PARIS, France — For its Spring/Summer 2017 runway collection, shown in Paris department store Galeries Lafayette during couture week, Vetements collaborated with no less than 17 brands, from Brioni and Manolo Blahnik, to Levi’s and Comme des Garçons, to Champion and Juicy Couture. Vetements’ ability to attract such a wide array of partners, many of them specialists in their domain, attests to its rapid ascent and unique influence.
The collaborations also reflect a commercial savvy, allowing Vetements to focus on design while outsourcing production to the best manufacturer in each product category. “Vetements started with an idea of a wardrobe, with one garment representing each product category,” explains chief executive Guram Gvasalia. “As a logical conclusion we decided to take the same approach and to exaggerate it into a full collection. We played a game saying a product category and calling out the brand we most associated it with.” But beyond ephemeral buzz, what effect did the collaborations have on the brands that worked with the cult label?
For luxury menwear house Brioni, the collaboration was all about brand communications. “In our sales campaign, no one knew [the collaboration] was happening. If I am totally honest, it wouldn’t have affected one sale in the showroom,” says Justin O’Shea, who was appointed creative director of Brioni in March. Tasked with the challenge of reenergising the brand, O’Shea saw the Vetements collaboration as an opportunity to send a clear message to the fashion industry and beyond that change was afoot. “Brioni is still moving out of the previous era and into the new era, and it was something to do [that wasn’t] the same as before.”
We played a game saying a product category and calling out the brand we most associated it with.
At Manolo Blahnik, the collaboration with Vetements attracted new stockists. “[The collaboration] has introduced us as a company, more so than a product, to new points of sales and forward-thinking retailers who have taken the risk with Vetements, especially the smaller and more niche retailers,” explains Kristina Blahnik, chief executive officer of the luxury shoe brand. “Plus for the first time, our products are going to be on the Net-a-Porter website,” she adds.
For resurgent brand Juicy Couture, the collaboration was intended to revive interest among one-time fans. “I think [there is] this whole crop of Juicy consumers who wore it when they were eight, nine or 10, who are 22 to 30 and know Vetements,” explains Nick Woodhouse, president and chief marketing officer of Authentic Brands Group, which owns Juicy Couture.
Denim giant Levi’s, meanwhile, saw the collaboration with Vetements as a way to help energise its women’s business. “Our strategic aim would be to make sure we have growth and perception in our women’s business. I think Vetements is very synergistic with that. It provides interest and a new perspective and a different type of credibility in the women’s business,” says Jonathan Cheung, senior vice president of design.
Additionally, the collaboration was about the unique value of the creative dialogue with Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia, adds Cheung, who frequently works with Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab, a San Francisco-based research and development centre. “Demna sent a shopping list, and [requested] a bunch of different Levi’s in different sizes. A lot were XL and XXXL sizes that he wanted us to send him so he could play with them. And then, two or three weeks after, we got some sketches. We started prototyping them. We took them to Paris and one of my design directors went and had a fitting with Demna in Paris. With that, we refined them with the modifications to produce the pieces for their show and showroom,” recalls Cheung.
For Ned Munroe, chief global design officer for Champion and Hanes, the appeal of the collaboration was brand activation. “What I wanted to get out of it was developing a programme that is right for our brand and what is right for the Vetements brand: a new experience with what Champion could be with pushing the design lines and pushing the expression of an iconic hoodie and iconic sweat,” he says. In terms of the wider strategy, Munroe explains, “Now you can buy Champion at Sporting Goods and bookstores, but you can also buy Champion with the hottest runway collection on the market today.”
Meanwhile, Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market, says the decision to work with Vetements was less strategic and more instinctive. “[There was] nothing synergistic about it. They simply asked if they could do shirts with us and explained the concept of the collection and I loved the idea and said yes. I guess both Comme des Garçons and Vetements have a certain kind of sacrilegious attitude towards the establishment, but we both have our very separate distinct values.” Nevertheless, Joffe reveals: “They sold hundreds and hundreds of [the shirts].”
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 9 September, 2016. An earlier version of this article misstated that Jonathan Cheung was head of Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab. Cheung works with, but is not head of, the Lab.