H&M Follows Oscars With Fashion Week Debut on Rodin’s Catwalk

First the Oscars, then the fashion world.

Fast-fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB, known for 9.95-euro ($13) bikini tops, started the week by dressing actress Helen Hunt in a blue gown. Today, Europe’s second-biggest clothing operator will make its Fashion Week debut in Paris as the clothier shows its autumn/winter collection at the Rodin museum.

H&M has “matured beyond the point of saying ‘My T-shirt is the cheapest,’” said Magali Tardy-Guyot, head of strategy at consultancy firm FutureBrand in Paris, in a phone interview. For H&M, which is trying to go more upscale with labels like its COS and & Other Stories, being present “at the Fashion Week is very coherent with what they are building.”

The purveyor of 10-euro studded T-shirts is trying to reach higher spenders to win back clients from Inditex SA’s Zara brand, which appeals to a broader audience with more classics, Tardy-Guyot said. After earlier overtaking H&M by total sales, the Spanish retailer last year also passed H&M by market value as its shares surged 67 percent, outpacing the Swedish clothing company’s 1.5 percent gain.

“They see that they are lagging Inditex and are being squeezed from the bottom by the likes of Primark,” said Daniel Lucht, an analyst at ResearchFarm, a London-based retail and consumer-goods forecaster, by phone. “The Fashion Week fits really well into their repositioning exercise. Someone will always come up with the cheapest T-shirt so if H&M wants to protect the position they have and regain the top position in clothing, they will have to go a bit more premium.”

Karl Lagerfeld

To establish itself as a trendsetter, H&M has been working with designers for temporary collections for almost a decade. In November 2004, it started selling clothing by Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld at a fraction of the usual cost. In its latest cooperation with Maison Martin Margiela, H&M sold a bodysuit with the image of a black bra printed across the chest and a duvet coat.

The fashion show is “all part of the brand evolution from just being a trend-follower to a trendsetter,” Ashma Kunde, an apparel analyst at Euromonitor International in London, said in a phone interview. “They have this ‘go big or go home’ sort of attitude towards promotional activity.”

H&M’s chosen setting of the Rodin museum, home of The Thinker and the Kiss sculptures, evokes previous shows by Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. H&M’s show will focus more on autumn than winter and will be available from Sept. 5 in about 200 H&M stores worldwide, Stenvinkel said. The clothing shown will be valued at regular H&M prices, though “in the higher price bracket,” Stenvinkel said.

As Helen Hunt illustrated by reportedly adding $700,000 in jewels to her H&M dress, “the boundaries between high-street and high-end fashion are becoming increasingly blurred,” Kunde said. H&M really wants to “make that statement that they know fashion.”