Collaborations have always been a staple in the fashion industry, particularly in street fashion. However, the rise of social media influencer and hype culture has changed the nature of these collaborations. What used to be a rare or limited release is now commonplace for emerging brands, and collaborations have even become a way for lesser known brands to establish themselves in the industry. This new method of getting a seat at the big boys’ fashion table has reduced the barriers to entry that once limited newer and smaller brands from gaining widespread influence. It has also simplified the creative process and quality of these collaborations.
Back in 2007, New York skate brand Supreme made waves with its first North Face collaboration, a collection of 90s outdoor gear themed Summit Jackets. The innovative line played with warm and retro colors, featured subtle Supreme branding down the sleeves, and even stunned with a leopard print lining that was not too loud, but gave the jackets some pop. That first Supreme North Face iteration set the standard for what outerwear collaborations should be: creative and unique takes on a company’s staple product. The Summit Jacket was always a constant presence in New York winter wardrobes and Supreme gave it a makeover that took it from a monochromatic shell jacket to a collector’s fashion piece. Both brands were clearly represented, yet the end product was something unique.
Fast-forward to today’s street fashion collaborations and the effort put forth seems to be completely different. Although major players such as Supreme and Palace constantly drop respectable pieces or push the envelope enough to excite consumers, the newer brands seem to lack this creative prowess. Antisocial Social Club is a new age streetwear brand that garnered a loyal following through its mysterious branding and simple aesthetic. The majority of their pieces feature the phrase “Antisocial Social Club” over the heart of a piece and a larger sized version of the logo covers the back. Antisocial’s collaborations this year featured much of the same.
The Antisocial x Undefeated “Paranoid” collaboration displayed orange and black T-shirts, hoodies, and hats that donned the phase “Paranoid” across the middle of each piece and the five strikes Undefeated logo on the sleeves. The collection lacked creativity, or any highlight feature that most fans of either brand could not have come up with themselves. Simply put, the drop could have been designed by a replica goods manufacturer in China and consumers would not have been able to tell the difference. Yet, the collaboration was extremely successful, garnering hype as both a pop up store and as a featured booth at Complex Con.
What the collaboration lacked in creativity, it more than made up for in hype. This is only possible because of the incredible influence of social media and hype culture that exists in today’s street fashion market. Once celebrities like Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa were seen rocking Antisocial gear, the brand immediately caught fire on the internet as a new hot brand. Each drop was kept in limited quantities to make the brand super exclusive, despite its lack of design. This social media influence allowed the newer Antisocial Social Club to work with the likes of Undefeated, an LA streetwear giant. Thus, through social media, Antisocial was able to get a seat the big boys’ table and be recognized as an established streetwear brand despite a long track record of excellence or any real story.
This concept of social media hype extends past Antisocial Social Club’s collaborations to even the likes of Bape. Bape, once the brain child of culture creator Nigo, is now owned by I.T. Group in Hong Kong. Even without its creator director at the helm, Bape still does better than ever using the same camo print it has become known for. This year’s Bape x Champion collection featured sweatshirts that simply had both logos on the chest and hood. There was no creative element in the drop at all. It almost seemed as if designers had not been involved in the process, and the brands had simply made the release overnight. Yet, because of the hype behind Bape, the lack of effort or imagination did not matter. Bape x Champion sold out in seconds.
The lowering quality and creativity put forth by popular streetwear brands provides an area of concern for street fashion culture. Collaborative collections no longer require different or quality designs and aesthetic to become successful, they require a brand with social media hype. The growing use of social media outlets like Instagram to find out about new brands makes creating hype easier than ever. Thus, there is a growing fear among street fashion purists that we have lost the design aspects of street fashion that make clothes pieces of art. Instead, more and more brands seem to be taking the hype route and ride simple branding to widespread influence. Once these hype brands collaborate with a more established brand, their place in street culture is cemented despite the lack of artistry or value added to the industry.
This isn’t to say that all collaborations these days lack creativity. There are plenty of up and coming brands or established brands that continue to bless us with something new. Kith’s recent Aspen collection with Columbia displayed a technical and retro design that brought back color patterns ski resorts and the streets of New York had not seen in a while. Palace’s recent work with adidas Originals brought new meaning to cozy sweatsuits and offered a different take on the classic adidas tracksuit. This article also does not mean to reduce these new hype brands like Antisocial Social Club to lazy brands. There is creativity to be found within the simple branding of Antisocial or the classic camo look found on Bape products. The hope is that this initial creativity that made both brands successful and hyped will continue to evolve rather than remain stagnant. Collaborations provide an opportunity to make these advancements, and I hope the brands take advantage of that opportunity. We don’t need more sweatshirts that replica factories can create. We need more artistry that inspires future designers and reminds us that fashion is a way to express our individuality, not to fit into the mold.