“Collaboration is the mother of creativity.” That’s something people say, right? Well, at the very least, “collaboration is key” comes up time and time again.
Sometimes both are true, of course, but other times collaboration isn't so much the mother of anything as it is the runt of the litter — underdeveloped, dave for an outsized God complex. Equally, if it is the key, that doesn't mean you have to like what that key unlocks. Sometimes doors are closed for a reason, you know?
And so it is, more specifically, with 2021’s most noteworthy fashion collaborations; a year where “mixed bag” is probably the kindest way of putting it. Yes, there have been big hits, and yes, there have been huge misses — but there’s also been a lot of what often felt more like swinging wildly at the air and cursing at the wind.
With that in mind, let's get into it. The best, the worst, and the most absolutely “WTF” collaborations of 2021. Here's to whatever next year has in store.
High Fashion Overlaps
It seems like willful ignorance to write this list without at least acknowledging Gucci and Balenciaga’s crossover “Hacker Project” or Fendi and Versace’s surprise “Fendace” link. So, that's what we’re doing here.
Diplo x Crocs
To say that Crocs are divisive would be an understatement. Dad’s favourite hole-ridden house clog has, however, built a neat little sideline off the back of an ongoing trend for ugly sneakers and a slew of limited releases with high-profile collaborators. A list that includes the likes of Bad Bunny and — unfortunately for everyone — Diplo.
These shoes have the unlikely distinction of being so hideous that they're almost entirely distinct from Crocs — striking out on their own, funghi protruding from the psychedelic toe-end, toward a Brave New World of ugly that the clog manufacturer could scarcely have dreamed of before now.
Jil Sander+ x Arc’teryx
Some collaborations just make sense. Sleek, modern, utilitarian, and quality driven: I could easily be talking about either of these two labels, so it's not much of a surprise to say that their collaborative effort ticks all the same form and functionality boxes.
With a focus on cold-weather activity, the capsule highlights include jackets, bibbed pants, and one-pieces, each boasting the kind of technical material credentials you'd expect, and finished with a glacially-inspired colour palette.
Balenciaga x The Simpsons
There are no two ways about this: it was bad. Not just a little off the mark, but full-on abomination levels of bad.
That is to say, in a year where the Paris-based high fashion label — under the watchful gaze of Demna, who has so successfully reinvigorated the house in so many other ways — partnered with a well-known children’s game to create one of the most cringeworthy crossovers in living memory, somehow this was worse.
True, it's not a collaboration in the pure sense; there's no actual clothes to speak of — which also means there's no hard evidence. All it leaves behind is the question: Why, in 2021, was a show universally acknowledged as decades past its prime the cultural go-to for a label known for taking risks and pushing boundaries?
Lil Nas X x MSCHF
MSCHF by name, MSCHF by nature. This wasn't a collaboration in the normal sense — a certain sportswear giant, after all, has gone to great lengths to make sure you know that they had no part in this whatsoever — but nonetheless it does what all good collaborations ought to do: it challenged perceptions, prejudices and the limits of the form.
It's fair to say that more than a little blood, sweat and tears went into dreaming this up — and even more when it comes to dealing with the aftermath.
COMME des GARÇONS x NIKE “Premier”
Straight off the bat, you'll either think these are sick or they'll make you think you're going to be sick. But it doesn't matter which, because both are achievements: in this oversaturated market, being able to elicit any kind of reaction — and kind of feeling — from your audience means you've done something special.
UNDERCOVER x Evangelion
I know people go wild for this kind of thing, but people also watched the FRIENDS reunion episode like it was the TV event of the century. In short, you can't trust people.
Jun Takahashi’s brand of punk-infused streetwear at UNDERCOVER can usually be relied on for its low-key, semi-minimal aesthetic, monotone colour palette, and slick use of borrowed iconography — and, where this crossover really doesn't deviate too much from that formula, it works here too.
Beyond the tees and the sweats, though, there are neon-hued padded jackets and matching gloves that are more in line with what springs to mind when you hear “90s anime collaboration.”
Supreme x Tiffany & Co.
File this one under “WTF” and, also, “Yeah, that tracks.”
Tiffany and Supreme — a global household name in high-end jewelry, and a drop-driven streetwear superpower, respectively — might seem worlds apart on the face of it, but they've more in common than you'd think.
Most notably, both are New York City institutions done good with their own, clear-cut USPs. Each brand’s distinct identity remains intact here, with Supreme box logo tees in Tiffany Blue accompanying an array of reimagined 1960s Tiffany products — such as the heart knife key ring and oval tag pearl necklace — coming in silver tones, accented by Supreme branding and a little extra contemporary edge.
adidas x Bored Ape Yacht Club
The jury is out on this one; not just in terms of what this Metaverse collaboration will produce in terms of actual designs, but also whether these kinds of link-ups actually make sense in the long, medium, or — to be honest — even short term.
Naturally, these will sell; after all, hyped-up monkey merch has never really had a problem shifting before.
Salehe Bembury x Crocs
This may come as a surprise given the less than glowing review for the other Crocs collaboration on this list. But Salehe Bembury is a gifted (professional) footwear designer, rather than a serial purveyor of increasingly aggravating “woop” noises by trade. And thus not all Crocs collaborations are created equal.
Yes, his YEEZY is showing, but Bembury plays with form here in a way that not many other Crocs collaborators take the initiative to do, turning these into what feels like an almost entirely different shoe.
And it pays off.