Young British designers are increasingly coupling with centuries-old brands is an unlikely fusion of hitherto dusty heritage and the strikingly contemporary. It’s a mutually beneficial marriage, and proof opposites can prove very attractive, says Alexander Fury
Lately, fashion has become peopled by odd couples, strange twosomes grouped under a new favoured heading: “collaboration.” The ubiquitous conjunction for these two names is the letter “X”, a vote of confidence in the unlikely fusion of, says, a sports star with a skincare line (David Beckham x Biotherm), a pop star and a high street brand (Beyonce x Topshop), or even a television host and a preppy staple. The latter is just all-out weird, especially to British audience – Jimmy Fallon, host of American institution The Tonight Show, collaborated with J. Crew to create a pocket square-cum-phone case. Lots of cross-overs. And it’s a bit like Jonathan Ross making a line of pants with Marks and Spencer. Then again, the male model David Gandy has already done that…
Fashion designers collaborating amongst themselves has become commonplace – the newest incarnation, however, couples young brands with old in odd, May-December fashion romances, frequently with centuries separating the two. They work because they bring the best of both worlds – tradition and technique meeting innovative and experimental design. Rather than tearing down the establishment, young designers seem excited to join them, rifle through their archives, and help them create something new.
In itself, that approach isn’t so innovative – designers have been reviving moribund fashion labels for decades: Karl Lagerfeld’s spectacular resuscitation of the dusty and fusty Chanel in the eighties remains the benchmark, emulated by labels as varied as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balmain. The difference today is that it’s a two-way street, and a part-time (or even one-off) gig. Rather than being installed as creative directors, expected to revive entire labels, young designers are creating capsule collections as savvy one-hit wonders. And the brand they’re working with are esoteric and unexpected – Mackintosh, Morris & Co., traditional Savile Row tailors like Huntsman, handbag companies like Radley. Rather than the established, wide-spread dissemination of a designers’ style into a mass-market product (see Balmain x H&M, or Topshop’s collaboration with London labels like Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane and Marques’Almeida), it’s about intense focus of particular product areas.