The 10 Best Collaborations in a Year That Saw Far Too Many Collaborations
Not a week went by in 2020 without news of a new collaboration, but none were as good as these.
2020 has proven to be the year of the collaboration, with seemingly each day yielding a new announcement of ‘x’ brand partnering with ‘y’ designer. In a year that was for many devoid of sartorial possibilities, the collab was a welcomed reprieve, simultaneously offering escapism and a sense of hope that we would soon return to the ritual of getting dressed. While our own closets remained largely unchanged, save for maybe a sudden influx of loungewear, we could hold ourselves over for the time being with the numerous collabs available to us.
Yet the wealth of collabs also posed a problem, often proving overwhelming, their ubiquity rendering many ineffective. In the scramble for brands and designers to release a collaboration in the hopes of appeasing or attracting customers, little time is left for anticipation. Much of the excitement that comes from these partnerships lies in their suspense, the anxiousness they incite as their release date approaches and the possibility of not getting what you want looms large, the possibility of getting it even larger. An announcement followed by an immediate release leaves no room for anticipation.
Then there’s the authenticity that many collaborations call into question, their purpose unclear if not entirely cynical. You have instances of designers or celebrities affixing their name to projects with no real collaboration occurring or collaborations born entirely out of a desire for clout, the intent evident in the lackluster product. The collaboration for collaboration’s sake has come to saturate the market, overshadowing those worthy of our attention.
This isn’t to say that there were no good collabs this year — there were quite a few, but in comparison to the sheer number of collabs produced, they only make up a small handful. What differentiates them from the bad was more than their ability to drum up excitement, but their willingness to take risks or keep it simple, a risk in itself. The best collabs proved to be those that successfully married two disparate identities into a cohesive collection, or those that delved deeper into the brands’ roots, creating an instantly recognizable product.
Below are 10 of the best collaborations that came out of 2020, from a Supreme and Schott fringe jacket to Dior’s take on the iconic Air Jordan 1 OG. Some of these collaborations even still available to shop (in limited quantities) or listed on re-sell sites, that is if you don’t mind dropping a couple grand.
Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance
Aimé Leon Dore is no stranger to making an enviable and highly sought-after product, but the brand’s collaboration with New Balance in March created a frenzy unlike any other. Bringing back an unlikely silhouette, Aimé Leon Dore rendered the slightly clunky 827 Abzorb in bold primary hues that further emphasize the retro inspiration. Accompanied by a 90s-esque advertisement and lookbook showcasing runners wearing the sneakers as they jogged through New York City, it became evident that the two brands weren’t merely selling a shoe, but an aspirational aesthetic and lifestyle.
Todd Snyder x L.L.Bean
In what may have been one of the most anticipated collaborations of 2020, Todd Snyder x L.L.Bean did not fail to deliver. For the Maine brand’s first ever collection with an outside designer, Snyder leaned heavily into L.L.Bean’s heritage, gleaning much of his inspiration from time spent in its archives. His reverence for L.L.Bean is evident in the collaboration, the brand’s outdoor aesthetic working harmoniously with his own design ethos, lending tailored pieces in rich fabrics accents like an image of the famed Duck Boot or a scenic watercolor of Maine in the fall.
Grace Wales Bonner x Adidas
A collab that largely flew under the radar (especially in comparison to Adidas’ more high-profile collaborators like Pharrell and Jonah Hill) it’s time to give London designer Grace Wales Bonner’s partnership with the brand the due recognition it deserves. Lending her delicate ’70s-inspired touch to a range of tracksuits and the SL72 and Samba sneakers, Bonner challenged the classic, sporty silhouettes and what they’re capable of communicating, imbuing them with her vision of masculinity which allows for a softness often absent from men’s clothing and accessories.
Saturdays NYC x Barbour
For their collaboration with heritage brand Barbour, the surf-centric Saturdays NYC sought to pay homage to a lesser discussed aspect of the brand’s history, their motorcycle roots. Existing at seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, the brands were able to meld their varying aesthetics into a collection that managed not to lean too far in one direction. Rather than attempting to lazily combine their aesthetics, the brands stayed true to their respective styles, instead making subtle adjustments like the addition of a small logo or graphic.
Uniqlo x Jil Sander
After 10 long years, the queen of minimalism finally made her return to Uniqlo. German designer Jil Sander first partnered with the brand in 2009 on the J+ label, pioneering the high-end designer/multinational retailer collaboration. For her return to Uniqlo, Sander stayed true to her design ethos, offering refined and versatile silhouettes in shades of navy and brown, with the occasional aubergine-hued sweater or pinstriped blazer. Uniqlo and Sander’s shared penchant for simple, uncomplicated clothing makes for the ideal partnership, as Sander elevates the retailer’s vision without having to sacrifice creative license.
Stüssy x Birkenstock
If there were ever a shoe suited for this year, it’s Birkenstock’s Boston clog, made all the more appropriate for 2020 thanks to Stüssy’s touch of corduroy. Wisely keeping the silhouette of the slip-on untouched, Stüssy instead sought to improve upon rather than completely change the design. In terms of collaborations it is simple and maybe less thrilling than others, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing — in fact, there’s an anonymity and discreteness to the shoes that makes them all the more attractive.
Noah x the B-52s
A collaboration that might not entirely make sense at first, Noah cited their admiration of the B-52s’ unabashed weirdness and punk roots, seeking to communicate this sense of self and individuality with an audience maybe unfamiliar with the group. The collection is an homage to the band rendered in the brand’s skate/streetwear silhouettes while the overt logos and vibrant colors require the wearer to dredge up the confidence of the B-52s themselves.
Dior x Air Jordan
Dior’s take on the Air Jordan 1 OG is considered by many the best sneaker to come out of this year, sending both sneakerheads and non-sneakerheads alike into crazed desperation. At first glance one’s likely not to notice what sets these apart from the typical Air Jordan 1 OG, a more trained eye needed to spot the Diorissimo logo covering the iconic Swoosh. In comparison to other designer iterations we’ve seen for Nike (i.e. Off-White) Dior opts for quietly luxurious approach, their subtlety making them even the more alluring,
Fear of God for Ermenegildo Zegna
Another collab made for the climate of 2020, LA streetwear brand Fear of God sought to subvert the idea of WFH attire for their collection for fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna. While the collaboration seeks to navigate and collapse the increasingly tenuous line between leisurewear and traditional menswear, it does more than offer streetwear staples in elevated fabrics. Rather, the collection proves that tailored pieces still have a place in one’s closet, in a way that’s slightly more subtle and conducive to the strange times we find ourselves in.
Schott x Supreme
The Supreme collaborations this year included everything from Oreos to Ziploc Bags and Pat McGrath lipstick. Yet there were a few clothing pieces that didn’t attract the same attention as their more impractical counterparts, one of them being this Schott suede jacket with fringe. The two brands have teamed up in the past, typically offering a bomber or classic leather jacket, but rare is it for Supreme to go so explicitly Western as this jacket suggests. For a brand categorized as streetwear, the jacket seems like a major departure, but in some weird way it doesn’t appear out of place among the other clothes, owing in part to their unabashed boldness. The Supreme red doesn’t hurt either.
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