Credit: Rachel Wood

A meditation on the fashion collaboration

By Genevieve Brown

A look at the history of the fashion collaboration, and where we go from here.

On 19 November 2021 Gucci and Balenciaga jointly released the “Hacker Project” and everything I thought I knew about fashion imploded. The “Hacker Project” collection is a collaboration between the two brands: Gucci x Balenciaga. Collaborations have been huge in fashion for a while now, with many of the most sought-after pieces in a given season being the result of collaborations. In his 2017 single Chanel, musician (and tastemaker) Frank Ocean boasts: “I got new bags, and they all collabs”. When the high-low collection Fendi x Fila was announced in 2018, it felt genuinely shocking. 

Fashion collaborations have become quirkier and quirkier in an attempt to attract the attention of customers with attention spans obliterated by social media. Where fast fashion has micro trends for maintaining people’s interest, high fashion has the collaboration. After Fendi x Fila came a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan. Dapper Dan made his name incorporating the logos of European fashion brands into standout jackets and outerwear, and what his designs lacked in authenticity they more than compensated for in style. The collaboration came about after Gucci was accused of copying an original Gucci-inspired Dapper Dan garment, raising the question of what authenticity actually is. Gucci also began releasing items featuring deliberate misspellings, for example “Guccy”, imitating the mistakes frequently found on counterfeit Gucci goods. 

Prior to the high fashion collaboration, high street favourite H&M was pioneering in its attempts to bring high fashion design to the high street. Starting with H&M x Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, collections such as H&M x Balmain, H&M x Kenzo, and H&M x Simone Rocha allowed high street shoppers to buy expensive concepts for less. This egalitarian spirit appears to have vanished, with today’s collections including Gucci x North Face demanding the prices of the more expensive of the two labels. 

The proliferation of streetwear and its disruption of the industry has also contributed to the fashion world’s enthusiasm for collaboration. Luxury labels lacked the newness and cool of young streetwear upstarts and so they set about using their money to buy relevance. This reached its pinnacle with Louis Vuitton x Supreme in 2017. While streetwear collaborations between established sports brands like North Face x Supreme make a certain sense, because they share the origin of functionality, it is often the case that high-fashion streetwear collaborations appear to be born of nothing more than a lack of imagination: the Dior x Nike Jordans are a case in point. 

The reason the Gucci x Balenciaga collaboration alarmed me so is that I don’t know where fashion goes from here. These brands, equal in price point and status, do not add anything new to the conversation when they join forces. Streetwear and designer, high street and designer and sportswear and designer all at least attempt to bring something new to each collaborator. I can even see merit in the Nike x Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Dunkys! However this line, with its Balenciaga knife boots plastered with the Gucci logo and bags with signature Gucci floral prints, feels like nothing more than a cash grab. 

There may be hope yet for the collaboration. In February 2020 Raf Simons, a famously innovative and groundbreaking designer, was announced to be Prada’s co-creator with Miuccia Prada. This combination is exciting and thought-through, with both creators having a flair for minimalism, tailoring and truly refreshing concepts. The clothes they have produced so far are promising. It is an ideal situation, because Miuccia Prada will be able to express her more eclectic side through her eponymous label, Miu Miu. Miuccia herself describes collaborations: “They always seemed to be just about selling more – about clichés, banality, and not about ideas. I was never interested.” Maybe she should tell that to the minds behind the 2019 misstep that was Prada x Adidas. 

It is uncertain whether the collaboration will continue to reign Supreme in years to come. The fashion world has always been known for failing to credit its (often underprivileged) inspirations, and at least this debt is acknowledged with a collaboration. Maybe a collaboration between ultimate European fashion behemoths Chanel and Dior will result in the end of the industry. In this time of climate crisis the fashion world is one of the worst offenders, and consumers increasingly turn to second-hand shopping for their fashion fixes. Maybe the industry needs just such a reset from its greed.


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