Are you even a fashion designer if you don’t collaborate with other brands? It’s a valid question. Designers at the low, high, and midpoints of the market team up with such abandon, well, we at Vogue are inundated with daily—hourly, sometimes—emails announcing wild partnerships like: “EXCLUSIVE OPPORTUNITY: Taco Bell Teams Up With Top Fashion Brand on A Cheesy Capsule of Gordita-Inspired Bags.” Just kidding, that never happened. But in this day and age, when people are pushing collabs more than they’re pushing their own singular labels, it’s not such a crazy idea. In 2019, people probably would spend $1,000 on a logo bag that looks like a Mexican pastry.
The 2010s were years of peak collaboration, but the phenomenon began back in the ’00s. Karl Lagerfeld joined forces with H&M in 2004 in the first of many such yearly partnerships for the Swedish fast-fashion giant (Giambattista Valli is its designer collaborator for 2019). These, along with Supreme inching its way out of underground skate culture and into the mainstream via collaborations with the likes of NYC Transit, Budweiser, White Castle, Braun, and even a random hammer company, marked the beginning of a multitude of high-low activations, some instigated by big box stores like Target and others by smaller multi-brand boutiques including Opening Ceremony. There was also Marc Jacobs bringing talents like Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami to the old-line French fashion house of Louis Vuitton. The success of these projects made it official: Collabs were a viable marketing strategy, maybe the most viable marketing strategy.
As more and more brands hooked up, though, the allure of the high-low fast-fashion collab went a bit stale—at least until a guy named Virgil Abloh came along. Much like Karl Lagerfeld, Abloh, through his own multi-hyphenate persona, came to symbolize a new type of fashion designer for a new era. At Off-White, which he launched in 2013, he’s partnered with brands ranging from Evian and Rimowa to Ikea and Nike. Maybe because he’d worked with Kanye West or because he started his own brand before Off-White, Abloh saw the potential of streetwear and of a new generation’s need-to-have-it-now attitude towards consumerism. As he said at Vogue’s 2017 Forces of Fashion event, “My internal tool for digesting the word ‘luxury’ is to determine whether or not something is ‘coveted.’ If you covet it, it’s luxurious to you.” Abloh figured out how to commodify cool, giving his fans the clothes and sneakers that they salivated over and saved up for. He’s doing something similar at Louis Vuitton, where he was appointed the first African American artistic director of menswear in 2018, judging by the crowds outside the pop-up the brand just opened on New York’s Lower East Side.
Celebrities also got in on the collaboration action in the 2010s; stars like Rihanna, Beyonce, Cardi B, and Kanye West partnered with Puma, Balmain, Fashion Nova, and Adidas, respectively. And then there were the high-low collaborations like Christopher Kane and Crocs, or Vetements and Juicy Couture. Nostalgia, mixed with an odd, maybe even ugly garment or accessory, was a winning formula in the 2010s for the way it blurred the classic definition of luxury.
Formula is the operative word. It’s easy for insiders to get cynical about collabs, to feel like they’re designed to trick us into thinking that a sneaker or a hoodie is more desirable by the mere fact that it has an “X” on its label. There’s just so damn many of them! Nearly 20 years into the phenomenon (Stephen Sprouse hooked up with Louis Vuitton in 2001), the partnerships that are meaningful are the ones that surprise us, the ones with purpose: They may shine a light on a young artist, repurpose used garments, or support humanitarian causes. More of these in the 2020s! But for the moment, we’re celebrating the 14 best collaborations of the 2010s.
Versace x H&M, 2011
In 2011, Donatella Versace was tapped by H&M to create a capsule collection of affordable versions of her brightly colored and printed designs. It sold out almost immediately after the brands collaborated on a New York runway show and after-party where Prince performed. With apologies to Alexander Wang (2014), Maison Margiela (2012), and Lanvin (2010), Versace was the most monumental of all the H&M designer collabs, and further proved that designer fashion doesn’t have to have a high price tag to be relevant or desirable.
Sterling Ruby x Raf Simons Fall 2014 Menswear
As critic Tim Blanks wrote in his review of Raf Simons’s Fall 2014 menswear show, this collection was “not a collaboration in the usual sense of a designer hires an artist for a T-shirt, but a full-on, both-names-on-the-label mind-meld.” Simons worked with his close friend (they’d been compadres for nine years when these clothes walked the runway) on prints and fabrications using Sterling’s paintings and collage work. The duo designed the collection as one entity, conceptualizing the silhouettes together, and the labels too. Instead of “Raf Simons” they said: “RSSR.”
Hermès x Apple Watch, 2015
The Apple Watch was arguably one of the biggest tech drops of the decade. It promised to change the way we sent and received emails, spoke on the phone, and tracked our steps and heart rates. It also opened up a conversation around wearable tech. Hermès catalyzed that discussion when it partnered with Apple on a leather watch band in a variety of colors. What followed were a slew of other designer versions of the Apple Watch strap, including versions from Coach and Fendi. While enthusiasm around wearable tech certainly waned towards the end of the decade, it did mark a new dawn for fashion in terms of pivoting towards a more digitally minded approach to design and marketing.
Yeezy Fall 2015
Say what you will about Kanye West (there’s a lot to say, not all positive), but he’s managed to build a billion-dollar business out of Yeezy, which began as a partnership with Adidas in 2015. His first runway show in New York received mixed reviews, save for the fact that West was applauded for his use of a diverse cast of models. He marked a burgeoning era of the celebrity designer, one that has since grown and expanded in pretty remarkable ways. See, especially, Rihanna’s Fenty deal with LVMH.
Crocs x Christopher Kane Spring 2017
Controversial as they may be, there’s no denying that ugly shoes like dad sneakers and Uggs had a major moment in the late 2010s. This strange and wonderful phenomenon first popped up on Christopher Kane’s Spring 2017 runway in the form crystal- and rock-embellished Crocs. The designer partnered with the foam clog company and totally redefined the high-low concept. Call it the so-bad-it’s-good paradox. After Kane debuted his couture Crocs, Balenciaga followed suit a year later, making a platform pair that sold out within hours of dropping online.
Supreme x Louis Vuitton Fall 2017 Menswear
By 2017, James Jebbia’s Supreme already had a number of fashion collaborations under its red-and-white-stamped belt. But hooking up with Louis Vuitton was next level. Kim Jones, LV’s creative director of menswear at the time, told Vogue’s Luke Leitch he wanted to “create customer excitement” in a “world where everyone wants the new, new, new.” Let’s just say he succeeded. The Supreme x LV drop felt like a sign of the times, of an era where luxury is defined by logos and status and extreme exclusivity. A hoodie from the collab is for sale on eBay. The asking price? A whopping $29,999.
Heron Preston x DSNY, 2016
Who could’ve imagined that a young designer would be able to coax the fashion elite to a city sanitation garage? Heron Preston did it in 2016, with a collection designed in partnership with New York’s Department of Sanitation. The collaboration was undertaken in order to raise awareness for the city’s 0x30 goal, which puts in place a plan to send zero waste to landfills by the year 2030. All of the clothes were designed using upcycled fabric, a term that in the years since has gone into frequent rotation in the fashion industry. Preston’s clever idea marked a steady (but not yet complete) shift in awareness surrounding sustainable design and production.
Champion, Juicy Couture, Levi’s, and More x Vetements Spring 2017
Demna Gvasalia did something radical for his men’s and women’s Spring 2017 Vetements show, his first during haute couture week. He designed an entire collection of collaborations, one in which he partnered with brands including Levi’s, Juicy Couture, Champion, Eastpack, Dr. Martens, Canada Goose, and Manolo Blahnik—18 in all. The project opened the collaboration floodgates, inspiring labels high-end and low- to work together on something familiar yet totally, completely surprising. To wit, Gvasalia’s tightly fitted bright red velour tracksuit with bedazzled “Juicy” logos down the front sleeves.
Beyoncé x Balmain, 2018
Last year, Beyoncé put on one of the most epic performances of all time at Coachella—or Beychella, as it’s come to be known. Beyonce was the first black woman to ever headline the music festival, marking the historic and empowering occasion with a stage set that included over 200 dancers and musicians and a theme of homecoming, which served to recognize historically black colleges and universities around the country. Bey also chose to wear a custom wardrobe designed by a man of color: Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing. He worked directly with the musician on the marching band–inspired costumes, telling Vogue that he sat on the floor with her between rehearsals “cutting fabric.” He added, “She would give me direct feedback about how the lighting should hit the clothes, what the music had to emphasize about each look—I never had to guess what to do next.” In this case, it wasn’t just another designer working for a celebrity on a performance costume. This collaboration was important because it was about inclusion and the potent symbolic impact of clothes.
Cardi B x Fashion Nova, 2018
Cardi B had a big 2018. The rapper shot to fame almost overnight, not only for her musical talents but also for her fashion sense. Designers like Donatella Versace and Tom Ford started inviting her to sit front row, and others were angling hard to get her to wear their collections, either on the red carpet or for a post on her highly entertaining (sometimes R-rated) Instagram account. Of all of the opportunities that came her way, Cardi chose to link up with fast-fashion label Fashion Nova. The social media–driven, multi-million-dollar brand is one that Cardi wore often on her path to fame, and the partnership indicated that she was sincere about giving her fans clothes that they could afford. She designed a capsule collection, which has since turned into a second sold-out collection. It made nearly $1 million in the first 24 hours.
World Food Programme x Balenciaga Fall 2018
The term “woke” entered the lexicon in 2014 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. The buzzword was used to describe a probably Millennial whose eyes and ears were open to the dire state of the world and who wanted to do something to change it, politically, socially, whatever. Fashion got woke too, with up-and-coming designers and big labels alike churning out feminist slogan T-shirts or collections inspired by the effects of climate change. While their efforts were admirable, too few did much to actually give back, monetarily-speaking. Enter Demna Gvasalia, who put “World Food Programme” logo tees and hoodies on Balenciaga’s Fall 2018 runway, proceeds from the sales of which would go to the United Nations organization in an effort to end world hunger. Balenciaga also pledged a donation of $250,000 to the Programme.
Serena Williams x Off-White x Nike, 2018
In 2017, a French Open officials banned catsuits from the competition after Serena Williams wore one that year. The following year, she defied tradition again and rocked two custom tutus, one in black and one in lavender, at the U.S. Open. The ballet-inspired looks were designed by Off-White’s Virgil Abloh in collaboration with Nike, and as soon as the tennis ace hit the court, her outfit caused a sensation. Women praised Williams for staying true to her own style, despite the old-school ways of the tennis association’s higher-ups. As tennis legend Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter after hearing the news of the catsuit ban: “The policing of women’s bodies must end. The ‘respect’ that’s needed is for the exceptional talent @serenawilliams brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.”
Moncler Genius, 2018
Last year, Remo Ruffini relaunched his down jacket brand Moncler with a project he boldly named the Genius Group, featuring a designer roster that included Pierpaolo Piccoli, Simone Rocha, and Craig Green—and that was just for starters. The idea, according to Ruffini, was to bring different personalities and points of view into one label and to tap into the new ways shoppers are consuming. The collections roll out one at a time on a monthly basis. It’s a lot of personalities to manage, to be sure, but there are big payoffs: First: It adds high-design to Moncler’s high-tech bonafides. And second: The monthly drops ensure that the brand is never far from the customer’s mind. Pretty genius, no?
Rodarte x Universal Standard, 2019
This spring, the size-inclusive brand Universal Standard announced a collaboration with Rodarte. It’s the only time a high-end fashion label has teamed up with a “plus-size” brand (to use a term that shows just how far the inclusivity conversation has yet to go). Universal Standard, which was founded by Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler, offers sizing that ranges from 00 to 40. The dreamy, ethereal dresses, blouses, skirts, and jumpsuits in the Rodarte collaboration add a touch of capital-F fashion to the company’s minimally chic, everyday wardrobe offerings. In an interview with Vogue, Waldman and Veksler said they “wanted to get people involved who were not part of the diversity movement per se, but who we felt might be interested in raising their hand and saying, ‘This is great, and this is the right thing to do.’” Kudos to the Kate and Laura Mulleavy for signing on.
Originally Appeared on Vogue