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Fashion collaborations enter a new, disruptive phase

Brand and designer collaborations are constantly evolving. What does this mean for Indian designers?

Mehfil by Payal Singhal for Indya.
Mehfil by Payal Singhal for Indya. (Courtesy Payal Singhal)

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2021 was the year when fashion brand collaborations reigned supreme, as multiple projects cashed in on the hype of luxury brands partnering with high-street labels and sportswear brands. Like all trends, this too became oversaturated, and it’s finally making way for ‘competitor collaborations’, a broad term coined by the trend forecasting agency, WGSN.

What this means is fairly simple. The fashion industry has come to a point in which the boundaries between creative territories, once closely guarded, are beginning to blur, and even collide. Luxury houses are highlighting the importance of joining forces with friends and rivals to drive innovation, explore technology and scale up audience reach. The trend shift could be attributed to the impact of the pandemic.

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A model wearing a creation from Gucci's The Hacker Project, with designs swapped with Balenciaga.
A model wearing a creation from Gucci's The Hacker Project, with designs swapped with Balenciaga. (Courtesy Gucci)

Take Gucci’s The Hacker Project, for instance, where designs were swappped with Balenciaga for the Gucci Aria collection. Donatella Versace and Kim Jones pulled off the Versace X Fendi Swap with a history-making runway show at the Milan Fashion Week, last year in September. In January this year, Balmain teamed up with Barbie for a ready-to-wear collection, ushering in many hues of pink, and Prada partnered with Adidas on a new collection of recycled clothing and accessories. A Gucci X Adidas collaboration was revealed in February at “Exquisite Gucci” Fall/Winter 2022 runway show in Milan. The collection is set to release worldwide in June.

This trend has touched Indian fashion as well, with collaborations gaining new currency here. Designer Payal Singhal, who has worked on more than 20 collaborations under her eponymous label, feels that the trend has only grown multifold over the last few years. “We pioneered collaborations when we partnered with Hopskotch and Bombay Shirt Company back in 2015 to launch a kidswear and menswear line. The exposure and experiences through these limited editions led us to add PS Kids and PS Men categories to our womenswear offerings,” she says. From apparel and accessories to lifestyle segments, Singhal’s exhaustive portfolio of collaborative projects includes working with brands such as Fizzy Goblet, Paio, home decor brand Marshalls, and tech-accessories brand Macmerise.

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Amit Aggarwal's collaboration with Dusala, a shawl brand from Kashmir.
Amit Aggarwal's collaboration with Dusala, a shawl brand from Kashmir. (Ankit Chawla)

Couturier Amit Aggarwal explains his approach to collaborations with his work with Dusala, the shawl brand from Kashmir. “I am personally a big fan of shawls and what I loved about Dushala is how cashmere is hand-woven with a metallic yarn. It sat closely with my brand’s DNA, the fabric was fluid and yet an inherent structure because of the metallic aspect to it,” he says.

Similarly, designer Nikhil Thampi feels both parties in a collaboration need to live up to agreed-upon commitments, and establish a positive relationship. “The brand needs to understand the vision of the designer and trust it. Designers, on the other hand, are often futuristic and view the world through a unique creative lens but they have to refrain from being too artsy when working on collaborations. The final collection needs to resonate for its wearability and relatable design aesthetic.” Thampi’s recent collaboration with online retail brand RSVP by Nykaa Fashion offers an accessible, yet fashion-forward, collection that is trans-seasonal and size-inclusive. Novelty fabrics like chain-maille, sequins and embellished fabrics have been used to make this collection as unique as possible.

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Nikhil Thampi's collaboration with RSVP by Nykaa Fashion.
Nikhil Thampi's collaboration with RSVP by Nykaa Fashion. (Courtesy Nikhil Thampi)

Exploring categories other than apparel entails working with varied technical guardrails specific to production, form factor and design. “When we worked on the wall-coverings collection with Marshalls, the same print on a lehenga needed to be scaled on a 10 feet x 10 feet wall. Similarly, the form factor is important when it comes to footwear, and there is a lot of thought that goes into aspects like the placement of embroideries, usage of fabric, and more,” explains Singhal.

A brand needs to evaluate long-term and short-term business goals to envision a viable portfolio of collaborations. Some are image builders and others are revenue builders—and both can bring tangible financial growth in the long run. Repeat collaborations are the need of the hour as they restore consumers’ faith in the brand’s ethos, and the gravitas of the initiative, feels Aggarwal. “You have to look for ways to keep evolving a collaboration—it can’t be deemed viable if treated as a one-off stunt and you hop on to the next one. Also,paperwork and deliverables need to be sorted right at the beginning to minimise the chances of a conflict,” he adds.

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On the other hand, Singhal feels that creative conflicts are not necessarily negative. They help you understand valuable perspectives from both sides, and the end result is a well-thought-out product. “I am passionate about creative language and I focus a lot on this aspect for each collaboration. While I have a strong opinion in this matter, the business learning that the collaborating brand brings to the table for its category is an important input for me,” she adds.

When collaborating entities bring their respective know-how and strengths to the table, the consumer sees an offering that is differentiated, and offers greater value. “We will see different product lines blending the signature style of Indian fashion with categories spanning from luxury to daily use. The sky is the limit for creativity in this field, and I sense some interesting announcements this year,” says Singhal.

Whether collaborations address the concerns of overconsumption or expand the consumer base with memorable collections, it’s fair to give them a chance to test the waters. They will continue to be an effective marketing tool to expand the brand vision, fast-track technologies and drive innovation.


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