Online fashion retailer Koovs has been engaging in collaborations since it started in 2012. The most recent entrant to its roster of designers, which include Giles Deacon, Mawi and Gauri & Nainika, is resort and swimwear brand Shivan & Narresh. The collection has the latter’s signature bold tropical prints on sporty silhouettes.
Narresh Kukreja, one half of the duo, says, “The collaboration explores both the brands’ strengths; for Koovs, it’s their youthful and wide demographic, and for us it’s our holiday, lifestyle-based design aesthetic.”
Making the most of the gap that exists between the ramp, markets and media, fashion collaborations offer unique products for a short time period. Collaborations are a way of showcasing the evolving identities of brands using hype and advertising. Though it is still a nascent concept in India, which follows its own schedule of fashion weeks and seasons, such partnerships are becoming a popular way for brands to create a buzz while creating supply value and tapping into a partner’s assets. This can help cultivate strong brand loyalty in the long run.
The most common collaborations are those between high-fashion labels and affordable brands. Since H&M’s collaboration with designer Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, the Swedish fast-fashion giant has continued the trend with major designers and luxury labels, including Versace, Comme des Garçons and Moschino. In May, French designer Giambattista Valli was announced as a collaborator for 2019.
Dhatri Bhatt, communications head at H&M India, says, “The brand’s collaboration with Balmain—the first to be launched in India in 2015—had sold out. The one with Valli (also launched in India) sold out online, but the entire collection will launch this year (in stores), on 7 November.”
High-street fashion brands such as Supreme, Topshop and Target have adopted this model as well. Implemented well, synergy lies at the heart of such partnerships—consumers can own products that integrate the aesthetics of two brands, usually for the price of one, and mix and match styles from luxury and premium brands. Brands, in turn, are able to maintain momentum, especially during fashion off-seasons.
Kukreja believes collaborations are successful because we are “…living in times of disruption. Every generation, there’s a new methodology for marketing. As millennials take over and call the shots in the economy, brands are willing to break away from traditional business models to do something new and reach out to a diametrically opposite audience,” he says.
New business models
From one-off instances to becoming the core of businesses, this model is taking new forms. The French-Italian brand Moncler does not have creative directors but ropes in collaborators. Its Genius project gives freedom to designers such as Pierpaolo Piccioli and Simone Rocha to create collections that ultimately tie into a cohesive vision.
Italian brand Off-White’s creative director since 2012, Virgil Abloh, has helmed as many as 18 collaborations with brands, one of which happens to be Moncler itself.
Community-driven fashion label Usha Silai’s concept of collaboration sees the organization choosing artisans from its stitching schools to be mentored by designers, including Rohit Bal and Sreejith Jeevan, and create collections with them, across seasons. This helps establish a sociocultural bond between designers and artisans, strengthening the craft.
Very often, brands collaborate with celebrities to leverage their star power and fan following. American fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger roped in supermodel Gigi Hadid in 2016 for a nautical-themed collection, and actor Zendaya in 2019 for a throwback to the euphoric fashion of the 1970s. Both these collaborations were lauded; the former for the fashion brand’s revival and the latter for celebrating diversity and people of colour on the runway.
Indian designer Masaba Gupta recently presented her latest collection of fusion wear themed on the dark and dramatic aesthetic of Game Of Thrones. Gupta is the only Indian designer to officially collaborate with the company that owns the show’s merchandising rights.
Denim giant Levi’s will release its collaborative capsule collection, based on Netflix’s hit sci-fi show Stranger Things, ahead of its third-season release in early July. The collection will pay homage to the show’s graphic designs and style trends of 1985, the year in which the third season is set.
However, short-term collaborations can have a downside as well. Since the products are made in limited quantities, they aren’t available after a certain point. In 2015, the H&M store at London’s Regent Street had to be closed owing to scuffles breaking out between customers who had queued overnight to get their hands on its Balmain collaboration collection.
The 2017 collaboration between Supreme and Louis Vuitton was criticized for offering little more than generic logo-stamped designs. Though sales skyrocketed for both brands, such collaborations can have the unfortunate effect of diluting brand identities. Target’s collaboration with Neiman Marcus in 2012 was so badly received that the products ended up at discounted clearance sales.
“In an age when brands are consolidating, one can’t dilute their brand. Audiences want more value for the money that they are putting on the products. Authenticity matters,” says Kukreja.
Yet the good may outweigh the bad. Varun Rana, content lead at sustainable lifestyle brand Good Earth, sees collaborations as a useful business model. “Collaborations have helped in cross-pollinating an otherwise fatigued industry, giving big and small designers the chance to tell their stories in a unique way.”