Collaboration fatigue

Too much? Karl Lagerfeld had his name on a coke bottle way before everyone else.

Too much? Karl Lagerfeld had his name on a coke bottle way before everyone else. Photo: Getty Images

It has been eight years since Karl Lagerfeld leant his name to Swedish H&M and retailers have been churning out the collabs ever since. From Topshop and Target’s relentless onslaught of designer collections to artistic tie-ups in the form of Richard Prince for Louis Vuitton and Daniel Askill for Acne, not a day goes by when we don’t catch word of another high-low designer mash-up.

Just this week, Richard Nicoll announced he’d be designing a mobile phone-charging handbag for Vodafone and Manolo Blahnik, who last year swore he would never lend his name to a mass-market collection for fear of “polluting the brand”, released a range of heels for J. Crew. Testimony to the pull of money or Jenna Lyons’ powers of persuasion?

Call us jaded, but designer collaborations no longer conjure the excitement that they used to. Our emotional response has become blunted due to overexposure and overkill. Don’t get us wrong though. We’re ever-so-grateful for any chance to purchase Jean Paul Gaultier within the realms of our mere-mortal wages, yet somewhere in between Alex Wang’s $85 Starbucks-stained t-shirt and Karl Lagerfeld plastering his face on Coke bottles, we began to lose interest.

A large number of mass-market chains have come to rely on collaborations to generate coverage, buzz and above all, sales. Yet often the garments are rolled out at top speed and often at the expense of fit and quality. These collaborations seem to follow a pattern – manic shoppers brave early-morning queues, websites crash, shelves and racks are emptied and people are left disappointed. Meanwhile goods are flogged off on eBay at giant mark-ups.


On the day of its launch, Missoni for Target saw middle-aged women clamouring over zigzag gumboots, sending one unfortunate shopper away in an ambulance. At Versace for H&M, punters were restricted to one size in each style, told to wear colour-coded armbands and given 10 minutes to make their purchases, before being ushered out of the store at the sound of a whistle. Not even visits from Obama spurn that much of frenzy (and so many public safety concerns).

Dolce & Gabbana, who recently shuttered their more affordable D&G range, are leading the backlash, slamming down fast fashion as “cheap and trashy”. Domenico Dolce went so far as to compare the trend to buying “good codfish” for cheap, which he claims is impossible. Hermes and Cartier have also ruled out any prospect of brand collaborations. Cartier executive Pierre Rainero said last year: “‘[D]esign is really our statement, so we see no point in working with external designers ...” 

Which makes us ponder whether it is simply a case of having too much of a good thing? And not enough of an excellent thing. Because, we’ll still scour blogs to see what Cosuelo Castiglioni has dreamed up for H&M and those Susie Bubble-designed neon platforms for Farfetch are nothing short of amazing, but the number of collaborations worthy of the hype these days seem far and few between.


What do you think? Are you feeling the fatigue?