Strange bedfellows


Collaborations in the fashion industry have continued to gain pace in 2017. For many new designers, a collaboration project with a retro label or mass market retailer, like the recent partnership between Gosha Rubchinskiy and Adidas ahead of the 2018 World Cup, is considered a right of passage.

For more established brands, a celebrity tie-up can help maintain relevance and salience in world of ever faster trends and shorter attention spans.

The exclusivity and novelty of brand collaborations can be incredibly valuable in terms of publicity. Generally speaking, the more outrageous and unlikely the pairing, the greater the hype and PR. Take the ‘It’ item of SS16 for example, a yellow t-shirt resulting from a collaboration between fashion house Vetements and DHL, which sold out despite its £185 price tag. However, less provocative examples of unusual collaborations can also pique the fashion press’ attention. Hunter’s new range of bags designed by make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench (seen in the picture above) has grabbed headlines in Vogue for its aesthetics as much as its novelty, whilst providing a new lease of life for the brand’s original backpack.

Collaborations can also help a brand reach new audiences. North Face, a label as likely to be seen on the catwalks of Paris as out walking the dog, has achieved near-ubiquity through its classic ‘hi-lo’ partnerships. Its success can be attributed to a careful balance between sticking to its technical knitting and pushing the envelope on its brand positioning. It has successfully targeted high fashion consumers through collaborations with Sacai and Junya Watanabe and streetwear customers through its tie-ups with Supreme.

In fact, North Face has been a serial collaborator since its Apple-branded clothing line launched in 1986 (long before the California tech giant’s zenith), earning it esteem amongst subcultures spanning 90’s rappers to noughties normcore.

Perhaps the highest profile of all collaborations, and those with the most obvious commercial bent, occur between designers and mass market retailers. Missoni’s collection for Target, whilst risky for the former, was a commercial hit and grew the brand’s reach to an entirely new audience. David Beckham’s five-year collaboration with H&M was a slightly more obvious fit and equally lucrative.

Celebrity association can also add authority and relevance to a brand. 1985’s partnership between NBA legend Michael Jordan and Nike for the ‘Air Jordan 1’ spawned a trainer that appears top of best seller lists to this day and formed the blueprint for the thousands of celebrity-sneaker collaborations that followed.

Whilst collaborations represent an excellent way to generate press or reach a new audience, amongst all the hits, there have been a few misses. Like any creative endeavour, there’s no blueprint for success, but the designer must be credible, as Emmanuel Ungaro discovered during its collaboration with Lindsay Lohan in 2009. Finally, keeping sight of the end-user is key, as ultimately someone has to wear the result.

Jacob Gascoine-Becker