H&M has recruited streetwear designer Heron Preston to be an in-house advisor, forming what the company calls a “long-term partnership” that will yield Preston’s own seasonal capsule collections for the brand as well as his input on H&M’s main menswear line.
The Swedish fast fashion giant, like many other accessible brands, is no stranger to collaborations.
Since the early 2000s, H&M has brokered annual collaborations with some of fashion’s biggest names, including Maison Margiela, Stella McCartney and Versace.
H&M made a splash in February after launching a coveted collaboration with celebrity-favourite label Mugler, whose namesake designer Thierry Mugler died a year prior. Ahead of the release, shoppers queued overnight outside H&M’s flagships around the world to get their hands on the products, some of which — such as the black mesh-panelled bodysuit — still trade for more than 40 percent of the original retail price on resale platform StockX.
But like so many collaborations, the excitement was there one day and gone the next.
With Heron Preston, H&M is breaking its decades-old playbook on collaborations. Instead of investing in the short-term hype that comes with one-off tie-ups, H&M is betting that Preston’s continued presence at the brand will boost the appeal of its core products in the long run. The company has dubbed this partnership “H2.” H&M could use the boost: In recent years, the retailer has come under increasing pressure from more agile, online-only fast-fashion juggernauts like Shein.
“We know people will appreciate the product Heron creates simply because of who he is,” said Daniel Herrmann, director of H&M’s menswear business. “And we’re excited to bring his creative vision deeper inside our own processes too.”
Retailers like Uniqlo have had success by deploying a more permanent collaboration strategy rather than sporadic capsules. In 2016, the Japanese chain tapped French designer Christophe Lemaire to be an in-house artistic director, launching the Uniqlo U line of elevated everyday basics that quickly became a cult favourite among fashion insiders. Since then, Uniqlo U — and Uniqlo at large — has garnered mainstream popularity among young consumers, thanks to high-quality products, Lemaire’s signature functional designs and a few viral moments.
Asics, meanwhile, has transformed its niche sports footwear into a coveted line of fashion-forward sportstyle sneakers, courtesy of a long-term collaboration with London-based menswear designer Kiko Kostadinov that began in 2018.
Preston will have a wide-ranging reign over H&M’s menswear offering, overseeing four pillars: design advisory, which will see him consult on the brand’s mainline menswear; special collections designed specifically by Preston; talent curation, intended to allow Preston to connect creatives in his network for additional collaborations with H&M; and fashion innovation, which will include projects such as a circularity initiative in which consumers can submit their old clothing for use in future capsule collections designed by Preston.
“The idea, at first, is for our work to be very experimental,” said Preston, who began his integration with the brand this month with knowledge-sharing and consultancy sessions with H&M’s design teams. “From there, we’re hoping for what we create through H2 to inform the wider H&M design operation.”
Preston’s first 40-piece collection for the retailer is expected to launch in 2024.
For the fast fashion giant, working with Preston — a serial collaborator who has launched collections with the likes of Calvin Klein, Nike and even the New York City Department of Sanitation — offers a chance to tap into the multi-hyphenate creative’s cultural cachet among young menswear consumers.
“At the end of the day, we want to stay relevant,” said Herrmann. “We wanted to find a way to enhance our designer collaborations in a way that actually brings inspiration into our internal process, not just a project that runs for a limited time.”
The designer was a frequent collaborator of Off-White founder Virgil Abloh — with whom he co-founded the streetwear brand and DJ collective Been Trill in 2012 — and also worked as artistic director for Ye, the rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West. Preston remains at the helm of his namesake brand since it launched in partnership with New Guards Group in 2017. The brand is stocked at several luxury retailers, including Ssense, Harrods and End.
Preston said he was drawn to the opportunity to work with H&M because he welcomed the challenge of elevating the brand’s overall product offering.
“I was bored at the time H&M approached me, but what they were offering was more than a typical boring collaboration, more than just about product,” he said. “If they’d just asked me to slap my logo on some T-shirts and hoodies, I probably would have told them no.”