At the end of every year we take the time to look back on how the past 12 months have affected the street fashion scene we know and love. Shortlisted by us, but chosen by our readers, the Highsnobiety Crowns are our way of celebrating the leading forces in our field, and the changing face of our industry. And like last year, the winners will receive special aluminum key trophies designed by Snarkitecture and Highsnobiety.
There was a time when the idea of two distinct brands working together on a product was an alien concept. It’s strange to think about now, but collaboration in a fashion context has only been around since the mid-’90s, and even then it was largely the reserve of Japanese streetwear brands.
But now, in the year 2017, collaboration has become a vital element of fashion. Sneaker brands and stores alike depend upon collaborative releases to breathe fresh perspectives into product, high street retailers regularly collaborate with “true” designers to elevate their accessible offerings, and even once closed-off fashion houses have now lowered their guard, allowing artists, musicians, and other designers to reimagine their brand.
With that, here’s how you voted in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns awards for Best Fashion Collaboration, along with one extra Editors’ Choice for each category, chosen by us.
The Best Fashion Collaboration of 2017
Bronze – Junya Watanabe x The North Face
Our world is built on great brands (and minds) coming together to create products and ideas that are stronger than anything each respective contributor could have come up with on his or her own. That’s why Vetements’ collab-heavy S/S 2017 collection wasn’t that groundbreaking for us—we’re used to seeing “X” between brand names. Junya Watanabe is no exception. Some of the brands he often works with have a provenance of hardworking heritage, like Levi’s and Pendleton. But what he always does is dig into the core of what makes that brand great, and plug it into the zeitgeist.
His F/W 2017 collab with The North Face sums that up perfectly. In a collection that included co-branded product with Carhartt and Levi’s, it’s the pieces he did with the storied outerwear manufacturer that stood out the most. For anyone who thinks the workwear trend’s heyday is over, Watanabe never ceases to make it relevant again.
For the real heads, there’s the attention and appreciation of craft—Watanabe took one of TNF’s most popular bags, deconstructed it, and reformed it into several directional outerwear pieces. And for the more casual fashion fans, he simply took TNF’s Canyon puffer jacket, made it in three colorways, and exploded a screenprint graphic on the back.
The result is something in line with today’s obsession with visible signifiers of status and brand alignment, but also something that communicates membership in the cognoscenti—the uninformed may see it as simply another TNF jacket, but those who know, know—and they silently approve.
Silver – Vetements x Champion
Vetements—a brand whose name is literally the French word for “clothing,” and Champion, a humble sportswear manufacturer whose name is synonymous with winning, created one of the most subversive and polarizing collaborations of the year. Egregiously expensive for what it is, that’s part of the appeal. It calls into question what “luxury” even means anymore, and further pushes designer Demna Gvasalia’s agenda of making an uncanny valley between forward-thinking design, utilitarian garments, and high-priced status symbols.
It begs the question—if you simply wear a Champion sweatshirt, is it still as cool as the Vetements collaboration? Granted, the Rochester, NY-born knitwear company is worthy of attention on its own merits—after all, its reverse weave hoodie is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art, replete with a purchasable MoMA collab. But it also inadvertently points out the very quandary the fashion industry is in: As fashion is more democratized, how can it retain its aura of exclusivity?
This particular collab, with its aspirational price range, limited availability, and unpredictable shelf life, may not be the total answer, but it’s certainly got people thinking about where this is all headed.
Gold – Supreme x Louis Vuitton
The “One Ring” of all possible collaborations, Supreme and Louis Vuitton coming together to create an expansive capsule collection is the perfect example of how street fashion has superseded fashion as a whole. What used to stand as a contrast to stuffy, aspirational brands has now become the new aspiration.
Some diehards see it as a nail in the coffin, while others see it as the smashing of a glass ceiling. Streetwear as we know it is now seen as much on the catwalks as it is on the sidewalks. The sky is truly the limit for any young kid who wants to start a brand around some cool T-shirts.
But on the upside, now that labels like Supreme are becoming so entrenched in the establishment they once never thought they’d be a part of, it demonstrates the need for younger minds and brands to fill the gap in their place. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Supreme got a cease and desist from Louis Vuitton for flipping its designs. What better time than the present to kill the old gods and start worshipping something new?
Editors’ Choice – Junya Watanabe x The North Face
It was a real toss-up between this and Martine Rose’s Napapijri collaboration, but in the end we had to give it to Junya. The two projects are arguably similar–a left-field designer putting their own unique twist on a storied outdoors brand—but the meeting of Junya and The North Face was the collision of two iconic names in contemporary fashion, and created such fertile ground for experimentation.
And as the end product showed, Junya ran with it. He’s long been known for his alchemic ability to re-contextualize styles, fabrics and even entire objects into new forms, but seeing him turn a The North Face duffel bag into parkas and varsity jackets – complete with the webbing tape handle across the back of that varsity–was perfect. It was one of those collaborations we’d all been waiting for without even knowing it.
As for Martine Rose, she’s now demonstrated unequivocally that she knows how to bring a big name brand into her world and make it her own. If I’m not wrong, she’ll be back on our shortlist very soon, and it’ll be hard to overlook her a second time.