The Archives: Jörg Haas on the History & Culture of Collaborations

Some of the most memorable collabs of the past decade.

Fashion
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I had a funny moment a few years back when a lighter I produced for the shop – plain white with our logo on it – was posted on HYPEBEAST as a collaboration with manufacturer BIC. There was not much of an intellectual effort between myself and BIC – it was a simple production job like thousands of other assignments that merchandisers handle daily. The fact that this company had made ‘slight adjustments’ to the logo could have been deemed “collaborative” if they had only shown me before going into production with their version. I did not fly to Spain, did not discuss designs with BIC, nor make major changes to the lighter itself. Nevertheless, it was great to see that small, slightly varied lighter receiving such great exposure!

In the context of HYPEBEAST’s 10th anniversary, I was asked to retrieve some of the most memorable collaborations from this period. Not an easy task given the fact that there were innumerable projects each year. To narrow them down and to offer a more comprehensive overview, I will start with a basic definition of the term and then pick out examples for the different categories:

Collaboration: An intellectual effort between people and companies from different fields of expertise. Knowledge, assets, technologies, etc. are consolidated to create a new product, a new product series, or even a new product category. Characteristics of all partners are identifiable.

I believe that at the core of a ‘true’ collaboration lies the pretense to create something new that will reflect the partners’ contributions equally. Basic color choices for an existing product will not leave much room for collaboration. The selection of colors that change a product’s character substantially, that are clearly new and a reflection of the partner’s aesthetic, however, procures a valid collaborative notion.

Before I get carried away with too much theory, let us take a look at some of these projects and examine the key characteristics and their relevance according to the above definition.


Disney x fragment design x Burton Snowboards Custom 156 “Pooh” (2005)

Winnie the Pooh – an iconic children’s book character – was not just used for a collaborative product design, but the bear himself was also redesigned in the process. It came as a surprise to see that fragment design was not only allowed to work with one of Disney’s most famous and beloved characters, but even given carte blanche to alter Winnie’s key characteristic; changing his yellow fur coat to black. In this case, the collaboration took place between three entities: the producer, the designer, as well as the license holder of the original design. Burton showed trust in fragment design to provide an interesting concept – aside from its own in-house graphics – and Disney trusted them to work respectfully with its iconic character. Since it is the oldest project mentioned, it is also the one that might be the least well-known.


WTAPS x Vans Sk8-Hi & Canteen (2013)

At first sight, this collaboration might fall short of a key characteristic defined above. One could state that simply picking colors does not entail too much of a collaborative effort. However, and this is hallmark for many collaborations with Japanese brands, it is exactly this process that holds the biggest merit. A confinement to the basics, a choice of simple and tasteful colors in combination with small yet distinct detailing – labels and packaging – as is masterfully executed by Tetsu Nishiyama of WTAPS for Vans. Another noteworthy aspect of this project is the fact that the shoes were available in sufficient quantities. Rather than limiting the products to an extent where they become unattainable and commercially irrelevant, the Vans x WTAPS models were widely distributed, and sold out! A success, both aesthetically and commercially.


KAWS x Robert Lazzarini Companion (2010) & KAWS x Pushead Companion (2006)

During his career, KAWS has collaborated with small independent brands such as Tokyo’s BOUNTY HUNTER, realmadHECTIC, UNDERCOVER and A Bathing Ape, global corporations such as Disney and Peanuts, and also fellow artists such as Pushead, Robert Lazzarini and Hajime Sorayama. Each of these artists work in various environments, drawing inspiration from sources and developing individual ideas – the result being their distinctive personal styles. It speaks for the experimental attitude of the artists that they are willing to take up the task of remixing someone else’s (another established artist’s) work. Once again, trust is essential in this collaboration. One trusts that his own work is treated with respect, the other that his re-/deconstruction is well-received and accepted. KAWS’ artist collaborations are examples of a well-balanced cooperation. Each partner’s style is equally visible in the finished product. As a side note, Medicom Toy Corporation has been a longtime collaborator with KAWS as they have been producing most of his collectible figures during the past 10+ years.


This configuration might be the easiest to define. It is someone’s birthday, people come together and they all bring gifts. The feeling is that of a class reunion where people go home with a souvenir afterwards. While adidas invited like-minded stores to interpret the classic Superstar, Stüssy asked friends, old and new, to define the company’s image/philosophy freely for a series of T-shirts. As well as working together, it is more an offer to give visual feedback in the context of a special occasion. “It is our birthday, give us your best, and we’ll give it to our other friends.”


Supreme x COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT (2012)

We are privy to high-profile projects from Supreme. Its artist series skateboards designed by Jeff Koons, Richard Prince or Damien Hirst are highlights. The collaboration between Supreme and COMME des GARÇONS is also relevant as it brought together brands with seemingly different design directions and customer base: NYC skate/streetwear brand vs. Japanese high fashion. Both partners, however, found a common ground to produce a collection that speaks to consumers in both camps. The resulting products closed a (minor and virtual) gap between the two brands. The Supreme x COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT collaboration is a good example of the recent trend in fashion, where previous distinctions blur the likes of street and high fashion.


When the POOL aoyama opened its doors, it served to further satisfy the hunger of many fans. Besides its in-house collection of apparel and accessories, most of the offerings were (and continue to be) collaborations with some of the world’s most respected brands: Supreme, Disney, Peanuts and Stüssy. Later installments included Beats by Dre, Oakley, WTAPS, Acronym and Powell Peralta. Clearly, quite a substantial effort went into coordinating the collaboration, ensuring that all products would match the varying themes of the store: White, Flower and Olive. It is quite astounding that today’s manufacturing processes allow for small production runs and/or individual retailers managing to shift regular production quantities by themselves. the POOL aoyama is a collaboration between JUN Group and Hiroshi Fujiwara, with installments designed by Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tetsu Nishiyama and Hirofumi Kiyonaga, and most products being collaborative efforts. The whole project clearly epitomizes the term “collaboration.”


UNDERCOVER x Nike GYAKUSOU Singlet (2014), AFFA Jacket (2010), ACRONYM x NikeLab ACG Jacket (2014)

When a company hires an external designer or studio, it cannot be called a collaboration per se. Surely the creative is brought on board for his/her skills, but in most cases there is a clear briefing and there are creative limitations. When the collaborative effort is evident and the creatives’ characteristic style is infused into a new product or even product category, we are closer to the definition. Jun Takahashi’s “Gyakusou” project and Errolson Hugh’s involvement with the relaunch of ACG are a manifestation of such a setting. Takahashi – an avid runner himself – masterfully applied his distinct design language to a new and innovative running collection. Hugh implemented his unmatched expertise in technical apparel into one of Nike’s most iconic outdoor apparel lines, ACG. A company allowing for such a strong role of an external creative takes a risk if the partner’s influence is perceived as too strong, but in both cases, the positions seem well-balanced and complementary.


The above editorial is featured in HYPEBEAST Magazine Issue 10: The Alliance Issue, available at select stockists worldwide.

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