Asri: What is the value of a collaboration?
There’s one thing we can count on every November: a new designer collaboration collection by H&M. The fast fashion brand’s now-annual series used to be an exciting prospect of combining the best of luxury fashion and the affordable price points that being a fast fashion brand offers. You could score a Versace-branded printed bomber jacket for under SGD400, and a revived Maison Margiela coat within the same price range too. It was exciting until it became predictable.
While there are undeniable merits to collaborations—for one, brands that wouldn’t normally be associated with one another can sometimes create solid collaborative collections—the frequency and normalcy of such projects have outweighed their pros. I can’t recall the last time I bought a solely H&M-branded piece of clothing, nor a time when I’ve bought anything from Gap that wasn’t a part of its GQ for Gap series.
Sure, you could argue that collaborations can bring in a new crop of customers. But if they’re anything like me, there’s very little reason for these customers to have brand loyalty. If there’s any semblance of loyalty, it’s in lying in wait for the kind of collaborations that are in store next. Why should I spend money on cheap, often badly designed clothing, when an exclusive collection that’s relatively more fashion-forward and slapped with a branded logo (and priced at almost the same price as the lower-tier brand) is right around the corner?
On hindsight, such collaborations are mere marketing ploys. Churned out by the same factories that produce fast fashion, there’s little quality assurance behind each item; a false sense of attainable luxury.
There’s a part of me that feels that collaborations are so commonplace now because they’re a way out for designers to pass off a ‘collaborative’ design as their own; in other words, lazy designing. With social media and social justice warriors on the rise, brands are now being held accountable for every similar silhouette. Want to complete a look with a Birkenstock-looking pair of sandals? Collaborate with said brand, slap ‘VLTN’ on them and call it a day. Found a print that you love but can’t replicate it because of copyright issues? Work with the artist (or foundation) and call it a collaboration—also known as every Andy Warhol collaboration ever.
If a collaboration is the only way for a brand to be relevant and interesting enough for customers, perhaps there’s a need to push for more creativity and a re-evaluation of the brand’s raison d’être.
If a collaboration is the only way for a brand to be relevant and interesting enough for customers, perhaps there’s a need to push for more creativity and a re-evaluation of the brand’s raison d’être. I’m not knocking the odd collaboration that happens out of the blue. However, there is definitely an issue somewhere when collaborations happen so often that they detract from the main collection.
Collaborations are like movie remakes; we don’t necessarily need them but they get shoved down our throats more often than we get new original ideas. How many different adaptations of The Jungle Book do I need to see in my lifetime? Similarly, how many different ‘exclusive’ collaborations between luxury fashion and hype-streetwear brands do we need in our closets? The Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection was monumental because it was truly unexpected. Everything else along the same vein that followed in an attempt to replicate that success was doomed to not reach the same scale.
In order for a collaboration to break through, it has to be unique. If it’s something that could have been achieved without adding the name of another brand, there’s no real point to it. And once that special never-before-seen collaboration is done, it’s over. Forget about trying to remake it. Move on and find another original idea.