The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. All shortlists are chosen by the in-house editorial staff at Highsnobiety, with the final result left up to you, the reader. Every voter will be automatically entered to win one of two prizes. This year’s grand prize is a $1,500 gift card with two runner-up gift cards valued at $500 each, courtesy of luxury shopping destination LUISAVIAROMA. Stay tuned for the final results on December 21 and see who won last year here.
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.
Somewhat appropriately, the shortlist for Best Fashion Collaboration exemplifies how broad and diverse the collaboration has become in 2017, spanning everything from street art and sneakers to Japanese fashion, and arguably the most famous fashion brand in the entire world.
Supreme x Louis Vuitton
It all started back in January, quite casually, with an Instagram post. On his personal account, Kim Jones, men’s style director at Louis Vuitton, posted an image of a Louis Vuitton handbag decorated with a Supreme sticker. Around the same time, photographs began leaking of a white T-shirt bearing a textured motif combining the iconic Louis Vuitton monogram and Supreme’s box logo.
Then, on January 18 at Louis Vuitton’s Fall/Winter 2017 Paris Fashion Week Menswear presentation, all was revealed. In perhaps the most ambitious collaboration ever from either brand, Supreme and Louis Vuitton joined forces on a collection of apparel, luggage, footwear, headwear, and leather accessories. Prices ranged from the hundreds of dollars to eye-watering levels, while the hype, more simply, hit fever pitch and stayed there all summer until the end of June, when the collection finally hit shelves.
Well, sort of. Selling out of special collaborative pop-up stores around the world, a number of releases were plagued with issues, particularly in the States. Local permits were denied, pop-ups in certain cities were cancelled, then un-cancelled, then re-cancelled, while other locations ran out of product before expectations, and others, of course, went off without a hitch.
But put simply, this collaboration represented a number of things, depending on where you were sitting. For Supreme, it was the collaboration that confirmed their status as more than just a New York skate brand; as a key figure in the men’s fashion world for the past 20 years. For Louis Vuitton, it cemented Kim Jones’s adept command of men’s fashion from the highest reaches to the street level. And for the world in general, it was a showcase in the language of 21st century fashion – collaborative product, pop-up releases and, perhaps most importantly, the power of the youth to lead the conversation.
Napapijri x Martine Rose
Considering she’s also been nominated for our Breakthrough Brand award, it would be crazy not to put Martine Rose’s collaboration with Napapijri on the shortlist for Best Collaboration.
As we’ve explained already, 2017 was the year when Rose’s playful blend of the mundanely outrageous and outrageously mundane came into vogue in a broader sense. Though her mainline’s reinventions of white-collar workers and late 20th century style spearhead this approach, it was her collaboration with Napapijri that proved how potent this approach can really be.
True to Rose’s style, the collaboration took familiar Napapijri silhouettes, and flipped them on their head with oversized cuts that dwarf the wearer, unorthodox material approaches, and big, bright color blocks. It was Napapijri, but not like you’d ever seen it before.
And that was kind of the beauty of it all. From the pieces, to the lookbooks, to the styling, this wasn’t so much a reinvention of Napapijri as it was a representation of them. Rose gave us a version of the brand that had somehow always been there, and made it completely new and refreshing. And if you got the chance to try one of those jackets on, there’s no way you didn’t fall in love with it immediately. It’s difficult to know what else to say about the collaboration. It was just done right.
Rihanna x PUMA
It’s been a hell of a year for Rihanna. If you’ve been paying any attention to the women in your life – partners, crushes, baes, WCWs, or otherwise – you’ll know that 2017 has been a series of wins for the pop singer turned fashion and beauty mogul Robyn Rihanna Fenty. Of course, the biggest story was undoubtedly the launch of FENTY Beauty, Rihanna’s LVMH-backed beauty line that caused a social media earthquake with over 40 shades of foundation for women of all skin tones and left every other makeup manufacturer unquestionably shook. Seriously, it even triggered a few social media beefs (cough, Make Up For Ever).
But this wasn’t the only field where Rihanna casually fucked up the game this year. Her collaborative FENTY series with PUMA, initially a handful of footwear silhouettes, stepped up the gears in 2017, expanding into comprehensive clothing collections that arguably outshone many “true” fashion labels.
Her Spring/Summer 2017 collection transformed classic sportswear textiles and silhouettes into ostentatious, 18th century-influenced garments loaded with frills, tassels, lace, and embroidery, rounded off with campaign imagery inspired by the original rich girl, Marie Antoinette.
For Fall/Winter 2017, she turned her attention to university life and classic collegiate style, amplifying varsity elements like woolen pullovers, chenille patches, and woven check across oversized designs that brought the noise to a trend that’s been dominated by stuffy, conservative perspectives all too often. And then, she rounded it off with a Spring/Summer 2018 presentation that nailed the current sportswear trend, as well as fashion’s burgeoning fascination with motorcycle culture and leather apparel perfectly.
But most importantly, when talking about anything Rihanna has done this year, her PUMA FENTY collaboration was significant not just in what she presented, but the way she presented it. From her models, to her campaign imagery, to her focus, to herself, everything Rihanna has done with her FENTY projects has been unapologetically female, unapologetically outspoken, and unapologetically black.
Gosha Rubchinskiy x Kappa
When Gosha Rubchinskiy debuted his Spring/Summer 2017 collection at Pitti Uomo all the way back in June of last year, it was pretty clear that 2017 was going to be a big year for him. Presenting a sprawling collection of his post-Soviet aesthetic loaded with rigid cuts, ‘90s sportswear, and a vibrant color palette, it was in many ways a typical affair from the Russian designer.
But the collection was also a tribute to a number of historic Italian sportswear brands that underpinned Russia’s fashion consciousness in the years that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Labels like Fila and Sergio Tacchini, brands that have fallen out of favor with the fashion crowd in recent years (or decades), were brought back to life in Rubchinskiy’s eyes, not so much reinvented but served as a reminder of what they originally were. Most significant of these revivals was that of Kappa. In a comeback that few saw coming, 2017 was the year when Kappa experienced a return to vogue, undoubtedly thanks to Gosha’s Midas touch.
There was a time when Kappa was viewed as a premium sportswear label, highly sought-after by British football casuals. But throughout the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, declining sales, licensing deals, and other events saw Kappa turn into another bargain bucket sportswear brand. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the UK, where the brand was swept up in a pervasive class-snobbery that demonized working class people and their clothing brands of choice like Burberry, Reebok Classics, and so on. In fact, the brand name became a component of one of the worst insults of the era, used to refer to young girls who wore tracksuits and trainers “Kappa Slappers.”
If there was one designer who could turn those associations into a mark of distinction, however, it’s Gosha. Like much of his work, the designer’s collaboration with Kappa played on the brand’s deep connection to Russia’s impoverished youth of the ‘90s, elevating commonplace Kappa designs by doing little more than applying his Cyrillic logo to the chest. The “Robe di Kappa” logo became an unexpected hit of 2017, and judging by some of Kappa’s recent work with Opening Ceremony and its Slam Jam-designed Kappa Kontroll line, the iconic Italian sportswear brand is well and truly back.
Junya Watanabe x The North Face
Junya Watanabe has long been known for his fascination with reconstruction and deconstruction. He’s rebuilt Levis jackets out of linen and leather, created clothes that look better worn inside out than the right way round, and has created a patchwork version of virtually every garment under the sun.
But this year, Watanabe pushed that ethos forward in one of his most fascinating ways yet, joining up with The North Face to present a repurposed collection with a technical outerwear twist. At the core, each piece in the collection struck a familiar tone to other Watanabe releases; classic men’s workwear silhouettes with a distinctly nostalgic feel, rebuilt in unorthodox panel constructions and a rich palette of colors.
Most interesting, however, was the fact that each piece incorporated pieces of heavy duty, waterproof fabric more commonly seen on The North Face’s popular Base Camp duffle bag. The collection’s distinctive black and yellow varsity jacket even retained the bag’s webbing tape handle, placing it across the shoulder blades.
Naturally, the collaboration lent itself to unexpected logo placements and the collision of traditional tailoring and contemporary tech that Junya Watanabe does so well. But most of all, it was just brilliant to see one of the world’s most popular outdoor brands reimagined by one of the most exciting designers of our time. Name a more iconic duo.
KAWS x Uniqlo
New York street artist turned superflat art icon Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, is best known for his iconic “Companion” character, its skull and crossbone head, and its distinctive X’ed-out eyes. But when it comes to understanding the deeper meaning and motivation in his work, it’s important to remember one of his biggest influences – Warhol.
From his original street art “interventions” taking over New York bus stops with his own creations, to his collectible vinyl figurines and plush character dolls, KAWS, like Warhol, is a firm believer in the idea that art should be accessible, and enjoyable for everyone – that we should all be able to own our own personal piece of art.
This is why his massive collaboration with Japanese fast-fashion retailer Uniqlo was a brilliant, logical progression of everything he’s done throughout his career. Applying familiar characters (as well as modifications of Charles M. Schulz’s iconic Peanuts comics) to T-shirts and accessories sold around the world, the KAWS x Uniqlo collection brought Brian Donnelly’s pop art to the world at an affordable price, and set the internet on fire. Product sold out in seconds – an absolutely absurd concept in the context of a mass retailer like Uniqlo – and his collaborative Snoopy plush toy continues to resell for a considerable markup the resell market.
Overall, the reason we put KAWS x Uniqlo on the shortlist for Best Fashion Collaboration is similar to our reasoning for Supreme x Louis Vuitton; it was a collaboration that brought the hype and hysteria of streetwear to a new corner of fashion – mass fashion, selling out T-shirts in the tens of thousands (maybe even hundreds). Not bad for a day’s work.
KITH x Nike
Between his iconic ASICS Tiger footwear releases, his work with adidas Originals, or his regular creative work with artist Daniel Arsham, Ronnie Fieg has cemented himself as a king of collaboration. This year, Fieg set his sights on more than sneakers when KITH announced an expansive collaboration with Nike – the “Take Flight” collection.
Inspired by Fieg’s childhood and memories of idolizing Scottie Pippen, the “Take Flight” collection was naturally underpinned by special editions of the Nike Air Maestro 2 and Air Pippen 1 silhouettes, presented, as always, in Fieg’s inimitable color-blocked style.
But the accompanying apparel was where Nike x KITH really made a statement, taking things straight back to the ‘90s with a sportswear range loaded with bright colors, nostalgic fabrics, and full-body, oversized Swooshes. We were also given a healthy dose of colors and patterns straight out of the era, including bold purple graphics and lashings of leopard print. Put simply, it was a collection built from pure sportswear nostalgia, and one that reinforced Fieg’s command of streetwear history, as well as his command of current trends. Sneakerheads rejoice.
Readymade x BAPE
When Yuta Hosokawa announced his brand READYMADE would be taking up a place at Maxfield LA in October, it went without saying that the brand would need to pull some interesting tricks. Fortunately, Hosokawa made a beeline for the original Japanese streetwear brand – BAPE.
Diving into the raw military influences that leak out of BAPE through its obsession with camouflage, shark-face motif and Planet of the Apes inspirations, READYMADE’s collaborative product transformed BAPE’s wild and wacky aesthetic into something much more subdued, switching out abundant graphics and prints for embroidered patches, replacing BAPE camo with heavy duty cotton in olive drab.
Overall, it was the kind of thing you’d expect looking at READYMADE’s broader repertoire, but the incorporation of familiar BAPE iconography in a whole new mode was just refreshing, and done so well that it demonstrated, in our eyes, the way a collaboration should be done. More than slamming two logos together, it was unique product created in the spirit of shared ideals. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, right?
Greg Lauren x Moncler
In the years that have passed since he first launched his eponymous label in 2011, Greg Lauren has carved out a nice little space for himself in the fashion world. Of course, being the nephew of America’s most famous fashion designer hasn’t hurt, but there’s also the fact that Lauren’s rough, gnarled deconstruction of the traditional American wardrobe fits perfectly into the current fashion zeitgeist, as well as being a great response to the legacy of uncle Ralph.
With an M.O. like that, designs that collide basketball jerseys with military shirts or hoodies with denim jackets, as well as heavily-distressed garments that appear to have lived through the entire 20th century, come as no surprise. But it was the designer’s collaboration with historic French/Italian outdoors brand Moncler that really brought Greg Lauren’s disruptive aesthetic to life.
At its core, it was a familiar affair; classic Moncler silhouettes like quilted jackets and gilets, ripped to shreds and stitched back together with components from denim jackets, military garments, and wool sweaters, but the interplay between Lauren’s oeuvre, an inquiry into how utilitarian clothing like denim and army jackets were adopted in favor of fashion; and Moncler, the quintessential utilitarian brand turned fashion icon; somehow managed to make two familiar tropes fresh and exciting in a whole new way.
Cutting out panels of a down-filled jacket and replacing them with patches of cotton twill unquestionably depletes the garment’s use value. Style-wise, however, it all just looked too fucking cool to ever say no to. Fashion’s never really been about function, after all.
Vetements x Champion
By now, Vetements’ love affair with collaborating is well-documented. Their Spring/Summer 2017 presentation featured 18 unique collaborations, after all, working with everyone from Carhartt and Kawasaki to Canada Goose and Juicy Couture. It was a collection from a high-fashion brand that effectively outsourced every element of production to someone else; all they had to do was stick a logo on it at the end. And of course, it took us all by surprise, but there was perhaps one collaboration we should have seen coming.
It was Vetements’ reconstructed cotton sweatpants and hoodies featuring a repurposed version of Champion’s familiar logo that first rocketed Demna Gvasalia’s fashion label to fame at the beginning of 2016, after all. Seeing what Gvasalia’s DHL T-shirt did for DHL, it makes sense that Champion would take the logo flip in its stride and even push things further.
So in Spring/Summer 2017, Vetements and Champion reunited on a range of hoodies and sweatpants, most notably versions with Champion’s familiar side tape draped down off the sleeves and cuffs. Other versions presented more traditional silhouettes with unorthodox holes and separations, while others continued Gvasalia’s habit for elevating the mundane by transforming hoodies resembling street vendor tourist merchandise into one of the season’s hottest fashion pieces.
In a season that was defined by its outlandish collaborations, it was hard to choose a single one for this shortlist, but ultimately Vetements’ constant collision of high-fashion and street style, as well as the evolution from logo flip to full-blown collaborative effort, means this collaboration had a number of layers that made it stand out in our eyes.
The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. See all of this year’s nominees here.
- Illustrations: Stephen Cheetham