“X” Marks the Spot: The Year in Fashion Collaborations
It’s easy to understand the general enthusiasm for collaborations of any kind—they’re often a meeting of great minds, resulting in a unique creation or series of creations that deftly combine the collaborators’ best skills and ideas, their signature flair and aesthetics. A well-made collaboration is the perfect niche-interest item. It could be an amalgamation of two things you find cool and really like, or it could become a gateway to discovering the work of a person or brand you never really paid much attention to before. Case in point: the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel Good Omens, or (admit it) Beyonce and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” They’re worth getting excited about and hyping up for good reason. Most of the time, at least.
The year was rich in fashion collaborations, but which ones were the best?
These days, collaborative pursuits are now more the rule than the exception, from co-working spaces to art collectives. And in fashion, where they used to be a rarity and a real event, they’ve pretty much become the status quo. It’s not at all uncommon for labels to release capsule collections they’ve done with other labels, creators, or brands along with their latest collections for the season. Even smaller, independent shops are beginning to experiment with it.
This year alone, thousands of fashion collabs came out, and some of them were more worthy to cop than others. Take Supreme’s fall/winter line with Nike, which shows that the sportswear giant still has surprises up its sleeve, and that street style and cozy comfort have a great-looking middle ground. With branding and a palette of red, navy, yellow, and black, its overalls, reversible vests, worker jackets, crewnecks, checked hooded shirts, and more, the wearer is sure to radiate warmth and look, well, lit.
Supreme also collaborated with Levi’s, for a small line of matching custom-fit stonewashed pinstriped Trucker Jackets and 550 Jeans in dark, classic blue, or hot pink denim. Nike, meanwhile, continued its collabs with Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, which began in 2017 with The Ten.” Off-White’s take on beloved Nike silhouettes included contributions from the Museum of Modern Art and drops themed around the World Cup, Halloween, and Michael Jordan. There was also Dior Homme designer Kim Jones’ football-inspired work with Nike, featuring uneven necklines, raw seams, and asymmetric laces for a punk touch.
Uniqlo, which has been releasing collaborations for over a decade, came out with tees and other minimalist pieces printed with Disney and Marvel characters, the work of pop artist Keith Haring, patterns from Japanese paper studio Karacho and Finnish design company Marimekko, Japanese katagami courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and artist KAWS’ take on Sesame Street. They also worked with designer Alexander Wang and label JW Anderson for re-envisioned HEATTECH fabrics and a collection inspired by British heritage garments, with stripe details and blue and neutral colorways, respectively.
A year in the making, Gucci’s collection with Dapper Dan pays homage to the tailor’s Harlem background, reimagining looks from his ’80s archives and applying them to bold and intricate footwear, eyewear, leather bags, jackets, and tracksuits created with the brand’s refined materials and flaunting a new yellow Gucci logo.
The collab bug has also bitten Filipino brands. This year, Penshoppe came out with collections featuring pop culture touchstones like Hello Kitty, Hot Wheels, and We Bare Bears. Their Goodyear collection is especially eye-catching, boasting a yellow, blue, and white palette on hoodies and shirts, windbreakers, track jackets, and track pants.
Sister brand Oxygen, meanwhile, tapped Nickelodeon and MTV, letting characters from Rugrats, Hey, Arnold!, Daria, and Beavis and Butt-Head take center stage with pop-art prints and primary colors. Think loose-fitting statement pieces and oversized hoodies, plus bucket hats and fanny packs for a totally ’90s flashback.
Also noteworthy was Human’s collection with streetwear favorite Proudrace, which included deconstructed pieces, oversize tees, and sweaters with loud, off-kilter prints and one-of-a-kind details.
A collab is succesful when it puts together the best from both partners
Collaborative ventures like these work well for both parties and their market/s if they’re able to fuse the best and most distinctive and sought-after elements from both brands. The brands are able to prove they’re in-tune with what’s currently popular or in style, and the higher-end of the two gets to make itself accessible, opening up the door for new market opportunities for both itself and the other brand.
The other brand, meanwhile, gets to enjoy the prestige and high-profile recognition afforded by the high-end brand. For shoppers, the promise of two very good brands or creators teaming up for something new is already a draw, and it’s only further helped by notions of exclusivity or limited quantities and being able to purchase products technically by a usually higher priced designer at a friendlier price point.
The downside is that, if once upon a time collaborations had been sporadic and therefore more newsworthy, recently they’ve become so common that the fashion industry may actually be experiencing collab fatigue. The pieces may be deemed to be of a lower quality compared to the signature collections of the higher end brand, as well. Because the public has grown quite used to them, they might no longer be as exciting to hear about as before, coming off as gimmicky, or a cash-grab. You feel pandered to, or worse, alienated.
We may be experiencing collab fatigue, so what's next?
Ultimately, brands partner up because they both have something to offer to the table, and to explore what the other may have, whether it’s street cred or a certain look or design or even materials and facilities.
Steff Yotka writes in Vogue (where she suggests to “retire the X,” the well-known symbol denoting collaboration and name recognition) that a modern designer is expected to be relatable, savvy and social, able to work within a creative community, and that collaborations are therefore a natural decision to make: They’re a way to keep people interested and widen their reach, sure, but also a great way to further build their identity or introduce a new facet to how they present themselves. They get to maintain relationships and bridge gaps.
Now that collabs are no longer “the next big thing” or all that groundbreaking, designers and creators now have to think outside of the box all over again or move on to a new box, a new thing, entirely—to improve upon it, perhaps, or do it differently. The best team-ups work when they’re surprising and fun, and don’t take either legacy seriously while still taking them into consideration. The most ideal outcome would be for the new products to strengthen the identity of each brand instead of dampening it. And the challenge, now, is to seek once more to be the exception instead of the rule.