Where the runway meets the street

“Fuck ‘Em!”

A simple phrase. A simple embellishment to a classic, otherwise unadorned, pair of jeans. “Fuck ‘Em!” sets the tone of the APC/Supreme collaboration.

The minimal embroidery could be read as lazy. It could be viewed as the ultimate in the over-hyped, under-developed product that frequently infects our small space in the garment trade. Or, alternatively, the collaboration could be seen as the most brilliant satire.

That is how I look at the jeans.

Neither brand needs the other. The best collaborations, those that really ring true, are driven by a meeting of minds and a sharing of expertise. APC needs little by way of marketing push. Supreme handles denim quite successfully alone. Both outfits, therefore, are in the enviable position of actually being able to have fun.

Of actually being able to say, “Fuck em!”

The disease of “Brand 1 x Brand 2 = $$$” so often bothers many voices within the industry. Whether the production of a vapid graphic tee or some uninspired linkage of “cool guy” and major corporation, this trend in collaborative marketing has succeeded in eroding the great benefit of cooperative creation.

The history of collaborative product is long and not worth full repetition here. In a recent blog entry on Selectism, Bejamin Vergnion outlined some of the fashion world’s forays with the auto industry. The likes of Pierre Cardin, Gucci, and Levi’s all added a certain degree of style to car interiors in the 1970s. We’ve witnessed a glut of artist commissioned sneakers, as well as a small vs. large brand mash-ups designed to extend the reach of both.

Market reach, more than anything else, serves as catalyst for the majority of collaborative works. In design and presentation, this subtext is only thinly veiled. A quest for authenticity – a seeming requirement – has become ever more difficult. Unless the connection dovetails smoothly, the collaborative product ends up raising more eyebrows than it does raise profile.

Another element of the issue comes in coverage. Often when brands do authentically work together, the popular notion of collaboration skews interpretation of the true intent. The work of two companies together remains as simple as sourcing. I had the opportunity to chat with the guys behind SeaVees (Derick and Steven) recently and asked if I’d misread the connection with Gitman on a forthcoming shoe. They explained the connection comes in supply, and also in sharing expertise. Becoming interested in bleeding madras, SeaVees reached out to friends at Gitman. They worked together (and as such, in a collaborative way), but the end result is not a collaboratively built product – rather it is one of sourcing the perfect material from noted experts in the field.

Commonly, bags and accessories are produced in the same fashion. Duel branding often complicates the issue, but more often than not a backpack or tote produced by one company for another is mostly about ensuring the best quality. Our recent interest in construction, manufacture, and origin makes the duel branding more appealing, but it is still at base a story of people understanding who is well suited to helping realize an idea.

And here, we reach a sort of new collaborative language X ‘for’ X. Again, this stems from an interest in manufacture and origin. A desire to tap heritage. To tap into generations of amassed knowledge.

These are good things. They help consumers to understand the craft behind the products they buy and reintroduce the idea that the maker is valuable. Sometimes, this can bore. Quoddy, for example, seems spread a bit thin making shoes for so many. Tricker’s in the UK falls under the same spell. The double edged sword being that while brand owners and consumers are more interested in manufacture, their research and development efforts are still tightened by the market reach type of collaboration that helped limit the excitement of streetwear.

And so, we return to Supreme. Undoubtedly, they are the kings of collaboration. Not only do they push beyond what others are offered (for example, playing with sneaker models otherwise locked to the average brand/retailer), but they take risks as well. When they play with the major corporations outside the scene (i.e., Budweiser), there’s something so tongue-in-cheek about the celebration of America that end product becomes a footnote to a larger cultural story. Supreme is aware, and aware in such away that collaborative product is akin to an art project against the clean and simple nature of the core line.

With A.P.C. the collaboration speaks to shared understanding of both scene and industry. Again, it is almost tongue-in-cheek. An expensive, and expertly arranged joke. Nothing to gain. Nothing to lose. Everything in the palm of their hands.

– Nick Schonberger,

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