Those paying attention to the runways at Paris Fashion Week will have seen Lanvin’s collaboration with DC Comics and Balenciaga’s link up with The Simpsons. It was impossible to miss, as is the (re)emerging trend of cartoon sneaker collaborations.
Brands collaborating with cartoon and comic franchises is nothing new. BAPE’s early ’00s Marvel pack includes some of the most sought-after BAPE-STAs, while Vans alone has collaborated with the likes of Toy Story, SpongeBob SquarePants, Marvel (multiple times), and Disney, to name but a few. However, with more big collaborations between the two worlds popping up recently — two of which were on show in Paris — it feels like we’re at the beginning of a developing trend.
Lanvin didn’t merely collaborate with DC Comics, the luxury brand took its most popular shoe in ages and put huge Cat Woman and Batman heads where the tongue should be. Balenciaga’s The Simpsons link up, while not technically a product collaboration, is a partnership cut from the same cloth. Instead of putting Bart or Homer’s faces on its (admittedly cartoony-looking) shoes, Balenciaga dressed up the iconic characters in its collection and made them part of the show. So while there’s no actual Balenciaga x The Simpsons product, the show’s characters still played an instrumental part in the collection’s reveal.
Other brands have also tapped cartoon and comic franchises for collaborations recently. adidas has released a range of The Simpsons sneakers, most notably the “Krusty Burger” adidas ZX 10.000 and the Ned Flanders-inspired McCarten, and Jeremy Scott’s cartoonish adidas collaborations are being re-released.
Palace and Vans also recently teamed up on a collaboration that saw Jeremy the Duck become the focal point for the London streetwear staple’s first-ever Vans collab. And, a little longer ago, Nike basketball tapped SpongeBob SquarePants for a highly successful collection that used the Kyrie 5 as the canvas.
This isn’t to say that you’re going to see cartoon sneaker collaborations at every single fashion show or on every single drop day, but there’s enough smoke to take notice. And where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
It makes total sense that brands would tap these kinds of franchises for sneaker collaborations. Whenever a brand licenses a trademark or collaborates with a comic or cartoon franchise, the resulting sneaker immediately becomes relevant for an entirely new set of consumers. The collab opens doors to fans of the franchise, many of whom are even bigger collectors than sneakerheads, and buy everything to do with their favorite show or characters. This happened when adidas collaborated with Dragon Ball Z in 2018. Sneakerheads were mildly into the shoes, and it was fans of the iconic anime that went crazy for the sneakers on drop day. The same occurred with the Game of Thrones x adidas Ultraboost collection.
Further, most of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters have been comic franchises. Pre-corona, Marvel’s movies were constantly shattering box office records. Some of the biggest pop culture moments were born from these films. In collaborating with such properties, sportswear brands are, at the very least, guaranteeing themselves a captive audience. At the very worst, they’ve tied product to a winning horse and sell more than they would have thanks to the extra exposure. If all goes to plan, however, brands are looking at the ultimate cash cow and (potentially) future grail status.
Balenciaga x The Simpsons and, to a lesser extent, Lanvin x DC Comics stole Paris Fashion Week. We wouldn’t be surprised to see other brands follow in their footsteps and reignite yet another cycle of the formidable sneaker x comic franchise collaboration. Sneakerheads are, after all, nerds in their own right.
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