Rethinking the fashion collaboration

I have written fairly regularly about collaborations over the last couple of years. This is because these partnerships seem to be one of the defining trends of 21st century fashion and retail. When brands are constantly seeking something new to offer the consumer, combining the creativity of two parties is a sure-fire winner when it comes to attracting old and new customers. But which is the best kind of collaboration? What is the magic formula that can result in a successful venture for all parties?

Two very interesting moves were publicised this week: John Paul Gaultier is to design for Scandinavian firm Lindex, while Google has signed up Diane von Furstenberg as the latest creative partner for its Glass product range. These two announcements are very different. On one hand, Gaultier, a world-renowned designer, has linked with a business that (while sizeable) does not have quite as much global influence; in the arrangement between DvF and Google, meanwhile, a truly worldwide business is to work with a designer who is less of a household name. Lindex is looking for a figure who can heighten its reputation outside its native markets, while Google is hoping to latch on to some of von Furstenberg’s ‘cool factor’ in publicising its new Glass products, which need a boost in fashion credibility.

So, which collaboration is going to be the most successful? Big companies linking with more niche design labels have a strong history – just look at Anya Hindmarch’s ‘I’m Not a Plastic Bag’ partnership with Sainsbury’s in 2007, which sold out in record time. It is understandable that retail and fashion giants seek to capture the buzz that often surrounds the latest big thing, as companies like Target have proven. Their history of linking with designers has been continued this year, with a collection by Joseph Altuzarra currently in the works, and its Peter Pilotto collaboration (distributed and sold through Net-a-Porter) smashing sales records. Given these examples, it’s easy to imagine that the future is bright for Google and DvF.

A particularly notable project that’s been in the news recently is Louis Vuitton’s 160th birthday celebrations. The label has called on innovative creative thinkers from a variety of disciplines to create bespoke luggage or accessories in honour of the anniversary milestone. As well as seasoned fashion names like Rei Kawakubo, Louis Vuitton has thought outside the box by enlisting names from different sectors, such as industrial designer Marc Newson and architect Frank Gehry. Far from sector-specific partnerships being the only way forward, collaborations can resonate beautifully when different industries and ways of thinking work together.

However, the influence of a big name, especially for a company trying to expand its horizons, can be spectacular. Gaultier’s input will surely help Lindex resonate beyond its traditional Scandinavian and Baltic marketplace, just as design titan Karl Lagerfeld has done in the past for smaller brands including Nous Sommes, Hogan and Tokidoki. While deals such as these serve as a regular extension of an individual’s brand, the impact is often huge. In 2010, Lagerfeld’s Hogan collaboration increased brand sales by 4.4% in a recession-affected European marketplace, for instance. So Gaultier and Lindex may also have much to look forward to!

It seems as though there are two interesting ways of looking at fashion collaborations. Whether it’s a big-name designer working with a smaller brand, or a large business seeking credibility and cool from more niche names, both show potential. So which do you think is the most successful recipe? Are there any instances I’ve missed? Let me know at, and have a fantastic weekend.