Is H&M the New Haute Couture?

by Tyler Atwood

It appears that Anna Wintour's lauded high-low fashion is more prevalent than ever: according to WWD, trendy street style brand H&M will be showing a collection at the upcoming Paris Fashion Week. As more low-priced brands jump to center stage of the fashion scene, is the age of couture reverence over in favor of accessible fashion?

After opening a flagship store in Times Square in November 2013 and launching a wildly popular limited edition line with Isabel Marant, H&M has decided to create a collection specifically for Paris Fashion Week, called "H&M Studio." On February 26, viewers can follow the runway action live on the H&M website.

The mass retailer debuted its first "couture" line in 2013, followed by an ad campaign featuring top models in street style-esque ensembles from the new line.

H&M's high street approach to fashion has dominated the market for trendy, affordable clothes over the past several years. Instead of simply focusing on drab basics, H&M offers chic and of-the-moment statement pieces with distinctive details, like their new canary yellow Boxy Coat with tortoiseshell buttons. In addition, the company's designer collaborations have achieved such rampant enthusiasm that the brand literally installed a countdown clock on their website until the release of the Marant line.

Savvy designers like Marant know that collaborating with less expensive retailers means expanding their consumer bases to those who cannot afford pricey couture confections. In addition, combining designer pieces with lower priced items is now the ultimate street style statement. Where head-to-toe designer garb was once considered chic for every day, it now appears fussy and overly prim. Mixing in pieces from Zara and H&M lends outfits a more relaxed, modern feel. And given the abundance of turnover in stock, consumers can constantly indulge in inexpensive additions for a unique twist to each outfit.

The popularity of high street brands like H&M is directly related to the advent of Millennials as the newest consumer to target. WWD reported in October 2013 that Millennials value financial planning and bargain shopping, placing retailers including H&M and Forever 21 at the top of the generation's favored stores, according to a Goldman Sachs/Teen Vogue study. It certainly makes sense that 20-somethings aren't frequenting Chanel and Louis Vuitton as much as older generations, and the trend appears to be financially prudent in addition to stylistically motivated.

While high fashion will always be something of an art form, affordable mass retailers are taking the helm of the fashion industry. With the advent of constantly changing street style-inspired fashion, companies like H&M are determining the trends we'll see in 2014, while established couture designers struggle to keep up.

Image: Getty