On the surface, fashion collaborations might seem like an exciting way to generate new business and overall sales performance. Whether the collaboration is relatively obvious, such as Gucci and Adidas, or more surprising, such as Crocs and Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen and Target, they certainly create interest and engagement, typically in terms of generating new customers. And it’s relatively clear that in terms of luxury brands collaborating with more mass brands, the goal is to connect with the aspirational customer.
Dig below the surface, and the efficacy of these collaborations, and their ability to truly capture new customers and increase sales, is dubious at best, especially for the luxury brand. It’s not like the typical Target customer all of the sudden shopped at the McQueen boutique, paying $1000s more for an item that was under $100 at Target. In fact, for many brands, these high-profile collaborations often raise a bar that cannot be easily or consistently recreated—forcing luxury brands to chase after their business, which is hardly the modus operandi of luxury brands and their quest for exclusivity. In fact, often these collaborations are a signal that all is not well with a brand—and that without relying on the affinity or success of another more accessible brand—they are not meeting their numbers.
Let’s take the recent Gucci collaboration with Adidas. While this relationship is more obvious than some, if anything, it reinforces that the only difference between a $75 Adidas sneaker—that already comes with cultural clout—and the Gucci version, is the logo, brand colors, trim and a $800+ price tag. For all the conversation about values of “authenticity” and “transparency” this seems to be the opposite of that—proof that luxury relies more on “smoke and mirrors” than any real differentiation in quality. If there is a winner in all of this, it’s that Adidas sneakers are still a great deal. This might be oversimplifying things a bit, but looking at the luxury market in general, it’s easy to see a shift towards mass or fast luxury anyway, which is causing brands like Chanel to distance themselves from the luxury pack and dig deeper into their own DNA, rather than seek collaborations.
Another important component to consider when it comes to these types of collaborations is that most of these luxury brands are now owned and operated by LVMH or Kering Group. This allows them the ability to play these types of games, without necessarily having to turn a real profit for the individual brand themselves. It’s more a game of keeping these brands relevant while they may be underperforming. After all fashion is a cycle, and the expectation is that these brands will likely have their chance for cultural clout again. After all, it’s easier to resurrect a heritage luxury brand than it is to start a new one. Just ask Rihanna.