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September 27, 2021 9 min read
There’s something inherently exciting about a co-branded product, wouldn’t you agree? The simple act of two fashion brands joining forces to market a standout item to their shared audience is a brilliant strategy - especially when well executed. The operative word here is “well”.
Co-branding is a particularly topical and lucrative concept for social media influencers seeking out good fashion brand ambassador programs to proliferate their income. The secret to success lies in unravelling the strategies of those who came before us.
Now the fashion world is no stranger to successful partnerships. From the iconic 2011 capsule collection by Versace and H&M that sold out overnight, to the tech drop that transformed the world; The Apple Watch, a widely successful partnership between Apple and luxury goods manufacturer Hermès, and Christo & Jeanne Claude, a duo known for their large-scale and environmental art installation with their most recent work - L'Arc de Triomphe Wrapped, Paris. These success stories are etched into the very fabric of fashion.
In this article, we cover 5 amazing fashion partnerships that inspired the world and 5 that committed some cardinal sins. There are vital lessons to be learned here. Let’s get to it!
photography by Julian Myles - Unsplashed; woman in red blazer outfit
Not everyone possesses the foresight to partner with the right brand that shares the same vision as them, but these 5 picks sussed that secret and landed the collaboration of the century!
In an iconic meeting of the minds, Jordan Brand, the signature athletic wear label owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan, and Dior announced an exciting partnership in the Fall of 2020.
The new collection Air Jordan I High OG Dior celebrates unparalleled excellence from two very different worlds, Jordan’s athletic prowess and Dior’s fashion acuity, while simultaneously fusing American and French sensibilities. The mission? Combine high-performance footwear with haute-couture fashion.
In poetic fashion, the limited-edition Air Jordan I High OG Dior shoe was synchronized with the release of the Air Jordan sportswear brand 35 years ago. This stunning shoe encapsulates the freshness and timeless appeal of Jordan’s footwear along with the iconic emblematic stylings of Dior with its leather finish and grey silhouette.
What captured the hearts and minds of fans across the globe is the superlative standards of excellence that this shoe represents, uniting the most formidable names in fashion and sports.
In a $2.1 billion deal, French fashion house, Louis Vuitton, and American lifestyle skateboarding brand Supreme announced their luxury fashion partnership in June 2017. This definitely raised a few brows.
Fashion pundits predicted that such a star-crossed collaboration would perish before it ever got out of the water. Would the collection be haute couture? Would it be high-end streetwear? Most importantly, would LV connoisseurs see a tarnishing of the brand’s infamous monogram logo? To everyone’s surprise, the collection soared!
LV x Supreme went on to become one of the best luxury fashion collaborations of all time. The signature pieces in the collection - white, red, camouflage, and denim, were splashed across several items of clothing, from backpacks to storage trunks, and sneakers to hoodies and even monogrammed leather gloves to phone cases.
The rewards were unmistakable. The collection was the epitome of streetwear chic, and made record-high sales in pop-up stores from Beijing to LA and beyond. LV’s daunting edifice of high-end luxury instantly became more accessible to millennials and under.
Culti x Lamborghini collaboration - room diffuser
In a truly exceptional luxury fashion collaboration, Automobili Lamborghini and Culti Milano created an intoxicating citrusy Culti x Lamborghini room diffuser that epitomized the irrepressible aroma of slipping into a brand new luxury sports car for the very first time.
This co-branded olfactory project by two pioneering Italian brands known for endorsing the finer pleasures of life, took off with immense traction.
What they did really well - finding common ground between their two very similar audiences who were seeking out an opulent multifaceted lifestyle.
The co-branded diffuser created a cohesive experience for the buyer right from de-stressing at home with a heady diffuser to cruising down a sun-soaked coastline in their supercar. Given its initial success, both Culti and Lamborghini have expressed a keen interest to follow on the heels of this endeavour with very similar products.
Kanye West is no stranger to the headlines. His transformative music and eccentric personality have captured the hearts and minds of admirers and detractors across the globe. It was much the same when his high-end colourway streetwear brand, Yeezy, joined forces with Vanessa Beecroft, a performance artist known for her living paintings which primarily showcase nude women.
When controversy meets controversy, success abounds. West’s and Beecroft’s partnership spawned multiple well-received projects over the years; the 808s & Heartbreak listening party which featured 40 women sporadically illuminated by strobe light scored to West’s album, Kanye’s 35-minute Runaway short film which featured Beecroft’s statuesque ballet dancers, and even Beecroft’s live decoration set piece at Kim and Kanye’s Milan wedding.
This unlikely fashion partnership brought about a great deal of publicity for Beecroft’s evocative tableaux vivants, and cemented West’s presence in contentious social, cultural and racial conversations online.
In an iconic fashion collaboration that was destined to be enshrined among the greats, Alexander McQueen and Damien Hirst unveiled a luxurious collection of 30 limited-edition scarves in 2013 - to the delight of fashion connoisseurs across the globe.
This collection saw numerous designs; spiders, butterflies and other insects presented in colourful geometric prints in the silhouette of McQueen’s legendary skull motif. The McQueen x Hirst scarves were marketed through a mesmerizing short film that became a masterpiece in its own right.
The proof is in the pudding with this phenomenal co-branding project. When two highly celebrated artistic fashion minds come together to epitomize what already works, success is inevitable. The McQueen x Hirst collaboration rejects reinventing the wheel and encourages a more introspective and mindful embracing of the bastions that made them successful.
photography from Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen
These 5 stories have gone down in history because of their immaculate execution. Fashion brands and even social media influencers seeking out long-term fashion brand ambassador opportunities should take note! The path to success is paved with these amazing lessons.
Where there are decorated stories, there are also those that are...distasteful. We’ve been equally courted by shocking fashion co-branding mistakes that attracted censure en masse. Here are 5 picks that failed to unravel the art of co-branding.
Neiman and Target anchor this list with one of the most widely criticized fashion partnerships of all time. When a luxury department store like Neiman Marcus teams up with an affordable goods retailer like Target whose tagline is quite literally, “Expect More, Pay Less” a lot of confusion ensues. For instance, just who are they targeting with these premium-priced products? Where does that leave their existing polar opposite audiences, one high fashion and the other relatively frugal?
Regardless, the holiday collection of $30 cookie cutters, $180 luggage bags, $70 trinket boxes, $35 letter openers, to name a few, was not well-received. So much so, in fact, that Target slashed all prices by about 70% prior to the Christmas rush to a tepid response.
The other major mistake was a misinterpretation of audience expectations by both brands. For instance, two contributors to the collection, designers Diane von Furstenberg and Tory Burch who made a name for themselves with their distinctive clothing, put out yoga mats and thermoses instead - a huge disappointment for previous devotees of their work.
The lesson? Brand alignment is key. When seeking out a lucrative co-branding strategy, ensure that audiences, price points, and contributors sufficiently align to provide real value to both sets of audiences.
As far as social gaffes go, Italian luxury fashion brand Dolce and Gabbana took the cake in 2018. To promote its then upcoming Shanghai runway show, the brand released a tone-deaf video featuring an Asian woman in an opulent D&G dress attempting to eat Italian food with a pair of chopsticks.
Scored to Chinese music, a Mandarin male voiceover haphazardly kicks in, deliberately mispronouncing Chinese speech, and mocking the woman for being unable to eat a cannoli with chopsticks.
The advert was widely flayed on social media for its overt appropriation and racist undertones, causing D&G to take it down. Many cited concerns online about foreign brands infiltrating the space and trampling upon the country’s values and integrity.
While it was a teachable moment for many, the people have made their voices heard; dismantling harmful racial and social tropes is the need of the hour.
British fashion label Topshop made a confident foray into the Chinese market back in 2014 after cementing a partnership with ShangPin.com, a Chinese luxury online retailer. Topshop was convinced it had done its homework and was well equipped with the right strategies to make a successful entry into the market.
However, the cards soon began to fold when news arrived in 2018 of Topshop’s premature partnership breakdown. The consensus was in. Topshop had not chosen its partner wisely. At the time, ShangPin was a relatively new e-platform that needed a big-money partnership to attract lucrative investors. Some media outlets even claimed that ShangPin’s estimated user count was 5 million even though the company itself had claimed the number to be closer to 30 million.
Aside from this collaboration gaffe, Topshop continued to slip up when it failed to localize its clothing sizes and styles to the Chinese market. It was often sold out of XS and S sizes because of supply chain mismanagement. The lesson here is simple.
Localization and networking are key, especially when entering unfamiliar markets whose consumer shopping habits are very different from home base.
photography by Rene Bohmer - Unsplashed; fashion mannequin
Forever 21 committed a serious blunder in 2019 when the fast-fashion retail giant sent customers Atkins diet bars with their orders. The completely tone-deaf move enraged social media users with one aggravated shopper writing, “What are you trying to tell me Forever 21? Do you give these to non-plus-size women as well?”
It was soon confirmed that the diet bars were being sent to all customers regardless of which clothing size they had ordered in an ill-thought-out marketing ploy.
To quell the furor, Forever 21 apologized for the oversight, stating that it was intended to be a free test product from their associates. The move posed some serious questions about diet culture and body shaming and even caused a huge drop in orders.
In an unprecedented series of events that sent shockwaves across the fashion world, pop superstar Rihanna announced in early 2021 that she was pausing her luxury tie-up with business partner LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton on their joint endeavours on fashion label Fenty. Initially hailed as the collaboration of the century, this partnership spawned fashion clothing line Fenty back in 2019, which unfortunately didn’t find the same success as her previous cosmetics and lingerie collections.
Perhaps one of the biggest setbacks of Fenty fashion was that it struggled to distinguish itself with its assortment of $300 hoodies, $700 dresses, $1,000 denim jackets, $910 footwear. Vis à vis her affordable Fenty Beauty lipsticks that retailed for just $22, fans were turned off by the price points.
Previously successful celebrity-founded fashion lines like The Row x The Olsen Twins struck a chord in the market because they focused on the clothing rather than their famous founders. To add another layer of complexity to the mix, the pandemic followed close on the heels of this launch, causing otherwise eager buyers to spend more frugally, putting the then infant brand in very hot water.
While the partnership hasn’t officially dissolved at the time of writing this, Rihanna is moving ahead with her Savage x Fenty lingerie line that brought in $115 million from L Catterton, a private equity firm in which LVMH is a partner.
After browsing through these 5 partnership fails, you’ll agree when we say that finding the secret sauce to a great collaboration is tricky. Our advice for the fashion world? Do your homework and pick amazing brand ambassador programs and collaboration opportunities with companies who are closely aligned to your visions, values and uncompromising standards.
photography by Elise Wilcox - Unsplashed; kaleidoscope vision
These 10 stories have a fervent message for upcoming co-branding projects. There’s a litany of things to watch out for - supply chain mismanagement, failure to understand your customer base, and tone-deaf and socially insensitive messaging, to name a few.
What cannot be denied - the astronomical benefits that are unlocked when fashion houses find their soulmate partners. Reinforced credibility, extended reach and extravagant budgets are available for those who truly strike gold - a feat that’s easier said than done.
As seen above, these sprees of success are also accompanied by flings with failure, so much so that they even raised ethical, social and cultural controversy across the spectrum as seen with Forever 21 x Atkins.
One thing is certain, the future is bright. It takes a little gumption and a little social sensitivity, and the rewards will speak for themselves!