H&M x Balmain Launch: What I Experienced

First off: I never intended to pick up the collection’s most coveted items — the beaded blazer and embroidered dress.  While they are both beautiful, I found them more reminiscent of Balmain in 2012 than 2016.  No shade to anyone who picked them up or admired them, but I think H&M and Balmain chose to re-create some pre-existing designs rather than push new ideas, given that people have already been watching celebrities wear nearly identical pieces for years.  Also the target audience of H&M is not as risk-taking as your average runway show attendees, and familiar silhouettes and design concepts are safer.

Doors opened at 8 a.m.  Around 7:30, having just returned from my morning trip to the gym, I headed down to the 86th Street H&M in Manhattan.  The line stretched down the block towards 3rd avenue, but did not reach the next street corner when I arrived at 7:45.  No doubt the people first in line had been there all night.

By 8:30, I had been given a wristband that would allow me to enter at 9:45.  The wristband guaranteed me a spot in line so I did not have to stand around any longer.  I headed up Lexington to Fika Cafe, enjoyed an almond milk latte and a croissant, and casually walked back around 9:30.

I felt no need to rush or run, especially once I had my wristband.  Once back at the storefront, the bouncers out front let me go inside and I headed upstairs.  The rest of the 9:45 crowd was in line, and we probably waited about 5 minutes before we were let into the space the collection where the collection was roped off.

There was no stampeding, no shoving, no wildness.  And while those two iconic pieces I mentioned were sold out, there was plenty of stock left in most of the other women’s collection.  I managed to pick up everything I was hoping to with the exception of the logo tee.  I wasn’t bothered to miss out on that as Balmain sells them regularly and they are one of their more accessibly priced items.  I do think that of everything, the logo tees were predictably going to be very popular, and H&M could have stocked more of those.

I would bet the people camping out overnight were either going to purchase and re-sell the most coveted items on ebay, someone’s assistant who was ordered to pick up the collection, or a die hard Kardashian-Jenner fan.  I think if you were in an area with a well organized store and great associates, and had reasonable expectations about what you were going to pick up, there was no need for craziness.

I do think that H&M could have better prepared their website for the amount of traffic they had.  Being that I don’t have access to their web analytics or budget, maybe I’m wrong, but it was vastly under supported.  That said, I know this was a problem during their Isabel Marant and Versace releases, so the cynical part of me wonders if it was part of the hype process.  Frustrated people will tweet about their frustration, so it does get your hashtags in wider circulation.

We all saw the pictures and knew the pieces photographed beautifully and were true Olivier Rousteing creations.  However many of the iconicly detailed pieces under $500 were entirely synthetic fibers.  In many ways this is not surprising as high quality natural materials do not come cheap.  Factor in the embroidery and beading (and of course branding), the price was to be expected.

The two clothing items I picked up were each under $200 and 100% natural fibers: a long wool blazer with satin lapels and a loose linen top from the men’s collection.  Both felt worth their value and reminded me of when H&M first arrived in the US, before the quality fell off the deep end and I stopped shopping there (today being an exception).

I also picked up one of the small suede zipper bags (in navy) and the pressed gold-tone ring.  The small bag is not something I would use as a clutch personally, but it will make for a great organizing bag for makeup or tech accessories.  I do wish there was a logo detailing on the outside of the bag, but I did notice that the zipper is not YKK (a low-cost industry standard found everywhere from Levis to Michael Kors) – it seems to be higher quality.  The gold-tone ring is much sturdier than H&M’s other jewelry and I would not worry about the metal bending.  Time will tell if it discolors.

So to everyone saying “they call it Balmain but it’s really H&M” — yes, the clothes are on par with Balmain’s four figure runway pieces — there’s no way they could be.  But, the pieces are undeniably of a higher quality that H&M’s typical fare, which is practically disposable.

I appreciated that while the shopping experience itself was not particularly dignified, the presentation of the clothes at checkout was.  The sales associate carefully packaged my two pieces in a logo-marked garment bag, still on the faux-velvet hangers (both a nice touch).  The bags were sturdy paper instead of the typical H&M plastic, with nice ribbon handles.  The jewelry came in boxes, but unfortunately the clutch bag I purchased was not wrapped in tissue paper or anything.

Along with your purchases, the bags also contained samples for a Balmain for HM signature perfume which launched in December.  I felt no need to buy the full size, but neither the scent nor the bottle was anything special. Optimistic people hoped this December release would include restocks, but realists like myself knew this would not happen.

One piece of the marketing campaign that I think was lacking is the social media aspect.  Yes #HMxBalmainNation was a successfully popular hashtag, and yes people shared images of their spoils online, but I am reminded of beauty companies who release new palettes and say in their Instagram captions “tag us in your photos so we can see you” or better yet feature you! Wouldn’t it be the simplest thing to designate an intern to sort through the hashtagged photos to pull out a handful to share?  And wouldn’t it be a generous thing to give to the fans who waited to purchase these pieces to say “you are a part of the HM x Balmain Nation.”

Finally, I think everyone who put in the time to stand in line, refresh their browser, or actually buy any pieces of the collection needs to learn to pronounce the name of the designer.  I heard way too many people saying “ball-mane”.  No doubt they heard it pronounced that way in Nicki Minaj’s song (spoiler alert: she’s mocking you).  It’s a French name: Pierre Balmain – “bel’-mah(n)”.

Disclaimer: I realize this is being posted extremely late.  I obviously intended to get this up much closer to the launch date in November.

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