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The fashion industry has been abuzz lately with collaborations between luxury fashion houses and streetwear brands, and if the social media craze surrounding them is any indication of what’s to come, we can probably expect to see more in the future. What exactly do luxury and streetwear collaborations bring to the fashion industry, and why are we seeing them everywhere?
We were stunned when we first got a glimpse of Louis Vuitton’s iconic collaboration with streetwear label Supreme; the bold, eye-catching red alongside the classic monogrammed LV was an unusual pairing, to say the least. But behind the aesthetics of the collaboration and the statement pieces that graced the runway in 2016 lay an unspoken tension. Just 17 years ago, the labels were in the midst of a lawsuit.
In 1999, Supreme came under legal fire by Louis Vuitton as the streetwear brand was scrutinized for plagiarizing the iconic LV monogram pattern on a collection of skateboards, hats, and tees. And while it didn’t seem like Supreme had sincere intentions of blatantly ripping off LV, it sparked a conversation about the effect that merging the two labels had on pop culture, especially amongst a younger crowd. Could this have been what foreshadowed a new creative direction for Louis Vuitton as they experimented with collaborations to stay relevant and fun? It certainly seems so.
For years, luxury fashion houses have both been inspired by, and struggled to compete with, streetwear brands, and vice versa. While luxury brands have been a pillar in the fashion community for years, young, edgy streetwear definitely has its place as well. Put the two together, and you get an almost “punk” hybrid that appeals to more than just 30-something women living in fashion capitals of the world—you get wearable, accessible art.
“'It's about taking something that's very iconic and revered and defacing it and creating something new, somewhat rebellious, and kind of punk," [Marc] Jacobs explains.”
Call it punk, call it a nod to Duchamp’s iconic repurposed art—it doesn’t really matter because to be frank, neither of those concepts have a place in the luxury fashion market. So what does the world’s largest luxury conglomerate have to gain from collaborating with a non-luxury brand? The answer isn’t as simple as one might think. Sure, with a collaboration, or capsule collection as they’re often called, comes exposure and credibility, but it also comes with a new sense of coolness; just ask anyone who remembers LV’s “Millionaire” sunglasses created in collaboration with Pharrell Williams, or Kanye’s LV sneaker line that launched a few years later in 2009. The blend of pop culture with big name celebs and a classic, luxurious designer label is undeniably cool. Plus, by creating a capsule collection, designer brands can retain their status without diluting the entire brand—it’s a win-win.
To be fair, streetwear has been borrowing and parodying designs from luxury brands for years as well. The 80’s saw a surge in jackets, belts, and shoes modeled after popular luxury brands at the time, easily conveying style, status, and wealth at a single glance. It seemed only a matter of time that both worlds would soon collide, forming a mutually beneficial relationship. In the notoriously cutthroat industry that is fashion, brands must constant revamp, reimagine, and now, swallow their pride in order to stay alive.