A few years ago—after Louis Vuitton collaborated with Supreme in 2017, and Vetements collaborated with, well, everyone in 2016—there was talk that we had hit “peak collab.” The trick of a big luxury house working with an unexpected brand, usually cheaper and in some way outside the fashion system, seemed to have reached its zenith. Of course, peak collab didn’t mean that collaborations stopped: the Vuitton x Supreme linkup marked the moment when streetwear and luxury stopped dancing around each other and admitted they’ve been borrowing from each other for years. Now, Supreme regularly works with brands from Jean-Paul Gaultier to Yohji Yamamoto to, most recently, Pucci; Palace works with Polo, and Gucci with the North Face. And the Vetements collection wrote the playbook for brands like Ugg, Crocs, and Vibram to reinvent themselves as fashion-adjacent, or anti-cool: they could pose with a luxury brand as an unexpected collaborator, and the fancier brand got a finder’s fee, paid out in clout. The “abjection trend cycle,” as Highsnobiety’s Thom Bettridge called it, was ready to welcome almost any “uncool” brand with open arms.
But now, it seems, we’ve entered a new era, one where the high-low team-up has been replaced by something different: the power coupling. On Monday, Dior and Sacai announced that they were joining forces for a co-branded menswear collection: a capsule bearing a logo fusing the two labels’ names on denim trucker jackets, fishtail coats, bags, and berets. Sacai and Dior are not necessarily equal businesses—Dior is a billion-dollar brand owned by LVMH; Sacai is significantly smaller—but Sacai designer Chitose Abe is part of the cohort of designers, including Dior’s Kim Jones, Virgil Abloh, Matthew Williams, and Yoon Ahn, responsible for yanking streetwear firmly into luxury’s fold. If previous Dior collaborations have focused on Jones’s idols and art world elder statesmen, this one is a meeting of two peers.
The Dior and Sacai project comes on the heels of the second part of Kering’s “Hacker Project,” an awesomely bizarre linkup between Gucci and Balenciaga that saw Gucci “hack” the recognizable codes of its fellow Kering brand Balenciaga—handbags, the hourglass suit jacket, a stretchy boot pants—back in April. Earlier this month, for its Spring 2022 collection, Balenciaga showed its own take on the concept, studding fusty-freaky couture shapes with disorienting iterations of Gucci bags and belts. (Back in April, I’d described Gucci’s hacked garments as “fashion deep fakes,” and Balenciaga pushed that further by making every model in its show the house muse Eliza Douglas.) What seems like a branding exercise is in fact something a little weirder: because our exhausted minds, traversing a world filled with too many logos, are used to seeing certain shapes and designs as shorthand, swapping one logo for another, as minor as it may seem, causes us to short-circuit a bit. The zestiest takeaway from the project might be its challenge to the puritanical call-outs around copying that have dominated fashion over the past five years—everyone does it, so nothing is really original. Is it possible to have a more sophisticated conversation around borrowing or even stealing? Around counterfeit products? It’s a question only two power players could raise.
The cynical take on all this is that brands have run out of partners to collaborate with.. But I think they’re up to something more original. In part, it’s a kind of corporate rapscallionism—surely this was a nightmare for the legal departments, especially because fashion copyright is a more serious matter in Europe. But over the past year, parent company Kering has really seemed invested in pushing its designers to be creative, experimental, to try things out: Bottega Veneta deleted Instagram, launched a zine, and shows in private, while Gucci and Saint Laurent show off-season, an idea many brands discussed at the onset of the pandemic but quickly abandoned. And now comes this Bennifer of a fashion collab: two of the world’s most A-list designers, stealing each other’s ideas. “Things have become too serious, too corporate,” Gvasalia said on a podcast released by Balenciaga last week. “This is the manifestation that fashion can be fun, and can kind of laugh about itself also, which is necessary.” Michele later added that, “When you say something is forbidden, I think it starts to be interesting creatively.”
As is often the case, what’s just taking hold in fashion is something that Prada has been doing for years. When the brand announced that Raf Simons was joining Miuccia Prada as co-creative director in February 2020, it touted their partnership as “a strong challenge to the idea of singularity of creative authorship, whilst also a bold reinforcement of the importance and power of creativity in a shifting cultural landscape.” The news was met with excitement, but also confusion: the greatest myth of the fashion world is that every collection comes from a single godhead designer. Most people interpreted the move as a way for Mrs. Prada to install a predecessor and imbue him with all her worldly wisdom. But it seems Mrs. Prada pursued the arrangement because she’s legitimately interested in challenging her own ideas. In other words, she wanted a sparring partner, and not just a frivolous or shocking “gotcha” tie-up. (There have been rumors pinging around the industry that she once turned down a collaboration with Supreme.) The three collections we’ve seen from the co-designers so far have been a bit like a muted version of the Gucci-Balenciaga “hacking”—Simons’s beloved oversized bombers and skinny knits worked into Mrs. Prada-isms, or “the Prada-ness,” as the house calls it.
Who knows what this new era of power linkups will bring. Perhaps Nike will collaborate with Adidas. Louis Vuitton women’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière with Louis Vuitton men’s creative director Virgil Abloh. Bottega could collaborate with…Bottega. It’s not exactly predictable, which is entirely the point. “That is my ultimate goal,” Michele said on the podcast, laughing, “to create this huge massive confusion. And in this chaos, there is something good.” Gvasalia cackled. “Chaos,” he said. “That’s the word.”