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Why You’re Seeing More Fashion Collabs & High End / Mass Market Brand Mashups


These days, fashion collabs are daily occurrences. From high fashion take overs of the high street to designers working with artists, lifestyle and character brands, and rare streetwear drops. Only this month H&M announced a ‘movewear’ collab with 80s fitness icon Jane Fonda. 

Schiaperelli x Dali, however, is often cited as the first such partnership. The Italian couturier featured the surrealist’s iconography on her creations in the 30s, most famously in the Lobster Dress and Shoe Hat. 

In 1965, Yves Saint Laurent collaborated with Mondrian to create ‘that dress’, the infamous colour-block mini that’s never gone out of fashion and was even a ‘pattern challenge’ on the BBC’s Sewing Bee competition.  

While luxury design houses partnering with fine artists may have been new, it was hardly surprising, given they are talking to the same – often niche, often rich – audiences, who appreciate the finer things in life and the exclusivity and prestige that accompanies them. 

But the needle was moved again in 2003, when Marc Jacobs as creative director of Louis Vuitton tasked influential Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami to reinvent the brand’s logo, a step now seen as pioneering in the world of brand collabs. 

However, in my eyes, it was the H&M x Karl Lagerfeld capsule range in 2004 that was the most groundbreaking of all because it made high fashion accessible at a time when luxury labels treasured exclusivity above all else. 

Since then, H&M has launched ranges from the likes of Balmain, Gambattista Valli, Moschino, Kenzo, Stella McCartney, Madonna, and many more to huge success, kick-starting the blurring of high fashion and high street that we’re familiar with today, including sold out collections for Kate Moss x Topshop and Victoria Beckham x Target. 

We’ve also seen tons of brilliantly successful high street x brand collabs – think Stan Smith x The Muppets, Vans x Crayola, Marvel and Van Gogh Museum, Doctor Martens x The National Gallery and Vendula x Queen. More interestingly, however, is the recent trend for luxury design houses to work with mass market brands (as opposed to retailers) as well as being more open to working with licensing characters. 

Think Gucci x Adidas , Major League Baseball and The North Face, but also Gucci x Disney resulting in £285 Donald Duck notepads and Mickey Mouse backpacks reselling for up to £1,300. Plus Iceberg x Disney, Peanuts x Lacoste and Ellesse x GoGuy x Teletubbies, which actually started as an April Fools’ Day prank in 2021 and is now a fully-fledged, Pride-celebrating streetwear collection. 

One of my favourites is Anya Hindmarch, and her collabs with Kellogg’s – the most recent Corn Flakes, Coco Pops and Frosties bags are already Waiting List only – and Heinz, with brands like Heinz Beans and HP Sauce not only featuring on handbags but also as flavours in The Ice Cream Project in the Anya Hindmarch Village. 

Why has this happened? Well, appealing to a small demographic may give you exclusivity, but it will never give you mass market reach or access to the other 99% of potential customers who aspire to be connected to your brand but via a more affordable route. Both parties also benefit from the credibility of targeting up or down, extended consumer and wallet reach, promotion and additional revenue. 

Some of these collabs may not be huge revenue drivers. Instead, their value lies in allowing, for example, a heritage property with a (literally) dying customer base to reinvent itself to a younger, fresher, mass audience they could never have reached alone.

Others also benefit from the PR and credibility they get from aligning themselves with a certain message or value, which is the case with the Ellesse x GoGuy x Teletubbies collab. This is incredibly important in an age where values and purpose are increasingly influencing customer behaviour: they will only interact with brands that truly and authentically reflect them and their values. 

The Fashion Catwalk at Brand Licensing Europe next month featuring collabs with brands like Barbie, Sonic the Hedgehog, Teletubbies, Cry Babies, Mentos and The Smurfs, will be additional proof that we’ve come a very long way (and nearly 100 years) since that first inspired collab between Schiaperelli and Salvador Dali and I genuinely believe we’ve got a very exciting 100 years of fashion collabs ahead of us. 

By Anna Knight

Anna Knight (pictured right) is SVP of Licensing, Informa Markets, which organises Brand Licensing Europe, the leading European event for licensing and brand extension. BLE runs 20-22 September at ExCeL London and is free to attend for fashion industry professionals. In fact, this year, the show’s theme is ‘fashion’ and will include daily fashion catwalks featuring major brands and IPs, including Barbie, Sonic the Hedgehog and The Smurfs, as well as sustainable fashion collections from Junk Kouture. 

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