The Month in Brand Innovation


1. Have we Reached Peak Collaboration?

Various events over recent weeks have made it easy to become cynical about collaborations. With Heidi Klum presenting her upcoming “Heidi and the City” collection for Lidl, and H&M’s latest designer collaboration announcement failing to break the Internet, many commentators have been quick to pounce on falling impact and relevance as signs that yet another marketing fad is coming to an end.

But people who only pay attention to the boom and bust of high-profile campaigns have always been more interested in sensationalism than nuance. What they’ve failed to recognise all along is that collaboration isn’t so much a medium as a mechanism. A crowded landscape, falling quality and market fatigue have all levelled out the high dividends that typified collaborations before they became common-place. But while campaign teams may be finding it harder to replicate successes of the past, for design, content and brand managers, collaborations are streamlining performance – less in the manner of a shiny sports car and more like a much-needed fourth wheel.

Heidi Klum x Lidl, H&M xERDEM

Addressing the low-key response to H&M’s ERDEM collab announcement, an interesting article in Business of Fashion cited frequency of activity as a more important factor than scale: “that element of newness and surprise that collaborations can offer is a critical weapon in the war to stay present in the news feeds of consumers.”

With brands needing to innovate regularly to put themselves in the path of consumer attention, collaborations offer a reliable way to vary the message while adding impact and reach. Rather than simply outsourcing reputation and creativity, the best collaborations hold up a prism to what makes a brand great. In this month’s collaboration between Vans and Karl Lagerfeld, sensationalism plays an obvious role, but the capsule’s fresh interpretation of Vans’ iconic checkerboard design exploits a vital visual hook while prasing the good taste of Vans and its most ardent followers.

Lagerfeld x Vans, Sacai x The North Face

A natural by-product of frequency is diversity. Vans, along with other dynamic brands like The North Face (both VF Corporation) use a broad range of collaborations to avoid repetition, widen their repertoire and continually lean into channels and communities that would otherwise pay them little attention.

Mega-campaigns, mismatched partners and thinly disguised celebrity endorsements will continue to erode public goodwill towards collaborations: no longer can consumers be expected to applaud just because a collaboration is happening.

What they can be relied on to do is react positively to products and stories that invite discovery and function as conversation pieces. In this regard, the future health of collaboration looks as promising as ever.


Hermes bicycle

2. Cycling Spreads Out

Past columns have often highlighted examples of conservative product categories borrowing tactics from the fashion industry to innovate and draw attention to their lifestyle function. Audio & home entertainment products are a regular source, but cycling is making a strong challenge in this area too.

In cycling at least three different trends are at work. First is the assimilation of performance cycling into culture, as seen in projects from Ralf Hütter’s Kraftwerk-inspired limited edition for Canyon to the involvement of non-specialist brands like Le Coq Sportif, New Era, Tissot and Oakley in merchandising the Tour de France. The most recent collection from Alexander Wang for adidas also takes cues from competitive cycling.

Kraftwerk x Canyon, Tissot x TdF

The second factor is the attention of luxury brands – as witnessed most recently in a limited edition Tokyobike with leather appointments and accessories made by Serapian. An article published earlier this year gave several explanations for luxury’s heightened interest in cycling, citing a rise in popularity among women and the clever observation that “cycling is a vacation — for a few hours at a time, you cannot use your phone, cannot do any work, cannot be plugged into the world.”

Finally, makers of recreational bikes are gradually paying more attention to aesthetics and turning to lifestyle brands, external designers and licensed properties for remarkable style references and greater visibility. As well as State Bicycle’s inventive use of The Simpsons, last month saw Brompton mimic its recent collaboration with Cambridge Satchel Company by teaming up with Barbour on a coordinated bike, bag and riding jacket. Alongside classic names like Brompton and Brooks England, design-centric brands like Tokyobike, Martone and cyclewear specialists, Rapha, are regularly in the headlines with creative new projects built on enhanced aesthetics and storytelling.

Serapian x Tokyobike, Barbour x Brompton

About Gavin Brown

Founder of brand innovation agency, Crescendo Brands...providing research, insights, creativity and leads to brands in need of remarkable products.