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Year in Review: Cranking Out the Collaborations

The fashion-collaboration craze continued full-force in 2022 but the combination of the Yeezy ones that went notoriously sour and the arguable inundation of these types of partnerships made some question if co-branded products can or will maintain their appeal much longer.

Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga was terminated after Ye (f.k.a. Kanye West) went on racist rants and exhibited offensive and troubling behavior. He pulled the plug eight years prematurely on the deal in September and Balenciaga formally severed all ties with the rapper-entrepreneur the following month. Adidas followed suit soon after and ended its profitable collaboration with him as well.

The media circus over Ye’s public meltdown was a clear reminder that brands need to choose their creative partners carefully. The lesson was also abundantly clear later in 2022 when anonymous British artist Banksy lashed out at Guess for selling a capsule that allegedly used his artwork without his permission and H&M pulled its Justin Bieber collection from stores after the singer claimed on Instagram that he did not approve any of the merchandise.

Despite those very public snafus, collaborations flourished throughout the year to the point that retail intelligence firm Edited released a report that concluded that there were far too many.

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Edited said, “Though products can accumulate value over time, the evolution of AI and bots allow consumers to buy products faster, speeding up demand for collaborations, which have now reached saturation point. While there will still be interest in new drops, 2022 and beyond will see an increased pressure on brand partnerships to create something special in order to cut through the noise and avoid becoming ‘just another collaboration.’”

Whether “just another one” or an ingenious pairing, here is a rundown of the co-branded collections–and the general trends in collaboration–that made 2022 a year that was rife with brand bonding.

Jeanswear giants lead the pack

At least in the denim sector, two competing behemoths—Levi’s and Wrangler—issued the most collaborations this year.

Ambush x Levi’s / Courtesy

Levi’s had more than a dozen in 2022 and teamed with previous collaborators for some. In January, it launched its third collection with Japanese brand Beams in Japan. This “Super Wide” men’s capsule featured on-trend boxy silhouettes on a Trucker jacket, a pair of 501 jeans and a pocket tee. It was followed by two more with Japanese labels: Tokyo streetwear brand Ambush in September and the third Levi’s x Undercover drop in November.

July saw the arrival of Levi’s second collection with tennis star Naomi Osaka (the first debuted in August 2021) along with its second with buzzy brand Denim Tears, which was a frequent fashion teammate with other labels throughout the year. Levi’s also released its third collab with Danish brand Ganni, a relationship that began in 2020.

Pop culture and designer names also served as creative companions. Over the course of the year Levi’s distributed capsules inspired by “The Simpsons,” the animated film franchise “Minions” and just in time for Halloween, clothing featuring the legendary monsters from Universal Pictures.

In addition, Levi’s worked with designer Reese Cooper to create a capsule that was shown during Paris Fashion Week, launched a lingerie-inspired, gender-neutral capsule with L.A. brand No Sesso (both were released in June), debuted a women’s capsule created from upcycled denim by young designer Danielle Guizio and ended the year as it started it with an assortment of new loose-fit pieces. This time though they were Levi’s SilverTab and were created with 194 Local, a vintage retailer with stores in London and Los Angeles.

Mr. Wrangler collection by Leon Bridges / Courtesy

Western denim mainstay Wrangler also offered a slew of collaborations to mark its 75th anniversary. It blended preppy and cowpoke with Gant, rocked out with Fender guitars (a similar union between Billy Reid and Gibson followed a few months later) and saluted the Kevin Costner TV show “Yellowstone.” The brand got high-tech with Deadfellaz, a Web3 media company and popular zombie-themed NFT collection, and unveiled the “Mr. Wrangler” collection and accompanying NFTs, which was co-created and fronted by musician Leon Bridges.

The Kontoor Brands-owned label concluded the celebration at year’s end with a cooperation with 159-year-old Pendleton Woolen Mills that blended the latter’s signature patterned wool with denim and the charitable auction of a diamond encrusted belt buckle made by Montana Silversmiths. In December it also released limited edition cowboy boots and jeans made from Cone Denim with iconic Texas bootmaker Lucchese.

You gotta have art

Working in tandem with artists or artistic-themed organizations remained a popular option for denim brands.

Mud Jeans x Van Gogh Museum
Mud Jeans x Van Gogh Museum Courtesy

Dutch circular denim brand Mud Jeans took an old-school path and saluted art’s masters. Mud teamed with Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum for a limited-edition denim collection all featuring graphics inspired by Van Gogh’s paintings or personal correspondence.

PacSun, meanwhile, partnered with The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) and its global licensing agency Beanstalk to create a 30-piece genderless capsule collection inspired by some of the esteemed institution’s most famous 19th-century paintings by the likes of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Henri Fantin-Latour and Van Gogh. “The arts continue to be important to our consumers and community and partnering with such an iconic museum that has resonance in the fashion world, felt like a natural collaboration for us,” Brieane Olson, PacSun president, said upon its release in October.

Dickies Blank Canvas

Most other brands chose to collaborate with people from the contemporary art world. Zadig & Voltaire enlisted five different international talents to create items for its Art Capsule collection and Dickies marked its centennial by enlisting nine “makers”/designers to rework some of its iconic designs as part of its Blank Canvas Initiative. Earlier in the year the workwear giant also used sun-faded fabric that was part of retailer-artist John Margaritis’ outdoor art installation in Marfa, Tex. in 2021 to create one-of-a-kind pieces. Dickies later presented a 12-piece group with photographer, art director and filmmaker Estevan Oriol that reflected the grit and glamour of the Los Angeles he portrays in his work. (And in a completely 180-degree to that, the workwear maker ended the year by announcing a surprise, very high-end collaboration with Gucci.)

Other notable artistic associations included Detroit Denim hiring multi-media creator FFTY to design its first summer collection, Welsh brand Hiut selecting illustrator and painter Linda Lanko to hand-paint ecru denim fabric for its fourth Artistic Series collection, Levi’s tapping Black artist Gianni Lee for a specially painted capsule, Australia’s Outland Denim highlighting Bondi artist Jakey Pedro’s drawings on tees and totes, True Religion tapping London artist Soldier for an anti-war, camo-heavy skate collection and German brand Closed getting together with young French streetwear designer Millinsky for clothes that promote the togetherness of the European Union.

G-Star’s The Art of Raw Denim furniture / Courtesy

Dutch brand G-Star Raw also proved to be a big supporter of the arts when it launched The Art of Raw program in May. Its participants thus far have created furniture pieces from upcycled waste and a quilt, among other items. “There will be various collaborative projects utilizing the material at G-Star’s core–denim,” the brand stated. “Over the coming year, multiple artistic avenues will be explored such as sculpture and fine art.”

Déjà vu

In April Ganni proved to be a loyal partner not only to Levi’s when it launched its second upcycled denim collection with Priya Ahluwalia, founder and designer of London fashion label Ahluwalia. The brands first collaborated on pieces exactly one year before.

May’s news included the third go-round between Joe’s Jeans and jewelry designer Stephanie Gottlieb as well as a third collection for Guess and musician J Balvin. The following month Lee and streetwear brand The Hundreds also released a collaborative sequel.

In September Frame returned to the Ritz Paris and released its second collection with the legendary Parisian hotel. A celebrity favorite, pieces from the first collaboration had sold out immediately and items such as the varsity jacket fetched 10-times the original price at thousands of dollars on resale sites.

True Religion and Supreme have reteamed for a Fall 2022 sequel.
True Religion x Supreme Courtesy

Towards the end of the year True Religion, which has been on a collaboration kick of late, reunited for a second time with arguably fashion’s most frequent collaborator, Supreme, and offered a 22-piece men’s line made from denim, twill and Gore-Tex.

Speaking of Supreme, its newly named creative director Tremaine Emory, who is also the founder-designer of Denim Tears, worked with streetwear giant Stüssy for the third time and unveiled in December the first-ever “Stüssy Tears” men’s and women’s collection, which was inspired by his hometown of Queens, New York. The two labels had previously worked with Swedish brand Our Legacy on two collections that dropped in Fall 2022 and in 2021 respectively.

Newly bonded brands

Emory was also behind one of the most elaborately released capsule collections of the year. Dubbed Dior Tears, the men’s capsule for Pre-Fall 2023 was made together with Kim Jones, artistic director of Dior Homme and one who loves to work with talent outside the luxury maison. It was shown in Cairo, Egypt at the beginning of December in the entrance hall of the Grand Egyptian Museum, the new archeological institution located on the edge of the desert in Giza that has not opened to the public yet but will house the treasures of King Tut among other priceless Egyptian artifacts. Emory’s inspiration for the collection was Black artists and creatives who lived in Europe in the 1950s.

Another unexpected first-time pairing was that between the very American-classic Tommy Hilfiger and bold British designer Richard Quinn that dropped prior to Hilfiger’s return to New York Fashion Week in September. Hilfiger referred to it “as a rebellious take on modern prep.” A few weeks later, Tommy Jeans released a collaboration with another British designer, Martine Rose, who reworked the brand’s archival styles from the 1990s.

Stephen Jones for G-Star Raw

Quirky British milliner Stephen Jones also found an odd bedfellow, G-Star Raw, and created a collection of haute couture, sculptural denim hats for the Dutch jeansmaker along with two styles that were available for sale to the general public.

Other 2022 new brand linkups seemed to make more sense aesthetically and product-wise. Hugo, the younger division of Hugo Boss, teamed with Italian denim brand Replay for sportswear. Lee and The Brooklyn Circus joined forces to honor Black cowboys on the heels of the former’s release of a small capsule with Engineered Garments (available in South Korea only). Agolde did a job with women’s workplace brand Argent for a new line of business casual clothing.

In addition, DL1961 showed that denim can be both warm and athletic when it created skiwear for alpine brand Perfect Moment.

Imogene + Willie x Sabah Collection
Imogene + Willie x Sabah Collection Courtesy

Two denim brands also paired with shoemakers. The four-style Lucky Brand x Wolverine boot collection dropped in October as did Imogen + Willie’s collection with Sabah Shoes. The duo made handmade slippers created from upcycled scraps of denim.

The influencer influence

While collaborations with traditional celebrities used to dominate the scene, they mostly gave way to one with fashion insiders or influencers in 2022.

A handful of clear exceptions were True Religion’s men’s and women’s capsules with musicians Chief Keef and Dreezy, respectively, YMI Jeans joining with 10-year-old actress Juju Brener in August and footwear brand Crocs releasing denim-look printed clogs designed by Grammy-winning singer SZA.

But it was stylists and other fashion folk who were the most in demand as creative partners. Cases in point included Hudson Jeans nabbing Brandon Williams, a stylist to a number of NBA, MBL and NFL athletes, for a special men’s capsule collection followed by a women’s capsule created by celebrity stylist Zoe Costello. Likewise, Joe’s Jeans teamed with stylist and influencer Andrea Lublin of Andrea’s Lookbook, a blog and styling business geared toward the “chic girl next door,” for a 15-piece capsule released in October.

Los Angeles-based denim brand Mother and model Carolyn Murphy reunited for Surf’s Up, their second eco-focused capsule collection.
Mother x Carolyn Murphy / Courtesy Zoey Grossman

And in an example of one business trend overlapping with another, Mother released its second eco-focused capsule collection with fashion model Carolyn Murphy in June. Featuring a “Surf’s Up” theme, it was created with upcycled garments and deadstock fabrics.

Even fashion designer/icon Victoria Beckham felt the need to work with a fellow albeit younger influencer for her eponymous line. The brand partnered with 19-year-old British model and influencer Mia Regan, aka “mimimoocher” on TikTok and Instagram, to co-create a six-piece capsule “curated to champion carefree cuts and lived-in washes” that targeted Gen Z.

Retail relationships and randomness

Fashionable esprit de corps continued to be felt by physical retailers this year as well.

High-end examples of companies collaborating with stores included Italian luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli creating the “Muse of the West” women’s wear capsule with Neiman Marcus and Turkish denim mill Isko working with British designer and LVMH prize finalist Bethany Williams on six denim pieces for her exclusive capsule collection with U.K. retailer Browns.

More mass-market pairings were size inclusive jeanswear line Good American creating a limited-edition capsule with Zara, Gap working with legendary Black designer Dapper Dan to create NFTs and Aeropostale creating a loungewear range with snack brand Cheetos.

Spring/Summer 2023: Men's Fashion Week
Loewe / WWD

Finally, on the bizarre front, two partnerships in 2022 seemed especially unusual and unexpected.

In the spring Diesel announced a partnership with sexual wellness company Lelo that offered a limited-edition range of co-branded sex toys in Diesel’s signature red featuring phrases such as “turn me on” and “all I need is a charge.” The collection included two of the wellness brand’s top-selling items, the Tor 2 couples’ ring and the Sona Cruise vibrator.

And the phrase “green fashion” took on a brand new, very literal meaning during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris in June when luxury brand Loewe’s creative director Jonathan Anderson collaborated with Spanish bio-designer Paula Ulargui Escalona to grow live plants on coats, jeans, sweatshirts, sweatpants and sneakers. Meant to symbolize the brand’s environmentally minded ethos, the garments, alas, were never made commercially available to botanic-loving Beau Brummels.