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1. Spain Shines

In March, Spain saw an upsurge in brands using remarkable products to call attention to themselves.

Things kicked off with a widely publicised collaboration between two of the country’s favourite new-generation brands – Hawkers (no stranger to collaborations) and El Ganso. #ElGansobyHawkers is a capsule of Italian-made eyewear detailed in the outfitters’ signature colours The popular initiative gives Hawkers bricks-and-mortar retail presence in its largest market, while allowing it to present a more sophisticated, upscale range. Founded in 2004, El Ganso operates close to 180 stores in 10 countries and has been growing aggressively. For the label, moderately priced sunglasses that fit within its ‘Made in Europe’ container are a natural extension for Spring.

Shortly afterwards, Ecoalf (cited last month) announced a forthcoming collaboration with eighties fashion icon, Sybilla. Previews of a special fall/winter 2017 capsule show reversible rainwear that adds colour, femininity and fashion endorsement to Ecoalf’s repertoire and reputation. The surprising announcement adds to the legend of Sybilla, with Ecoalf’s recovered fabrics and know-how underlining the designer’s own environmental consciousness. Interestingly, Sybilla’s comeback since 2015 has largely relied on collaborations, pop-ups and other newsworthy actions that bolster her aura and show it as a label that operates by its own rules. It would be fabulous if this platform leads to more visibility and affinity for Ecoalf in Asia.

Also in March, Chupa Chups unveiled a poppy, playful range of intimates in the windows of more than 550 Tezenis stores worldwide. The team behind the iconic lollipop are among the best brand licensors in the world of FMCG.

In many ways, it was a breakthrough month in Spain where brand innovation moved closer to centre stage. In a landscape where retailers and digital services dominate much of the market conversation, this series of initiatives taken in March by consumer durable brands was pleasing to see. Even actions like Telepizza’s bizarre KitKat fusion have contributed in recent months to Spanish consumers and media becoming more attuned to remarkable products.

The changing tide is evident on the biggest stages too: Inditex and the business press were quick to highlight the contribution made by brand innovation to the Spanish group’s wildly successful financial year. Receiving specific mention were Zara’s Rolling Stones license and album tie-in, its Join Life sustainability platform, the new Marc Marquez collection at Pull & Bear, as well as artist collaborations at Massimo Dutti.

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Of course, brand innovation is far from being new to Spain. In fact, if there were a Hall of Fame for collaboration, Camper would have a special place within it. Pioneering programmes like Camper To&ether and Twins have been powerful platforms for connecting the Mallorcan shoemakers to avant-garde moods and personalities. Another chapter in Camper’s long narrative was added last month – a new collaboration with artist and make-up-auteur, Isamaya Ffrench. The tone of Ffrench’s photography and shoe designs gives Camper new stylistic and technical accents.

Finally, from the ‘Unintentional Collaboration’ file, the Spanish opposition party, PSOE, found itself unsure whether to celebrate or sue when its logo made an unplanned appearance in Stüssy’s latest collection. My advice? Just ride the tide…

 

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2. Best of British. More to come?

Perhaps more than any country – except, of course, Japan – UK brands show imagination and flair when it comes to collaboration and licensing. What is certain is that British luxury and fashion labels are extremely good at finding new ways to reference and revive archetypes of British character, style and tradition – many of which are well known, both at home and abroad.

UK fashion and luxury collaborations work particularly well as platforms for recycling familiar – often nostalgic – themes and projecting them through a contemporary filter. Partnerships are formed amongst themselves, or in conjunction with home-grown designers, creatives, ingredients and lifestyle brands. They frequently succeed at saluting British style, while expanding it at the same time – think of brands like Dr. Martens, Paul Smith and Liberty. With Brexit now a reality, going forward it’s reasonable to expect this investment in British identity and culture to continue, if not become more pronounced.

In March innovation in the UK featured – as usual – several, high quality initiatives aimed at making quintessentially British ideas even more British…

Cambridge Satchel Co x Brompton Bikes – two made-in-Britain design icons converge. Cambridge’s sturdy Batchel bags are reengineered to fit the front mounting system of Brompton’s quintessential folding bikes. Meanwhile both brands introduce limited availability products in exclusive, coordinating colours – including the distinctive oxblood leather.

London Undercover x Mr Men – Roger Hargreaves’ beloved characters come to life in the hands of the most earnest and fashionable name in gentlemen’s umbrellas, delivering personalisation and an injection of fresh spring colour across core products and accessories.

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Gerry McGovern x Orlebar Brown – Britain is a logical home for a major umbrella brand, but for exclusive swimwear? Orlebar Brown consistently puts itself at the centre of attention with special editions and collaborations: this time with capsules coordinated with Land Rover’s chief design officer. The expansive partnership comprises print coordinates, utility wear and a new, literal, interpretation of the swimsuit. Frankly, I think they made it all too complicated.

JCB safety eyewear at Specsavers – the beloved construction machinery brand is tapped by the UK’s largest opticians for a 20-piece collection of prescription work glasses. Simple, memorable, good.

 

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3. Urban Survivalists

The less visible face of 90s revival trends is the increasing presence of styling with gritty, military, utilitarian roots. Camouflage, matte finishes, durability and stripped-back functionality are becoming increasingly common design features and selling points. (Canvas cargo pants may have made a comeback too, but I’m too afraid to look).

It’s a trend that’s influencing the way products look and work, and how often we buy them. In fact, it also intersects with the sustainability trend covered last month: consumers’ affinity for ecological themes is driven as much by fear as care. With economic and political pressures driving many people towards greater self-sufficiency, it’s reasonable to expect the diversity and number of Urban Survivalist consumers to carry on growing. In response, so too will the brands and brand innovation platforms designed to cater to them.

In streetwear, the resurgence of military-infused brands like Alpha Industries and Timex has been marked over the last couple of years. After a long line of collectible collaboration models, Timex’s most recent special edition arrives with detailing from workwear icons, Carhartt WIP. More extreme is the latest collectible flask from Scottish distillers, The Macallan. Rather than employing sleek Lalique crystal, the design is pure futuristic military – provided by the engineers at the radical Swiss horologists, Urwerk. Still in luxury, Moncler’s collaboration with stylist Greg Lauren took on a dissonant, rugged look that fits comfortably within in the hybridisation trend noted in February.

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An associated trend that I have been slow to take seriously is EDC – also known as Everyday Carry. It’s where people share the contents of their bags and pockets and reveal the tools and items they need to get through their day. For many, EDC is a signifier of occupation, status and personality in the same way clothing is for the rest of us.

For marketers, the growing EDC movement is fascinating – and not only because it will make cargo pants popular again. It points to a vast zone of engagement where lifestyles and shopping converge – one where men are happy to share images and stories, while shining a light on new worlds of accessories. The numbers of successful, independent brands making notebooks, leathergoods, knives watches and tools have grown steadily over the last few years. European manufacturers and brands could be doing more in this area.