- Words Isabelle Cassidy
As Manolo Blahnik announces a reworked Birkenstock, we dive into the wider significance of fashion's current obsession with collaborative collections.
In many creative industries, collaboration is often considered key to success. The possibility for fresh ideas and an injection of alternative perspectives has long held understandable appeal. For fashion brands, whether high-end or high-street, collections in tandem with a big name offer the potential for increased sales, new audiences, and social-media buzz. Recently, for many, it seems the more unexpected the brand collaboration, the better. With StockX having reported a 200 percent increase in collaborations from 2019 to 2021, the rise continues with rumours of new partnerships seeming to dominate all fashion news. In the week that welcomed Manolo Blahnik’s reworked Birkenstock, we question the wider significance of the meteoric rise of these collabs. How are these collaborations meaning clothing is becoming clickbait, fast fashion has a dubious high-end face, and catwalks are being homogenised?
Casting an eye over this year’s collaborations seems like a good place to start. Three months in, we’ve already seen big names uniting for Gucci x The North Face; Prada x Adidas; Supreme x Burberry. In the category of collaborations that we perhaps weren’t expecting: Balmain x Barbie; Yeezy x Gap x Balenciaga; Palace x Elton John; Primark x Greggs; and Lacoste x Minecraft to name a few. The top rated comment on the Lacoste x Minecraft Instagram post says it all… “Bro, what?”. In an industry increasingly driven by viral-potential on social media, certain brands seem to have developed a collaborative strategy driven by shock-factor clickbait. A moment that can perhaps be attributed to this shift, October 2015, when a model wearing a DHL T-shirt was sent down the runway to open the Vetements Spring collection show at Paris Fashion Week. One of the first collaborations to induce such confusion amongst an audience, the collection was ultimately a huge success.
In 2018, Birkenstock CEO Oliver Reichert was approached by Supreme for a collaboration, to which the strong denial of the request included Reichert’s assertion he held nothing to gain ‘except prostitution’. Fast forward to 2022, and Birkenstock’s collaborations are too numerous to count, with recent sandal iterations including Stüssy and Dior versions. Why the shift? As barriers are broken down between target audiences, brands have understood that a surprising collaboration can bring a new consumer base, and taking Birkenstock as an example, raise the desirability of apparel for a clout-driven audience.
There are arguably some negative aspects to this constant desire for collaborative collections. For high-low collaborations, such as H&M x Moschino; H&M x Versace; H&M x Balmain – H&M and pretty much any designer going – the shopper is given an impression of luxury, at a high street price. A luxury name is given to clothes of the same quality. Not only this, but during these listed collaborations, it was reported that H&M was underpaying it’s garment workers, and not meeting sustainability expectations. There is a danger then, of brands using collaborations to put a designer face on their unacceptable practices.
Looking to how these relationships work on the runway, often these partnerships seem to serve more as publicity stunts than vehicles for new ideas. The most exciting thing Adidas x Gucci offered, for example, was the Trefoil logo transplanted with Gucci lettering.
Whatever your opinion on these collaborations, it’s safe to stay they’re not going anywhere. Brands have cracked a collaborative-code to achieve increased revenue, and ultimately that continues to be the driving force behind new collections. What can we look forward to in 2022? I’m thinking Primark x Balenciaga, KFC x Fendi, or perhaps New Look x Chanel. Nothing can shock me now.