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What Have We Learned From A Year Of Non-Stop Fashion Collaborations?

There was a time not so long ago when it seemed fashion news was ping-ponging between two ideas: collaborations and archival collections. Every day, our inboxes and our feeds were flooded with a new linkup or a new rerelease. Each time these collections fanned the flames of the market and then swiftly flamed out. 

Two years into the pandemic, and fashion’s approach to partnerships – and time – has changed dramatically. While archival reissues have slowed amid the rise of a booming vintage and resale market on TheRealReal, Rebag, Depop and eBay, the collaboration has mutated from a soulless brand hook-up to a marriage of equals. Maybe we’ve learned the value of togetherness in our years of isolation, prizing the sharing of ideas by Jean Paul Gaultier and Sacai’s Chitose Abe, or Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Demna (as he now prefers to be called) at Balenciaga. Or maybe the old model of something X someone else just doesn’t feel fresh after all of our lockdown questioning. 

One thing is certainly true: We haven’t reached peak collaboration – we’re actually not even close. As the idea of shared ideologies and communal design continue to grow into 2022, fashion is bound to push collaborative projects harder. You know what they say: We’re stronger together.

The X Is Over

The sun is setting on the X. Once the universal symbol of brand partnerships, the ever-present X has been replaced by creative new ways to message a joint effort. Gucci and Balenciaga started 2021 off with a “hacking” project that saw Alessandro Michele spin off some of Demna’s most-loved Balenciaga signatures – a practice Demna returned in his virtual spring/summer 2022 collection. When longtime friends Kim Jones of Fendi and Donatella Versace decided to trade house codes, they went as far as to come up with a new brand name: Fendace. The X seems to have fallen out of favour throughout fashion: Just look at Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons who have no name except “collaboration” for their tenor-shifting partnership. 

Imagine The Collab As Fashion’s Only Constant

At Dior Men, Kim Jones collaborates with a new artist or estate each season. It’s a model that’s worked at Moncler, where the Genius project offers new seasonal iterations from a stable of designers, and was recently launched at Jean Paul Gaultier with each couture show being guest-designed by a rotating cast of international talents (next up in January: Glenn Martens of Y/Project). It’s an idea that resonates on every level: Uniqlo has supported multi-year partnerships with Jil Sander, Jonathan Anderson, Marimekko, and Inès de la Fressange, proving that a good inter-brand relationship doesn’t have to be a flash in the pan.

High-Low Hype Remains

Gucci partnering with Balenciaga and Versace with Fendi can feel like Jupiter crashing into Saturn: two mega-brands taking on a mega partnership. But some of 2021’s other most talked-about collaborations prove that there’s still appeal in an unexpected, cross-demographic pairing. Supreme’s collection with Tiffany & Co. was undoubtedly the year’s buzziest link-up, supported by later drops with Emilio Pucci and Missoni. Kith teamed up with Nobu, Frame denim made a collection with the Ritz Paris, and Rhude sent out bomber jackets together with McLaren, putting some of the most luxurious experiences from food, hospitality, and the world of automobiles into a fashion context. 

Then there’s Yeezy Gap, which takes Kanye West’s high-minded design sensibility and refracts it through a mass-market lens – an idea that echoes across fashion, with Telfar’s Ugg and Moose Knuckles collaborations and Balenciaga’s continued reworking of Crocs. Thinking outside the box – and outside the fashion world – proves to be a popular way to generate interest and sales. 

More Collaborations Must Be Sustainable 

Dealing with surplus materials and deadstock is an issue every major fashion house has to contend with. Alexander McQueen and Sarabande, the late Lee McQueen’s estate, have an initiative to donate excess fabric to arts students in the United Kingdom, but some brands are taking that a step further, teaming up to give old materials new life. TheRealReal has been donating unsellable vintage garments to Collina Strada, whose designer Hillary Taymour remakes them into one-of-a-kind upcycled wonders. Rick Owens did something similar with the Venice-based upcycler Swampgod, while in New York Anna Sui and Batsheva Hay swapped fabrics for a collaboration. 

Harris Reed, whose first London Fashion Week collection was made from upcycled wedding dresses found at a charity shop, sent a DM to Veronica Etro in early 2021 that resulted in one of the year’s loveliest mash-ups: Etro donated old fabric to Reed, who used it to make dozens of new blouses. As we enter the new year still rife with overproduction – and supply-chain problems making international shipping difficult – designers with excess resources must be thinking of local solutions that support both the planet and a new generation of designers. 

The Best Collaborations Are The Ones That Stand For More Than Just Fashion 

Fashion lost two great figures this year in Virgil Abloh and Alber Elbaz. Both were charismatic, generous designers with a willingness to share everything – materials, ideas, inspirations, and creative philosophies. Abloh, especially, elevated the idea of collaboration beyond a marketing plan and into something that could change people’s ideas about fashion, luxury and value. He partnered with everyone from Nike and Serena Williams to Evian and Ikea to shift access to quality design. Who will carry on the project that great fashion is for everyone and that it can stand for more than just cool new stuff?

Source: Vogue

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