High fashion collection that sold out in hours


With fashion trends changing over so first, November 5 seems like a lifetime ago, yet illuminating. That Thursday morning Balmain x H&M launched a 109-piece collection. Balmain is not cheap. So collaborating with affordable and accessible H&M ricocheted worldwide.

This collection sold out in hours. Videos circulated from Croatia, Turkey and Dubai. It was epic mayhem. Shoppers rushed in leaving hangers swaying in the breeze. The only thing remotely close locally would be the panic during sugar shortages or 2007/2008 post-election grocery shopping.

Balmain, the brainchild of 30-year-old French designer Olivier Rousteing, is a luxury label of expense and exclusivity that only a few can afford while H&M is a Swedish multinational retail-clothing firm.

Shoppers pushed and shoved each other to snap up the items. How on earth could that kind of frantic need and devotion to fashion be manufactured?

It can’t be just about money; that they have a lot more than we can afford to spend on designer clothes. Here is what it was. This collaboration was not genius simply because of the pairing or interpretation of affordable luxury. It is because it was an incredible feat of brilliant marketing or, if you want to be sinister, psychological warfare.


It is reported there was a barely-there advertising budget, quite unprecedented. Six months back particular models wore Balmain on a red carpet. The designer was their date. It trended. Six months is incidentally the turnaround between runway and retail.

Billboards, followed with an Instagram campaign, all using models who are ridiculously popular online and a designer (Rousteing) who is no slouch either. The media and fashion industry love him. A-lister clients are fanatical about his talent.

He has a powerful back story. Throw in a peek into his entire collection, usually a well-guarded secret, and on Instagram no less to escalate the hype. Collaborations are news. This collection avalanched with coverage. By: November 4, fans and lovers had been separated from naysayers. The former queued while others pitched tent outside H&M stores, and by that I mean actual tents complete with flasks of hot liquids to stay warm through the night.

Yes, it really is as crazy as it sounds. How many fashion brands, or even just brands, boast such global fanatical following? People will simply like who and what they like. Ask an Apple lover. Balmain has such a distinct aesthetic they inspire people to aspire to it. The collaboration costs less than the main line but it still isn’t cheap with some pieces selling at $499 (Sh50,898). Yet there was no hesitation.

Consumers were talked through the buying process, instructed on which pieces to buy, how to wear them and how to shop. Balmain and H&M went a step further. They gave a detailed list of shopping instructions that involved colour-coded bracelets, how many pieces per person and where, specifically to get what.


Despite drastically marked down prices one must maintain an air of exclusivity. Rules applied online as well. The site crashed. Pieces resold on eBay quadrupled in cost. Disappointed fans got very vocal. This is H&M’s most lucrative collaboration to date. The media and fashion industry is still deconstructing the phenomenon.

Balmain’s current success as a brand and stock in trade, says creative director Olivier Rousteing, is “about being sexy and powerful.”

This is significant. The fashion brands thriving right now are brands making women feel a certain kind of way, and that is sexy, confident and powerful. This trend does not have a specific look. It is a vibe sweeping across Europe, China, the Middle East and Africa.

So intense is it that wherever evocative clothes are sold, women will pack up, jet there and shop be — it London, Milan, New York or Paris, whether arriving from Nigeria, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia.

Did I mention collection X is stunning? It was not fantastic luck. The market was primed. You are the market. The slow burn with half a year’s head-start so subtle it is irresistible.