When fashion brands want to step out of their comfort zone or just want some extra buzz, fashion collaborations are very common. From Dior to H&M, many brands have dived deep into fashion collabs. With that being said, these partnerships can mean one of two things: either a new and unexpected product is made and the world of fashion is floored or the final collab ends up feeling distasteful and not worth the hype. The truth is that having a successful fashion collab is a tricky thing to do – and pulling it off to the world is even tougher.
With that said, there are definitely brilliant success stories when it comes to fashion collabs. The first one that comes to mind is the recent collab between The North Face and Gucci. Though these typically expected to join forces, that’s exactly why this partnership worked. The Italian luxury brand brought their aesthetic and craftsmanship while the American outdoor brand brought their temperature-defying outdoorsy technology and designs.
Together, their surprising combination created a 70s-inspired collection with bags, boots and even tents and sleeping bags. Among the highlights of the collection are down puffer jackets in various lengths, outdoor backpacks (most featuring new floral patterns from Gucci) and hiking boots (complete with their collaborative logo).
But why did this collection work? We think it’s because what Gucci didn’t have – high-tech know-how and an outdoorsy spirit – The North Face did, and what The North Face lacked – a high fashion edge and complex patterns – Gucci had to spare. In other words, the brands complemented each other in every aspect.
A press release by Gucci, however, ventures that the brands have more in common than we thought: “It is a well-acknowledged notion that travel leads to self-discovery, and in this conviction, The North Face is aligned with Gucci, which similarly empowers people in their quest to celebrate and express their own characters and personalities.”Notably, this is the first fashion collaboration by Alessandro Michele, the newest creative director of Gucci.
The North Face x Gucci collab lives in my mind rent free.
— softwhiteboy. (@SeaaTurtlee) January 22, 2021
And, as amazing as the partnership sounds, the sales are even a greater vindication of their triumph. Gucci.com has mostly sold out of their collection, with only simple raincoats, socks and shorts still available to the public.
Another perfect example of a fashion collab is last year’s partnership between Nike and Dior. Once again, an unexpected fashion duo produced stand out pieces were a success to the public. In a Dior YouTube video, Kim Jones, the creative director of Dior says, “when I first started buying Jordans, I was at school and me and my friends used to share a pair because we couldn’t afford to buy a pair ourselves.” As a keen collector of Air Jordan Ones to this day, with over 40 pairs of them in his closet, this collaboration was like a dream come true for Jones. And, in turn, Nike wanted to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Air Force 1 in great style and luxury. The goal was to make “the most luxurious Air Jordan 1 ever.” From the Dior Grey on the outside of the sneaker to the strobel line filled with the Dior logo, the Air Jordan collaboration was an example of “authenticity from the court and from the game with a level of luxury and craft that has never been done before.”
With the success of this piece, the partnership between the brands expanded to clothing as well. “We went to the Dior and Jordan archives basically picking the best silhouettes and the ones we are each best known for.” With that, and the inspiration that goes back to Michael Jordan off and on the court, Jones believes this collection reflects “what a modern man wears”
For the public, this luxury partnership was a victory. According to WWD.com, over five million people signed up to buy the $2,000 Air Jordan 1 OG Dior Sneakers while only a limited 8,000 were actually available. Safe to say hypebeasts, sneaker heads and fashion connoisseurs alike were frantic with this release. Most of all, this collab worked because of the sheer admiration between both brands.
Unfortunately, not all collaborations are made equal. The recent partnership between Coach and the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat shows just that.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent that first achieved fame in the 1970s as part of the graffiti duo called SAMO. His revolutionary art reflected rap, punk and hip-hop music culture and spoke about important topics in society such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Due to his untimely death at the age of 27 from an overdose, Basquiat never had a will, and his estate has been passed on among his family members ever since.
In 2020, an exclusive capsule collection with Basquiat’s work and the American luxury brand Coach was released. The collection included a wide array of bold bags, Ready to Wear pieces, and accessories featuring the late artist’s iconic artwork and phrases.
“Basquiat is one of my heroes,” said Stuart Vevers, the Creative Director of Coach. “He embodied the creative, inclusive spirit of New York and was a force for change in his community. I am proud to celebrate his work and values and help bring them to a new generation.”
Though Vevers claims to be a big Basquait fan, does it make sense to use Basquiat’s work for a fashion collaboration?
For many fans, this collaboration doesn’t sit right with them. Given that Basquiat criticized capitalism and mass-production while celebrating authenticity and creatives of colors, a collaboration with Coach, a luxury mass-producing brand with a white British man in the lead, feels completely against his legacy.
Coach x basquiat doc martens x basquiat all such an insult to his legacy and to everything he stood for. He would hate all of it
— Nour (@0091009L) October 12, 2020
The Coach x Basquiat collab is so cute, but I just can’t support it
— IJ (@Ijeoo_xo) January 26, 2021
In all, this collaboration is one for the books in terms of what not to do in fashion collaborations. By choosing an artist who notoriously thinks and believes in issues far different from Coach’s beliefs, this collaboration feels confusing and almost hypocritical. Is this a celebration of Basquiat’s art or an exploitation of his legacy?
Another notoriously questionable fashion collaboration was when Jeff Koons, an American artist known for massive sculptures of balloon animals, collaborated with Louis Vuitton in 2017. This fashion collab created a collection entitled “Master LV X Koons” with leather handbags, backpacks, charms, woven shawls, and silk scarves.
The pieces from the collection featured art history staples, from Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Monet’s Water Lilies. Each painting is the primary design with the original artist’s last name prominently featured in large silver or gold-plated letters. The bags are then further decorated with bunnies and flowers, staples from the Jeff Koons brand. At the corner of the bags are “LV” and “JK” to each side in silver or gold lettering.
The main criticism this partnership faces is that it features too prominently artists who are not Jeff Koons, instead Koons only uses them for their commercial value. One must also consider that many of these original artists, much like Basquiat, criticized inauthenticity and the bourgeoisie. And, by adding the flowers, bunnies and shiny lettering, the original works seem to be ridiculed and almost made fun of by Koons. For many critics, this collaboration was too straightforward, and said the products looked inexpensive and badly commercialized.
Overall, fashion collaborations are a hit or a miss. Hits mean that brands work together and bring their own strengths to make an even better product. Collab victories also tend to make the public cheer in anticipation. Misses, on the other hand, can lead to inauthenticity, a clash of values and huge public backlash.