The Top 20 Designer Collaborations: A Timeline

When H&M announced its latest designer collaboration with Maison Martin Margiela, we'll admit we were a little surprised. Margiela is so avant-garde, so cult-y, and with little name recognition (OK, more than a little thanks to Kanye) we'd have figured them the last brand to do a collaboration with a mass retailer. But then again, H&M got Karl Lagerfeld to do a line for it in 2004, and then, somehow, the retailer convinced the most reclusive and enigmatic of designers, Rei Kawakubo, to do a Comme des Garcons collaboration in 2008. So maybe it's not so surprising that Maison Martin Margiela is doing a mass collab--maybe it's even obvious. It seems like every major designer has done a lower-priced collaboration with any number of mass retailers recently.
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Leah Chernikoff
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When H&M announced its latest designer collaboration with Maison Martin Margiela, we'll admit we were a little surprised. Margiela is so avant-garde, so cult-y, and with little name recognition (OK, more than a little thanks to Kanye) we'd have figured them the last brand to do a collaboration with a mass retailer. But then again, H&M got Karl Lagerfeld to do a line for it in 2004, and then, somehow, the retailer convinced the most reclusive and enigmatic of designers, Rei Kawakubo, to do a Comme des Garcons collaboration in 2008. So maybe it's not so surprising that Maison Martin Margiela is doing a mass collab--maybe it's even obvious. It seems like every major designer has done a lower-priced collaboration with any number of mass retailers recently.
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When H&M announced its latest designer collaboration with Maison Martin Margiela, we'll admit we were a little surprised. Margiela is so avant-garde, so cult-y, and with little name recognition (OK, more than a little thanks to Kanye) we'd have figured them the last brand to do a collaboration with a mass retailer. But then again, H&M got Karl Lagerfeld to do a line for it in 2004, and then, somehow, the retailer convinced the most reclusive and enigmatic of designers, Rei Kawakubo, to do a Comme des Garcons collaboration in 2008. So maybe it's not so surprising that Maison Martin Margiela is doing a mass collab--maybe it's even obvious. It seems like every major designer has done a lower-priced collaboration with any number of mass retailers recently.

Over the past five years, we've tirelessly and breathlessly documented every designer collaboration as it has dropped. It was exactly the kind of fashion we could get behind. High fashion from our favorite designers (like Marni, Pierre Hardy, Lanvin and Proenza Schouler just to name a few) at prices we could actually afford. Accessible fashion--it was real! It built hype! Like camping-out-in-line-in-the-freezing-cold-for-days kind of hype! After Karl Lagerfeld for H&M in 2004, Target pioneered a series of designer collaborations under its "GO International" program, which kicked off in 2006 and ended just last year. The "GO" series made household names of young, seriously talented designers like Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Luella Bartley, and Tracy Feith long before Michelle Obama did. It saw shoppers essentially looting their local Targets for these prized limited edition collections, and, correspondingly, saw the creation of the eBay poacher. I still wear a Proenza for Target cardigan, and Cheryl's Pierre Hardy for Gap wedges still get her compliments on the subway.

And although Target has ended their GO International program, everyone else, it seems, has picked up where it left off. Macy's has enlisted Karl Lagerfeld, Giambattista Valli and Alberta Ferretti to design for its contemporary Impulse line. JCPenney has had success with Charlotte Ronson and hopes to entice shoppers with new collabs with Marchesa and William Rast. The list could go on and on. Like, really on and on, because there have been so many. But today, in chronological order, we're bringing you the 20 most important, most hyped and, well, most awesome.

Do you agree with our list? Which were your favorite designer collaborations so far?

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The collab: Halston for JCPenney When: 1983 Why: Though clearly ahead of his time as far as business models go, disco designer Halston got in on the mainstream collaboration thing about thirty years too early. After launching the affordable Halston III line at the way-affordable JCPenney, more exclusive stores like Bergdorf Goodman got snobby and stopped selling his higher priced line. At a New York Times Talk in 2009, Marc Jacobs revealed that his hesitancy towards doing collaborations is based on Halston's career.

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The collab: Isaac Mizrahi for Target When: 2002-2008 Why: Isaac Mizrahi's long-running diffusion line for Target proved to be a massive success for both brands. It revived Mizrahi's career and made him a household name. The collection, which initially began as womenswear, eventually expanded into housewares, accessories, and bedding. Regarding the collaboration line, Mizrahi told the WSJ, "You're not selling out, you're reaching out."

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The collab: Jeremy Scott for Adidas When: 2003-present Why: High-low designer Jeremy Scott is no stranger to collaborations-- he's done tons in the course of his career, including one with Louboutin in the late '90s. None have lasted as long as his relationship with Adidas, though. The collab has yielded a Keith Haring-inspired collection and countless tongue-in-cheek designs like animal hoodies and metallic winged sneakers. His creativity knows no bounds, and neither do the shelves of the sneakerheads who collect his kicks.

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The collab: Karl Lagerfeld for H&M When: 2004 Why: Before he directed ice cream commercials and had his likeness emblazoned on soda cans, Karl Lagerfeld made a 30-piece collection (including a fragrance called "Liquid Karl...") for H&M--the Swedish mega-retailer's first high-end collab ever (oh, how many would follow). Despite the success of his collaboration (which sold out in just hours), Lagerfeld told German magazine Stern (via Vogue UK) that he would never again work with H&M, accusing the high street giant of "snobbery" and producing his designs in larger sizes than he had envisioned.

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The collab: Luella for Target When: 2006 Why: After Target did a line with now-defunct Italian brand Fiorucci in 2005, it launched the GO International program, and introduced Brit It designer Luella Bartley to the American masses. Featuring plaids and flirty skirts, it was the collab that launched a thousand collabs. Target re-issued a Luella dress for its GO International Designer Collective in 2011, which celebrated the five year anniversary of the program. GO has since been shuttered, but the flouncy dresses still live on in our hearts (and on eBay. Seriously. There's a lot there.)

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The collab: Pierre Hardy for Gap When: Ongoing from 2007 until spring 2011 Why: Gap quietly launched this collab with Pierre Hardy, who had designed shoes for the likes of Balenciaga, Hermes, and Dior prior to launching his own line. Word started to spread and the shoes, always limited edition, became an eBay staple. The frenzy peaked with that stellar black, open-toe wedge bootie from fall 2010. (We still own, wear, and shine that shoe--and it still gets us compliments on the subway).

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The collab: CFDA White Shirt for Gap When: 2007-2008 Why: The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund began collaborating with the Gap on a design series featuring the three winners of the award each year to bring their designs and names to the masses. Called "Gap's Design Editions," the first round featured re-imaginings of the white shirt by Thakoon, Rodarte, and Doo.Ri, and the process made it into The September Issue. (Ed note: I held onto my Phillip Lim x Gap white shirt from 2008 until a very unfortunate stain incident a year ago...RIP.) After two years of partnership, they reinvented the collaboration into designs featuring khakis before the CFDA moved on to J.Crew.

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The collab: Proenza Schouler for Target When: 2007 Why: This design duo has been on the map ever since their senior thesis collection was bought in it's entirety by Barneys. When you consider that Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez won the inaugural CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2004 - just two years after the brand's inception! - it's hardly a surprise they were tapped to design a highly successful one-off line for Target's Go International collection in 2007. (Full disclosure - many present and past Fashionistas still rock their Proenza for Target. How's that for "bang for your buck"?)

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The collab: Christopher Kane for Topshop When: 2007, 2009 Why: There was loads of hype surrounding this collaboration, which was impressive since Kane doesn't have the same name recognition as a Karl Lagerfeld or Stella McCartney; however, TopShop has always favored designers beloved by the fashion set (see: Mary Katrantzou) but perhaps not terribly well known outside the inner circle. People went wild for the croc and gorilla prints and the collection was a huge success.

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The collab: Commes des Garcons for H&M When: 2008 Why: Launched in 2008, this was Rei Kawakubo's first foray in mass fashion. Often pegged as an elusive designer with a highly discerning clientele, this collaboration gave everyone the chance to look kick ass in a way only Comme des Garcons can provide. Of course, when the collaboration with the conceptual designer was announced, mass hysteria ensued. Even Tavi took the day off of school to go buy some.

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The collab: Rodarte for Target When: 2009 Why: The Rodarte collaboration upped Target's fashion game. Fresh off their second CFDA award win, Kate and Laura Mullevey designed a covetable collection. With the usual price-point of a Rodarte dress starting around $1,000, the $10-$80 price range of the line was a refreshing twist. I remember the first time I tried on that Rodarte for Target leopard and lace dress in the fluorescent-lit, red plastic dressing rooms at my local store. It had been snowing all day and we had been let off from school, but I still made my dad drive our pick-up truck to the retailer so I could get my hands on it. I was 14, and I bought it for my first high school dance. My crush told me that I looked "hot." Yes, straight out of a Judy Blume novel, I know. I still wear that dress occasionally when I need a self-esteem boost.

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The collab: I Heart Ronson for JC Penney When: 2009 Why: This collaboration was the first in JCPenney's roster to really up the department store's fashion cred--and it was also a major coup for Ronson, who was a relatively low-profile designer at the time the collection was launched in the spring of 2009. Plus, it's still going strong, making it one of the longest-running designer collaborations yet.

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The collab: Jil Sander for Uniqlo When: 2009-2011 Why: Before she announced her return to her eponymous line this year (much to everyone, including Raf Simons' surprise) Jil Sander collaborated with Japanese retailer Uniqlo starting in 2009 on a line simply called +J. Fashion lovers went absolutely bonkers for the line, especially its outerwear. +J shuttered in 2011, leaving many of us to wonder where our winter coats will come from.

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The collab: Stella McCartney for Gap Kids When: 2009-2011 Why: Stella's Gap Kids collection may be the first designer kids line that adults bought for themselves (Even Carla Bruni wore it!). From the fun florals to the military braided jackets, the line was pure Stella...but at Gap prices. Stella also designed a grown-up line in 2005 for H&M; hers was the second for the Swedish retailer after Karl Lagerfeld's successful first collab. And she has an ongoing--and very cool--activewear line with Adidas.

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The collab: Fenton/Fallon for J.Crew When: 2010 Why: Fenton/Fallon and J.Crew was a match made in fashion heaven from the start. The preppy/girly/undone aesthetic of J.Crew perfectly fit the soft-and-hard mix of Fenton/Fallon and the collaboration became an immediate success when it launched. It didn't hurt either when Michelle Obama wore a piece on the cover of Glamour magazine and later on national television. The line of jewelry was expected to launch in Spring 2010, but was pushed forward due to high demand.

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The collab: Lanvin for H&M When: 2010 Why: Alber Elbaz took the designer diffusion line to new, extravagant and luxurious heights. The offerings were super glam--think taffeta cocktail frocks and jeweled accessories--and the designs were more high fashion than past designer collaborations. Plus, who could forget the star-studded fashion show that the had Anna Dello Russo walking the runway alongside a poodle?

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The collab: Christian Siriano for Payless When: 2010-present Why: Not many Project Runway winners have found the kind of success Siriano has, who was the youngest-ever winner of the reality show. Siriano's collections for Payless, which debut on his runways, have been successful enough that he now receives royalties on each pair sold in addition to his design fees. Can you say "fierce"?

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The collab: CFDA with Prabal Gurung for J.Crew When: 2011 Why: This was the year that the CFDA launched its collaboration with J.Crew after previously being partnered with the Gap. Prabal Gurung was easily the most sought after of the series, though he was a runner up for the award. The pieces looked as if they could fit in seamlessly with his runway collections, but were listed at the J.Crew's price points. A combination like that is enough to drive any fashion-savvy woman crazy.

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The collab: Missoni for Target When: 2011 Why: I go to a high school in the South, and much to my displeasure, its student body has never been particularly concerned with fashion news. Collaborations that were revolutionary in the fashion industry were unheard of at my lunch table. That is, until, Missoni for Target launched. After searching at four (four!) different Target stores in my area, I finally found one of the sold-out pieces I could fit into. It was a children's extra large. I wore it to school the next day only to have seven (seven!) people ask me if it was from the line. The collab made my local news. When it launched in September, determined chevron-crazed shoppers crashed the website. Target sold a large amount of stock they didn't have, and pissed a lot of customers off. You don't mess with someone who is after a designer wine box.

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The collab: Versace for H&M When: 2011 Why: This was the most-hyped, most anticipated, and most debated H&M (classy or tacky?) collaboration ever. Staying true to Versace's glam party-girl roots, Donatella threw one hell of a soiree before the line launched, featuring Nicki Minaj and most of the fashion people who live in New York City. Fans were rabid to get their hands on Donatella's offerings, camping on the sidewalk two days before the launch and crashing the website multiple times.