckham’s collection for Mango buck the trend? Quite possibly. One thing going in Mango’s favor right now is that luxury goods are becoming less and less affordable, thanks to both a cost of living crisis and a 25 per cent increase in pricing. This in turn means that consumers are far more likely to want to buy into something like Victoria Beckham for Mango as a way to own an aspirational designer piece for less.

There’s no denying it’s a major coup for the Spanish retailer, with Beckham being one of the best-known designers in the world. As it celebrates 40 years on the high street this year, will Beckham’s collection follow the Lagerfeld model? Watch this space.

preview for Life Lessons with Victoria Beckham