Many Hands Make Light Work

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Y-3 kidswear

Fashion is an aspect of modern life that changes dramatically from season to season. By its very nature, it is transient; new trends appear and disappear without warning and seemingly without any context or inspiration. Given the notoriously fickle disposition of the fashion industry, it can be difficult for a brand to maintain consumer loyalty and build a fanbase season-by-season. However, a solution that has been utilised more and more in recent years by consumer brands of all disciplines is collaboration.

In 2000 esteemed fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto joined forces with sportswear giant Adidas to create Y-3, a luxury sportswear brand that is still going strong 9 years after its inception. Y-3 was unique due to the sheer scale of the efforts involved – rather than creating a one-off token product, an entirely new label was born. As a result, many people within the fashion industry began to look to collaboration as a legitimate method of expansion.

The reasons for this are numerous; within the tiered world of fashion, there are large, High Street brands with little high-culture kudos, and there are haute couture brands with immense prestige and cultural capital but with a limited market.

As H&M’s numerous collaborations with high-end designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney illustrate, a joint effort between two ends of the sartorial spectrum results in a win-win situation. H&M get to imbibe some of their guest designer’s cultural capital, while the designer uses said capital to garner frenzied interest in a limited-run collection, and gains major exposure within the mass markets.

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Jimmy Choo x H&M

Collaborative efforts between brands also have other positive effects. By sharing the workload, and indeed the budget, both parties can significantly reduce marketing costs while expanding their profile within each other’s markets, as well as gaining significant publicity and knowledge that they can use to develop future products.

Some partnerships prove so fruitful that they move away from sporadic one-offs into repeated, long-term collective works. An example of this is the ongoing collaborations between Louis Vuitton and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, founder of the ‘Superflat’ style of art and illustration. While they have not joined forces to the extent of Yamamoto and Adidas, the repeated collaborations have included a range of handbags, soft toys and most recently rugs. Indeed, in June 2009 Murakami created a short anime film in his signature Superflat style, entitled Superflat First Love, to mark the sixth anniversary of his work with the French couture label.

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Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton

The electronics industry is one that has seen numerous collaborations with the fashion industry, particularly those firms that produce lifestyle gadgets such as mobile phones. Brands such as LG and Motorola have been very successful in their work with Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, even though the collaboration can simply consist of an existing product replete with a new colourway and some conspicuous branding.

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LG Prada mobile phone

Other collaborations rely solely on the guest’s reputation, regardless of their abilities as a designer. Lines such as Lily Loves for New Look, a tie-up between the British High Street chain and singer Lily Allen, or Kate Moss for Topshop use their collaborator’s star status to create media interest which helps to sell the line. Lily Allen in particular has been criticised for her lack of creative input for her Lily Loves line; she herself admitted that she was more involved with the accessories in a subsequent range for Claridge’s than the actual apparel for New Look. Nevertheless, the collaboration was a great success and will undoubtedly be followed up on in the future.

Such cases do tend to beg the question – what is the point of collaboration when the collection is made by the usual design team with a few simple guidelines and then simply ‘signed off’ by the guest designer? Unfortunately these relationships are often done as a branding exercise, but such collections are also fairly lucrative, particularly within a mass market.

As media becomes an ever more pervasive element in our lives, the lines between different disciplines – television, music, internet etc – become more blurred and start to hybridise. Online products such as BBC’s iPlayer or Spotify have already shown the potential that the internet has to encroach on the already-established territories of the TV and music industries, and the world of fashion is no exception. The job titles of many young creatives these days often include work in other mediums; an illustrator is also an artist, a film-maker is also a DJ and so on.

The emergence of the so-called ‘slash-slash’ generation (so called for the slashes between aspects of their repertoire – ‘illustrator/photography/writer’ for example) has meant that many creative solutions, however all-encompassing, can be dealt with by a small collective of people, resulting in a kind of ‘internal collaboration’ that bypasses the need for large commercial endorsement. Collective work has the same positive effects as traditional collaborative works, such as a broader spectrum of inspiration and cutting of marketing costs, but within a much stronger and permanent foundation than a simple bringing-together of minds to release a nominal, one-off product.

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Takashi Murakami

Given that the consumer of 2009 is a lot more discerning with where their money is spent, collaboration offers them the opportunity to truly invest in a limited-edition product that represents the very best of both brands involved, and will offer design features that would otherwise never have surfaced within a particular market. These days the opportunities for collaborative work are enormous, which indicates that sources of inspiration in the modern consumer environment can, on occasion, come from the most unlikely of places.

James

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One Response to “Many Hands Make Light Work”

  1. Jenny Says:

    Great article, thanks.

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