It's that time of year again for H&M designer collab hardcore shoppers to get their mittens out, be ready to be on the receiving end of free coffee and queue nicely in mid November when Isabel Marant's more-Marant-than-Marant-ish collaboration with H&M comes out. If online reaction to the leaked-sorta-leaked images last week were anything to go by, then I predict a stampede. Before you get your smash n' grab strategy in order though, I thought I'd talk up an atypical H&M collaboration that comes out a little earlier (no mittens required hopefully), will be on the smaller scale of production but is still nonetheless vastly interesting. I was involved in last year's inaugural H&M Design Award, where an esteemed jury together with H&M would select one BA student from the elite fashion schools of Europe to receive EUR50,000 as a prize and collaborate with the chain to produce a capsule collection.
This year, the reach was expanded as students from nineteen fashion colleges were invited to apply. A grand jury which included Jonathan Saunders, Tim Blank, S√∏lve Sundsb√∏ and Leith Clark were assembled to select the winner of this year's design award, which went to Minju Kim, of Antwerp's Royal Academy. That's a crowning glory for the school, which is enjoying its 50th anniversary, but also for creativity over commerciality. Kim's collection "Dear My Friend" wasn't necessarily the most H&M-friendly of all the finalists. Up against minimal lines, more conventionally effeminate shapes and no-brainer fabrications though, Kim triumphed because she impressed the jury with her "unique design signature, one that combines playfulness, fantasy and optimism with great creativity and technical skill." When the winner was announced back in January, I did wonder how H&M would turn Kim's collection into a store-friendly collection.
Originally from South Korea, the 27-year old designer won the prize with her 3rd year collection presented at the Royal Academy in Antwerp (she has since graduated from the tough and whittled down fourth year class). Her winning collection was inspired by the Japanese horror manga artist Ito Junji. The monsters and haunted eyes of Junji's drawings evolved in a process of fantasy thinking on the part of Kim. Through a filter of pastels, tactile textures and kawaii proportions, the clothes become a cuddle-friendly take on horror. Creatures of the night take on a veneer of candy-coated loveliness. You know what they say about the innocent ones and all of that.
Kim's work had extreme curves and peplums, exaggerated silhouettes and an array of unusual textures, which needed to be adapted for a selling commercial collection for H&M. Thankfully none of that has been lost in the resulting nine-piece collection (plus two accessories). The saccharine colours, heavy jacquards and manga prints retains much of the spirit and look of Kim's originals. The extreme silhouettes have been translated into rounded-sleeve sweatshirts, trapeze dresses and a collarless cocoon coat. Everything packs a design punch, despite prices ranging from EUR19.95 to EUR149, from the fabrics that feel like a step above the H&M norm to the way the pieces are cut to evoke the sense of playfulness in Kim's imagination. Even Kim's original leather collaged show shoes have been reworked into a pair of studded wedges with a detachable fringed tongue. It's a far more bold outing for H&M's Desingn Award capsule collection and will definitely entice the fashion thrill-seekers out there, that aren't normally H&M shoppers, when it hits selected H&M stores and online on October 17th.
What's even more interesting is that Opening Ceremony in New York, Los Angeles and London will be selling the collection – I think it might be a first that a multi-brand boutique has had the ability to sell pieces from all three high street giants – H&M, River Island and Topshop. Clearly, Kim's capsule collection had a sway that went beyond its high street remit. My personal bets are on the coat which cleverly comes with a detachable pink jacquard piece to transform both shape and print mix-up, the pastel jersey knitted sweater that weighs a ton but has the look of a cloud of marshmallows and the black curved sleeve cape, which in uncape-like fashion actually allows your arms to move.
Minju Kim x H&M cape, leather neckpiece and dress worn with Whistles shoes