Pilotto For The People

With news of a Target collaboration hot off the press, we ponder that which makes a diffusion line successful.


Can you remember the first time you were given a chance to finally stand face-to-face (and taller, I might add) with apparel from the expensive-ass, high fashion brands that once seemed so fancy you were afraid to even eye them while they flourished (or is it languished?) in the windows at Barneys — and what’s more, actually afford it?

For me, it was right around the time news broke that H&M would be collaborating with Karl Lagerfeld. Or Stella McCartney. I forget which one came first. Though I knew little about the latter (I was still riding the coattails of middle school), I did know the collaboration was reason enough to beg my mom to let me skip class and allow me to take the subway to 59th street where I could — and would — get on line for a chance to buy the Stella-approved polyester from the Swedish clothes whisperers. So I did.

But when I finally got in and managed to ransack the place in pursuit of just one meager blouse, the anticipation proved much more exciting than the actual garment. Though I found the blouse, I no longer wanted it. So here was this 15-year-old girl with $60 burning a hole through her pocket, holding a shirt (it was white, long, oversize and featured a paltry sash belt) stamped with the McCartney label and therefore emanating only the most exclusive sense of zeal, and I wasn’t interested. What happened?

As future collaborations for H&M and beyond (Target, Uniqlo, Kohl’s, Macy’s, even Anthropologie) would proliferate alongside pedigreed names like Missoni, Matthew Williamson, Versace, Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Jason Wu, Thakoon, Giambattista Valli, Peter Som, Phillip Lim… I wasn’t quite sure why some worked (I couldn’t have ambushed Margiela or Lanvin for H&M quicker) and some didn’t (Derek Lam and Narciso Rodriguez are two of my absolute favorite designers, and yet when reinterpreted with Kohl’s at an accessible price point, niente).

But when news dropped yesterday that the most recent brand to sign on to Target’s robust-and-growing roster of designer collaborations was Peter Pilotto, a lightbulb switched on. The partnership was announced at the designers’ Spring/Summer 2014 show in London just before Pilotto and Christopher De Vos’ comprehensive series of 32 dresses would walk the runway in a gradation in line with the now pervasive, bright, kaleidoscopic prints emblematic of the brand. In fact, I am certain that if I didn’t tell you the above images were from yesterday’s show, you’d probably know it on your own.


It’s the prints. That’s got to be it. When a designer like the preferred Derek Lam or Narciso Rodriguez or Francisco Costa agrees to take what is already exceptionally approachable – albeit highly expensive – and pare down the years of minimalist appeal and maximalist, elite fabrication, what are we left with? Some chinos? A pair of slacks?

A plain white blouse.

It must have occurred to me without actually occurring to me while gripping that Stella McCartney for H&M shirt nine years ago, that without featuring at least, oh, I don’t know, one fruit print or a series of polka dots or a large geometric plaid, what’s the use in buying the Stella McCartney version of H&M when I can probably just buy the H&M version? Half the beauty in indulging in Stella McCartney or the anterior Lam, Rodriguez and so forth is knowing that even though you may get complimented for your incredibly well tailored jacket, only fashion’s pundits will really know who it’s by.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. When Jil Sander was designing for Uniqlo, it seemed that for a moment we could have it all: the clothes and food money.

But where big box collaborations really prosper is through partnering with brands who have already pinned down a very distinct course of style. There’s a reason some simple white button-downs cost hundreds of dollars. It’s in the fabric, the cut, the craftsmanship – areas where manufacturers can’t afford to be as stringent with larger buys at a lower price point.

There’s far more flexibility when the focus is a known design element or print, like Missoni for Target. That way, when you’re selling the clothes, you’re not really selling clothes — you’re selling a remarkably accepted concept. The name Peter Pilotto instantly calls to mind exactly what a Pilotto print looks like. And if Target can translate print to paper, or rather to fabric, that’s bait for a paramount diffusion line. Just count us out for the simple separates.

Images via Vogue.com from yesterday’s runway show.

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  • Amatoria Clothing

    Funny. I actually just made my way to Target yesterday to check out the Phillip Lim line. As usual, the ads make the clothes look much more expensive than they do in person. It actually made me a bit sad. He used this BEAUTIFUL floral print on a blouse and dress… It would have been a dream in silk… However, the polyester version did not do his design aesthetic justice. The fabric did not drape to show the beautiful detail he does at the shoulder of a long-sleeve shirt.
    However, I did leave with his BOOM sweatshirt. This is a perfect example of a good transition to a lower pricepoint. You get the look of the original collection, at a lower pricepoint, without sacrificing the overall integrity. And I am not mad about paying $30 for a fun little sweatshirt I can layer over ANYTHING.

    • K. Oxford

      I didn’t get the boom sweatshirt because it could have been F21. I mean, F21 knocked this concept off when the original Lim line hit, so what’s the point?
      The $39 non leather bags, however were a different story… and this morning I’m wearing the white tank with the sheer back.


      Leandra, you’re right, you nailed it. If we buy these designers for the tailoring it’s gonna be a bag of bs when they do the target or kohl’s versions… but prints? yes. yes.

      (ps, I’m still sitting where you left me.)
      (pps, not in the street)

      • Amatoria Clothing

        You are right! And many other stores/websites copied the Lichtenstein idea as well. I bought it because I genuinely like it. And I figure, if I want a piece that looks like this, I might as well get the one from Phillip Lim.
        What I would REALLY like is a true Lichtenstein piece hanging on my wall. I’ll have to wait ’til im making the Big Bucks!

      • Leandra Medine

        You forgot to tell them (us) about your maternity overalls from Goodwill

  • I picked up the yellow an blue printed skirt from the Phillip Lim for Target collection preciously for that known design element, the print is vibrant and current, and Phillip Lim-ish. It was $29.99 and I was quite pleased with myself. The quality is horrible and will most likely fall apart when washed, but considering price and the fact that I cant drop $400 on the real deal I walked away happy. I wasn’t expecting to look like I stepped off of a runway when I left Target, I was looking for a cute piece to incorporate into my wardrobe. The skirt is cute but doesn’t give me that RUSH that my first pair of Miu Miu’s did when I first bought them and brought them home, and I don’t think these collaborations are meant to do so. They are just meant to fill the gap and I think they do so decently.

  • Amelia Diamond

    I remember literally fighting people, like I may have karate kicked someone, trying to get to the shoe section of H&M in Paris during their collaboration with Jimmy Choo. And the shoes just didn’t do it for me. Le sad.

  • Andrew

    It was three years ago- at Target.

    I was in middle school, and was therefore unexposed to the ferocious acts people will perform to get these designer approved clothes. My Dad drove me to Target after school, about 2:45 PM, and I was SO excited. I wanted everything- the pants, the shirts, the scarves, even the wall decorations- and I couldn’t contain myself.
    I practically jumped out of my seat when we pulled into the parking lot. We made our way inside, and there it was.

    One bed spread. That was what I had to choose from. And even though I thought I wanted everything, I knew I didn’t want a fucking bedspread. I left empty-handed- and full of rage. So this year, when 3.1 hit Target, I stayed up until 3:30 AM on Sunday morning to get the collection. When I woke up in the morning I checked online to see what was left (“everything must be sold out, just like Missoni” I remember myself thinking). Everything I had ordered was still in stock, and even in my size.

    And after all of this, I can’t help but wonder why I’m so passionate about these cheap designer-label clothes.

  • Heidi

    My biggest gripe with a lot of the collaborations is that these high end designers are known for their fantastic materials. Guess what – you don’t get those material at a Target/H&M/Kohl’s price. I’ve picked up Target collaborations pieces before and the fabric was fraying while it was still on the hanger. Missioni makes luxurious Italian made pieces, yet every single piece that was available at Target was made in Target. I skipped the Phillip Lim collaboration boat completely because I didn’t want to spend money on yet another faux-leather bag. Now I’m seeing hate on the blogosphere where people are proclaiming, “love your REAL pahsli” as if the Target pahsli inspired bags are planning a mutiny against their more expensive brethren.

    I can’t afford the real high-end designers who usually partake in these collaborations, but I certainly don’t want to spend the few dollars I have on cheaply made pieces that will fall apart just as quick as the rest of the fast fashion world. I’ll save my dollars, buy less, but invest in the high quality pieces when I can.


    • Tamara

      Hahaha have you ever read the Dr. Seuss story “Star Bellied Sneetches?” You definitely should!

  • Anwar_Bananwar

    Agreed all around! An addendum, however: certain pieces end up too notorious for what they are. To me, most of the Missoni for Target pieces felt much more Target than Missoni.

    Proenza Schouler for Target is another good example of the mysterious success of minimalism. I still have my navy and black geometric silk dress, and feel like it continues to merit a spot in the closet. Yahearrrrd?

  • tinking

    It was so disappointing to see MARNI dilute its look when it produced for H&M…it just wasn’t the same…there were design echoes but of course the Italian workmanship was absent – so I say why bother???

    • Poulette

      I totally agree! Marni x H&M was a huge disappointment, those prints that look so delicious when done with craftsmanship using high quality fabrics, in interesting cuts, just looked like a covering from my grandma’s couch when executed by H&M.

      I stopped by my local Target 2 days after the 3.1 PL launch, there was very little left (though I wouldn’t be surprised when the returns start trickling in) but what was left was just yuck. The colours were so garish that I couldn’t imagine them being flattering on anyone. I am sure the accessories are made out of thick pleather which makes them heavier to carry than is warranted. Just yuck all around… (Can I use yuck one more time?)

  • mywhiteT.com

    This collection is just breath taking! So much structure to the outfits and color usage, really enjoying this collection.

  • Oooh, me likey!

    Mafalda ❤

  • Sharon

    I cannot wait to get my hands on the printed pieces … but I agree, I’ll be staying away from the basics which I could get just anywhere


  • My first collaboration item was a grey Matthew Williamson Tee – because I liked the design and because it was easy to buy online. Unfortunately, it changed the form after the first (or second) wash so much that I now pretend to keep it for good old times sake or something. 🙂
    The second time, I went for a long Margiela skirt that I still adore, that was only cheap months later when still in stock and that I haven’t worn yet. I guess I’m too afraid I’ll spoil it.

    But I think I want to skip collaborations from now on … for all the good reasons stated above.

    • Leandra Medine

      I bought a neon-embellished white blouse from that collabo which I *still* wear.

      • Well, maybe your blouse isn’t made of “simple cotton” (you know: the kind of cotton with short fibres or whatever the reason that the garments change shape so fast and you find the side stitches almost touching your belly button and color fading away) but then Williamson for H&M really did contain lovely things so no wonder some people still *wear* them 🙂 (and I am just going to keep my Tee, despite the fact that butterflies are way too girlie for me) …

  • Omar Abreu

    Makes me wonder about the upcoming Isabel Marant x H&M coming up in November. Having some doubts (Side note: still going).

  • Tamara

    I’m cynical about the collaborations. Missoni for target. Who, besides the fashion elite (who could afford the Barney’s version), got a single piece? Versace for H &M the same. Sorry, not sleeping out on the street for the stuff.

    • Jill

      I did…Missoni, anyway. Didn’t try for H&M Versace. I went to nine Targets in one day and bought everything I could, because I knew that was my only shot. Though I ended up returning a lot that didn’t work, I probably still have about 15 items from the collab. A lot of home dec, the shoes (heels and flats) and a couple of pieces of the clothing. I didn’t sleep on the street but DID drive like a crazy person for several hours. Totally worth it. But it’s one of the few brands I really love and would bother for. I also found that most (though not all) of the clothing was, while not Missoni quality, very decently made and the pieces have held up well. FWIW

  • kerry

    I’ve only bought three items from collabs from Target. A Rogan dress, a Prabal Gurung shirt and pair of the sandals. The shift dress I wear all time. The shirt? It’s itchy and just plain cheaply made. I just haven’t been too impressed with most of the clothing offered in these lines. Like you said… a pair of slacks? In polyester?

  • Jill

    My god, you’re brilliant. Not that that’s news! But you’re so right about the prints and the concept. The only designer collab I went nuts for was Missoni for Target – but I love, love, love Missoni. And having the zigzags on everything from martini glasses to storage boxes makes me very happy. A lot of the collaborations I’ve seen have ended up being, like you said, cheap versions of white shirts or basic clothing items that I would actually buy at a higher price, to get better quality. And some collabs, even in a print, are made of nasty acrylic that won’t wear well or shiny cheap polyester. So mostly I have to pass. Pilotto though…I’m intrigued.