Between 2010 and 2018 I worked in an office that was extremely close to H&M at Oxford Circus. On the days when their latest designer collaboration was launching, I would exit the tube station in the morning and walk past a gigantic queue whilst wondering if I should have made an effort to be in it myself. Were the clothes worth it? Should I just wait in line for the next one anyway, and grab stuff to sell on eBay if there’s nothing I like? Occasionally I would check the website beforehand and see something I might want to wear, but then I would remember that H&M’s sizing can be a little skimpy and so a lot of the time I came to the conclusion that I didn’t actually like the garment enough to bother.
There were some fantastic collections during the time my office was around the corner from that flagship store. Lanvin in 2010 generated lots of excitement amongst the fashion students at the university where I worked, and Versace in 2011 was particularly exciting for me as I was obsessed with fashion as a kid in the 80s and a student in the 90s and clearly remember the impact of the brand’s catwalk shows. Balmain in 2015 was a huge event and I was surprised that the collection was actually rather impressive for a high street collaboration. However, Moschino in 2018 was the only one of these collections that I seriously considered queuing for, but even then I didn’t manage to quite get swept up enough in the hype to drag myself out of bed early.
So I really wasn’t expecting 2020, the year of being stuck at home, to be when I finally succumbed to the excitement and managed to get myself a slice of the action, when The Vampire’s Wife x H&M launched right before England’s second lockdown. The Vampire’s Wife was a brand that had largely passed me by. Not because their clothing isn’t my style though, far from it! It was one of those brands that made me wish I had the money and the occasion to purchase several of their amazing dresses (their largest size even has measurements that would fit me, which is surprising!), but the price point is so high that I just filed them away into ‘never gonna happen’. If an aspirational brand isn’t on the Vogue Runway app, I quickly forget about them it would seem. Well, until they launch a high street collaboration! Who knew that what we all needed in lockdown was velvet frocks and shiny lace capes?
Although I initially missed out, due to failing to set a reminder for the morning of the collection’s launch, when I tweeted about my forgetfulness a friend told me that she’d bought multiple sizes of the velvet dress (as her and another friend weren’t sure which would fit them) and now had an XL in need of a home. The dress was the exact one I had been considering purchasing, despite the non-fitted shape being a style that I would never usually go for, as I had ascertained that it was my best chance of getting something that would fit across my hips. Turns out, the long lace dress might have worked too as it ties at the waist to give a more fitted silhouette, but this wasn’t obvious from the photos. In fact, every item of clothing in this collection seems to have been impossible to photograph accurately as all the ones I’ve seen look so much better in real life. My friend and I made plans for a socially distanced walk in Regent’s Park to hand over the frock (which was a lovely afternoon, even in the rain!), and I returned home eager to try on my new acquisition.
I have to admit that it’s a surprisingly satisfying garment for something from H&M. Not that I haven’t bought good quality things from them before – I have a wonderful well-made full midi skirt in a gorgeous textured burgundy fabric that even has pockets! – but there is a lot about it that rather surprised me given the price point. The fabric is an extremely soft velvet, made from recycled polyester (80% from pre-consumer waste and 20% from post-consumer waste), and it feels thick and luxurious to the touch. The sleeves are full, and both the cuffs and neck fasten with aesthetically pleasing buttons and little elastic loops. I was also delighted to discover that the structure of the shoulders is achieved through ruffles of stiff nylon tulle, encased in a softer fabric to prevent scratching, rather than cheap boxy foam shoulder pads. OK, so the edges on the ruffle hem are finished with an overlocker, but I think that was actually the best choice for the fabric as it hangs so very nicely as a result.
However, there are also many flaws that only become apparent in the wearing of the dress. The type of thing that you just can’t tell from the look and feel alone. I wore it for a couple of work days, mostly sat at my laptop, and there were a few particularly irritating aspects that make me wonder how much wear I’ll actually get out of it. The wonderfully ridiculous giant bow on the front of the dress looks amazing but is so heavy that it drags the neckline down, and so I find myself constantly readjusting the neck and shoulders when I can see myself on screen. Also, the fact that the ‘tails’ of the bow reach almost to the hem of the dress means that, in combination with the full sleeves, this is not a frock for doing the washing up in and it’s kind of a pain when eating too. That was expected though, unlike my main complaint which is that the fabric generates so much static when worn with tights that I crackle like a geiger counter! Sadly, not even a half slip could prevent unsightly static cling either, which rather limits its use as a party frock. Also, the one time I popped a coat over it to head outside, I discovered that the sleeves are rather too bulky for wearing underneath anything.
But all of that is somewhat irrelevant in a winter of being stuck at home when most people only see my head and shoulders on video calls. The lack of a fitted waist means that it’s comfy for sitting around in all day, and also means that the frilled hem covers my knees under my desk. The soft dense velvet means it’s extremely cosy in a cold flat, and the puffed shoulders provide a dramatic shape on screen. So… is this perhaps the perfect winter lockdown garment? It provides comfort and glamour, makes you feel good, and looks great on video calls. Combine that with a bit of hyped up joy on social media and I think we have all the makings of the dress of the year. I wonder if the Fashion Museum in Bath would agree.