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Ups and downs of high-low collab culture

Shifts gets an exclusive look inside the community of H&M and designer collaboration superfans

Behind the ‘sold-out’ headlines and ‘record-breaking’ statistics there exists an inner-circle of fiercely dedicated shoppers. They scour the globe and queue for days, all with the committed aim of scoring a piece of H&M’s anticipated designer collaborations.

Not merely a group of designer-obsessed shopaholics, but a community of  enthusiasts, obsessed with the culture of collaboration and the beauty of the clothes birthed by the Swedish fast-fashion juggernaut. Turning up year after year in growing numbers, they’re intent on buying a part of fashion history.

Hot off the press, or should we say mesh, of the retailer’s latest crossover with Mugler – covered here exclusively by Shift – we spoke to self-described ‘100% superfan’ Roberto Escorcio. The part-time stylist and full-time collab collector was quite literally first-in-line at the Regent Street flagship for the collection’s launch on May 11. He queued from 3PM the day before.

Escorcio wears the 2015 Balmain X H&M, crystallised blazer and matching trousers

Escorcio camps out like clockwork each year, battling snow, hail or rain. He favours this however, over shopping online. He says it lets him map out his shopping experience ahead of time. “I don’t like the uncertainty of maybe you’ll get it and maybe you won’t,” he says. “If I’m first in the queue and I’m there, I can plan. I literally sit there and watch the workers put everything on the rail. And throughout the whole night I’m like, ‘okay, I’m gonna head there, pick up that piece, go there go there’.”

His fascination with H&M’s world of collaborative endeavours takes priority. But don’t be mistaken, the obsession is founded in an extreme love for the clothes themselves and an unshakeable desire to own an affordable piece of luxury. For Escorcio, it’s the appeal of those garments that, in his words, are like a “dream piece”.

“My commitment to H&M has always been because there’s always a stand-out piece. There is always something that they release that I’m like, ‘that’s it. I love that and I want that’. Then I start thinking about how to style it and how [H&M] are styling it. Then I just ended up buying more than I planned,” he tell us.

A commitment to collecting, from the beginning

His impressive 217-piece archive of the label’s collaborations began over 19 years ago, way back in 2004 when H&M first ventured into the realm of high-low team-ups. This inaugural collection was a partnership the late Karl Lagerfeld. Despite an industry-wide surge in these types of collaborations post-pandemic – a democratising effort to make luxury more accessible – they’re nothing new for H&M. Almost two decades on and the brand now boasts an extensive roster of designers who have teamed-up with the label each and every year since. From legacy brands Balmain and Versace, to emerging designers like Richard Quinn, they’re all vying to expand their market in the hopes of broadening their audience.

Escorcio wears The Vampire’s Wife X H&M, released in 2020

The collaborations occupy a liminal space between high and low fashion, bringing the chosen luxury brand’s unattainable garments – often reserved for runways and boutiques – onto the high street. Escorcio says it’s this accessibility and authentically duped designs, that first made the concept so appealing to him back when he was just a teenager.

“I was 13 at the time, the money I had is the money that I was either gifted or that I saved. So to be able to put that money and buy a piece that… I will have and keep and hold forever. That’s what drew me to it. It was affordable. It was beautiful. You could see the designer in the items and it was something I could get.” 

Escercio (right) wears the H&M X Erdem collab

Some collaborations are more appealing to Escorcio than others, he reveals, but he still manages to find a piece in every single collection that resonates with him. “With Erdem, it was the first time Erdem had ever made male clothes, throughout his whole career. So that was a big drive,” he adds. The Erdem collaboration, released in 2017, saw delicate lace blouses and demure floral prints for men, marking the British luxury brand’s first foray into the gender category.

With the label’s Mugler collaboration, Escorcio thinks the collection was split into two. “There were two separate labels in the garments. There was new Mugler, and Thierry Mugler,” he says, referring to Casey Cadwallader’s revival of the luxury house in recent years. “And I knew that what I loved and what I needed, and what I ended up getting was the archival, where they had studied his collections and taken inspiration from it.”

The hourglass wool blazer from the H&M X Mugler collaboration

The hourglass wool blazer from H&M X Mugler. Image courtesy of H&M

The antique pink hourglass wool jacket that Escorcio managed to acquire, is described by H&M as being “inspired by a beloved item from Thierry Mugler’s magnificent archive collection”. With its exaggerated shoulder pads and cinched-in wasp waist this sentiment rings true, especially when  compared to the brand’s early 1990s runway silhouettes.


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F/W 1990s Thierry Mugler jacket

Escorcio says other pieces are bought based on his longstanding sartorial desires. The 2019 collaboration with Italian couture house Giambattista Valli saw an explosion of tulle, vibrant colours and loud prints. But it was the regality of the black dress coat with embroidered gold trim that caught Escorcio’s eye. “I have always wanted to have an embroidered royal coat. But if I was to look at designers who were making them at the time, you’re looking at £1000s,” he says. The H&M collab coat retailed for $399, so for Escorcio, it was a no-brainer.

Escorcio wears the Giambattista Valli X H&M embroidered dress coat

The collection grows, and the search goes global

What began as an affordable opportunity to purchase desired designer pieces, has now levelled up into a strategically planned yearly operation – in what Escorcio refers to as his Christmas. “The night before [launch] I text people ‘Happy H&M-eve’ because it’s my thing, I love it, the whole experience,” he says.

“For actual Christmas and my birthdays, I genuinely just ask for H&M vouchers. Then I get the individual cards and I go to the H&M store and load it all onto one so that I can just, *swipes card*.”

Escorcio wears the 2018 Moschino X H&M belt bag and matching umbrella

He doesn’t limit himself to just shopping directly with H&M or even just to the UK, this obsessional operation is a global one. He describes sitting in a cafe with a friend, looking through The First 10 Years – a commemorative book given to him by the brand at their anniversary event in 2014 – and realising that he missed a piece from the 2012 collab with French luxury house, Maison Margiela. A two-piece multi-patterned mauve ensemble made from sewn-together silk scarves – in true, deconstructed Margiela fashion. “I ended up checking all the [resale] sites, I couldn’t find anything. One day I was sat in the office and I thought the only other place I know that has like this obsession with the collaborations is Germany,” he says. 

Maison Margiela x H&M collaboration silk scarf top and matching apron

Maison Margiela x H&M silk scarf top (left) and matching apron (right)


“I went on Vinted Germany, and I found this woman but I couldn’t contact her because I don’t have a German account. So I looked at her name and I started going on Instagram to try and find her. I randomly messaged her and I said ‘hey, do you by any chance still have this for sale?’. She’s like, ‘yeah, I’ve got it…I won’t send abroad’. So I [said], ‘Okay, I’m coming to Germany’. I found a Ryanair flight for £10, and I flew at 10 in the morning, met her for lunch to buy the piece,  then I flew back. I did everything within the course of a day.”

Closer to home, Escorcio has also travelled to Cambridge. The reason? A tunnel vision need to retrospectively acquire up the black coat-dress from the 2008 Commes Des Garçons collab, in all its Victorian era meets Harajuku-inspired glory. “Everyone warns me about going to strangers houses and picking up stuff, but I don’t see the risk, all I picture is the item,” he says.

Commes Des Garçons X H&M collaboration coat-dress

Commes Des Garçons X H&M coat-dress

Look over there! There’s a reseller in the queue!

Items from the H&M designer collaborations are known for appearing on resale sites like eBay or Depop just minutes after they launch. More often than not, the garments’ prices skyrocket to several times their original retail price. A quick search on the platforms shows pieces from the most recent Mugler collaboration, such as the men’s spiral panelled jeans –which retailed for £120 – now reselling for £385.

Escorcio believes this is one of the definitive lows of collab culture and is vehemently against it. “I’m trying to think have I ever sold a piece or got rid of a piece, and I don’t think I have. I still have everything,” he says. The garments he sources online are often due to him not being able to afford them at the time of launch. He says he waits several years before purchasing any resold items. “Thats’s sustainable,” he tells us. “The pieces I’m looking for and I’m buying now, they’ve already lived a life with someone and they’re selling it because it no longer fits them, their life. Also the pieces that I buy, I know that I’m going to keep them forever. And the person who’s selling it bought it 10, 20 years ago, they do not care.”

“[Resale] ruins it for people who are actually there because they want something,” continues Escorcio. He highlights that there are only a select few pieces that have actually increased in value and are worth the resale price. “The first one being the Versace bomber that Kanye West wore. That was £199.99 in the store. It’s still ranges [online] from £400 to £600, depending on the size. Then you look at the [Maison] Margiela leather belt coat. That Margiela collection was way ahead of its time. It was pretty much in the sale rack months later because no one wanted those pieces. But that leather jacket, now you’re looking at £1000,” he adds.


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The Margiela x H&M belt-coat

The resale market has been briefly addressed by H&M in a statement to Reuters back in 2019. “We are fundamentally positive about a secondhand market,” said Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor of H&M. “It’s just when someone makes a business out of it that we don’t like it.”

Escorcio agrees, echoing this sentiment. “There’s a cost of living [crisis], people need to find ways to make money, but you would hope that the way you’re making money isn’t affecting someone negatively,” he adds.

Steps have been implemented to try and mitigate this issue, such as only allowing each customer to purchase one of each garment. However from being on the front line, Escorcio thinks this isn’t enough to stop the lucrative business. “That doesn’t apply if you’ve bought seven of your friends [with you] to buy out one piece,” he says. “[Resellers] have quite openly told me that they they make four times what they actually spend that one night,” he adds. He believes that their strategy is to identify the sought after pieces, and target those to increase their resale desirability. “They start asking people what they want… What they’re trying to do is figure out what pieces people are craving, and then they just grab the rail.”

Friends in the most unlikely of places

However Escorcio explains that the queue isn’t entirely filled with resellers. That in amongst the madness, he can tell who’s part of the committed fan community just by their excitement and the conversations they have. He believes this camaraderie and shared passion for the collab culture forms lifelong friendships. In fact, he met most of his close circle through queueing. “I know a girl called Leanne who I met at the Viktor & Rolf collaboration. I went to her wedding. I’ve been to her house many times, we watch Real Housewives together,” he says. “I’m currently in someone’s house that I met in a queue and will be my maid of honour in two months time.”

This surprisingly close-knit community of customers have each others backs, Escorcio tell us. During COVID, the collaboration with Irish eponymous brand Simone Rocha was moved entirely online. But that didn’t stop Escorcio and his community of collectors from banding together virtually to shop it. “It was me and five others? No, more, all on Zoom but with H&M reloading like ‘what did you get? Do you need this? Have you got this?’ Just trying to get everything we wanted,” he says. They’ll often buy pieces for each other or gift items that they each wanted but couldn’t buy.

Escorcio wears the 2006 Viktor & Rolf X H&M tuxedo

As H&M approaches its 20th year of collaboration next year, Escorcio hopes the vicennial crossover will be with Jean Paul Gaultier, the French couturier.  “I just don’t want it to just be all mesh bodysuits. We’ve had that with Mugler. I want to see like beautiful dresses. I want to see the blazers that he used to do,” he says. No matter who H&M decides to team-up with, on thing is for certain, Escorcio will be front-in-line for the launch, along with his friends and fellow superfans. 

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