I never wanted to be pigeonholed as a ‘sneaker dude’ – that’s why this blog has mercifully evaded the subject, unless it’s dealt with in a manner that’s a little stranger than a straightforward history. Back in mid-2006, I experienced a little buzz among marketing/design types onine when I hastily wrote something for Sneaker Freaker to promote the Crooked Tongues adicolor shoe. The baffling thing was, I thought ’10 Sneaker Collaboration Commandments’ was pretty crap…one of the weakest things I ever compiled for Woody and the crew. It didn’t help that I had started full-time at Crooked after the shoe had actually been designed. Plus I was a writer, not a designer.
Still, I was briefly feted for my insights into where designers were going wrong despite no experience in design. I felt like a charlatan – all I’d wanted to do was evade a boring interview by trying to parody Frank Blizzard’s masterpiece. One of the prominent Joshs whose made a name for himself online (apologies for forgetting the surname) praised my brutal mutilation of the English language when I “hilariously” removed an ‘a’ to make the word ‘”collaboration” to describe the sort of tat that was being pumped out at the time. That kind of thing was considered funny in 2006. I think.
Still, the crap keeps coming, and while we at Crooked have had some projects that blew up harder than others, to pluralise R.P. McMurphy’s outburst, at least we tried it didn’t we, goddamn it? I’m still fascinated by the industry’s lust for collabs. It’s still instatiable, even though we all like to raise our eyebrows and smirk when the ‘X’s come out to play, and multiple brands begin heavy petting. After seeing Nike’s 2010 Tier Zero and QS output, they’ve wisely opted to approach this 21st century necessity with more flair than they have done in a long time – most other brands are still giving out mixed messages.
Right now, I’m looking at the promo for adidas aZX Pump20, and the output looks great, with some good friends involved who’ve done a sterling job. I’m just a little salty that we weren’t invited. I’ll attribute this to us being an online retailer. If I convince myself of this, the irritation subsides. Still, there’s big things planned for 2010, with or without the brilliant moonboot.
Normally I wouldn’t slip into self-promotion mode, but Jenny at Ruby Pseudo saw me raging on Twitter, and kindly gave me a mouthpiece to talk collaborations. Interviews with geeks like me, usually involve one shoe, or some fuckwit scribe (it’s a shame the impending passing of the London Lite will put such great minds out of work) trying to coerce me into valuing a shoe, even though the market for deadstock imploded a while back when people started getting excited about boring Air Icaruses for no good reason. Stop deifying dad shoes, yo. This was a little broader and allowed me to ponder matters beyond, “why this choice of colours?”
While you’re out second guessing what kids are into, team Ruby are using a network of young minds to completely disprove you. Because a load of old idiots banging on about “the good old days, before the internet, when things were purer” can’t run possibly claim to know the youth market, can they? Jenny asked some good questions and I attempted to answer without sounding too much like a hateful thirtysomething. I’ve also had a busy day and can’t be commencing with the blog entry I had in mind so late in the day, so I thought I’d plagarise it and stick it here too. But again, go check the site. The only omission was my failure to include the William Gibson/Buzz Rickson project in the question surrounding best collaborations – brilliant, beneficial and utterly unexpected. Everything a collaboration could, and should be.
What’s the best and worst collaboration you’ve ever seen a brand do?
Wow. Can’t pick out a single example. No real surprises here on my pick of the best – the best clothing collaborations have been, on a broader level, anything Junya Watanabe has done, the Japanese brand Sophnet’s insane lookbook of double label products, Supreme and ALIFE’s handiwork across-the-board, including tees, Hershey’s bars, box cutters, shoes, whatever.I also think Paris’s colette store has a great way of elevating anything, from an exclusive Gap range to pushing a Margiela bike helmet. They’re kings/queens of dual-branding without labouring the point.
Without getting too shoecentric, Supreme’s seasonal Vans releases make a lot of sense, and they were doing it in ’96, long before Vans was in vogue with hipsters; Supreme’s a skate store, so it made sense. Oh, and unexpected little things like Wu-Tang getting a Dunk with Nike that’s promo-only; an instant item of aspiration, rather than the easily attainable, but crappy Fila bits with a Wu-Tang license that came out nearly a decade later. If your aim is to create something with impact, that resonates as a ‘holy grail’ in the future, making a limited edition of 1,00000000 is counterproductive. 25 hits harder by hitting legendary status. Provided it looks good.
PUMA sponsoring the Wax Poetics books was good – it’s something people will hold on to, and it’s got the branding on the spine and intro, but doesn’t labour the point by intruding on what Wax Poetics excels in – content. Watching ‘Deathbowl To Downtown’ the other day, I was impressed to see that Mountain Dew sponsored it. Maybe the fact I never knew that before indicated it was ineffective. Now I know though.
The worst bits I’ve seen have been the squandered opportunities, or collaborations that seem totally unnecessary. PUMA doing a ‘Goonies’ shoe that was not only visually unpleasant, but extra shades of wrong in that every ’80s kid knows that film was a Nike zone. So a reimagined ’90s-style runner that was actually a ’00s design makes little to know sense as the tie-in product. There’s bits that are lost in translation – the usually brilliant Wtaps had a Dr. Martens boot collaboration (I think it was Asia-only) with white laces in, accidentally invoking a far right look.
Linking to that, lately I’ve seen Japanese brands brands playing with ‘surf nazis’ swastika imagery – I understand why bike gangs played with it, and Jay Adams and co, basically to piss people off, but needless to say, it’s best steered clear of. Especially by those that know better. Explanations that it’s a peace sign and it’s just being reclaimed just remind me of that mug from Kula Shaker years ago.
The collaboration mindstate seems like a slowly creeping “thing” that sucks up everything it its path at the moment. I hate seeing staple gear that was the antidote to expensive, hard-to-find crap, like Hanes tees, Ben Davis shirts and Champion sweatshirts being thrown to the lions and ‘X’d out by brands who don’t understand or appreciate what made those brands staples in the first place, or understand the heritage. I would add Carhartt to that list, but it’s in safe hands in the USA, Japan and Europe these days.
Whereas back in the day streetwear brands were printing on Hanes, Camber, Fruit Of The Loom etc. without changing the tags, and Supreme were printing on Champion reverse weave blanks, and it was no big deal, in 2009, things are very much in a flux, which is what happens when you build cultures with no foundations – I mean, you can see J Crew, Brooks Brothers and Gap on Hypebeast and High Snobiety now, even though streetwear was once the antidote to khaki-coloured blandness – and now those Hanes and Champion screenprinted products would be officially marketed as ‘Supreme x Champion’ or ‘BAPE x Hanes.’ The staggeringly obvious has become a selling-point. I pity the fool who has to keep up with it all.
I think Asian consumers have kept many a British institution alive, so I won’t knock the projects with Japanese brands, but it feels depressing that brands like Tricker’s are being collaborated with so heavily at the moment. Not because the product isn’t great, but because it can easily stand alone, and I’d rather not see that “over it” mentality applied to the great British brogue after collaboration overkill.
What do brands tend to get wrong when it comes to collaborations and hook-ups?
I apologise for the excess of shoe-related examples, but I get exposed to them on a daily basis – Red Wing is an American classic, but recently, it’s been all over the place with brands, and the notion that something so iconic and timeless (like the 875 boot) could be deemed “done” is disturbing. Fashion’s always been a bit slash and burn in its approach to anything, rinsing it until it’s “sooooo last year/week” but I hate to see that mindset applied to bonafide classics. I think collaborations can reduce a product’s lifespan, despite the momentary financial boost. It can pay to be precious about who you deal with.
Things have to make sense. What’s each party bringing to the table? I saw that ASICS had teamed with some b-boy event recently. Cool that someone’s getting paid, but I don’t understand the association between a retro of a dedicated running shoe from 1990 that had some subcultural shine at the time with Polo-heads in New York, and an activity popularised in the early ’80s. It was the perfect opportunity to reinforce that shoe’s Teflon heritage. Instead they welded it to an unrelated activity. Some brands don’t seem confident in their own product.
Please forgive this misogynist metaphor, but too many brands (especially ones that have been in the shadows cast by the big guns) are like a plain girl at school who, flattered by some male attention, gives it up to all and sundry, before getting a rep and becoming ostracised again. Collaborative promiscuity isn’t a good look – a little chaste from your brand when potential partners come-a-calling could be beneficial.
When sponsoring an event, what three things should a brand consider?
Hire people that know what they’re doing, rather than a posh PR company manned by people that heard a rap record once while smoking “doobies” at boarding school.
Make sure your product is relevant to the event. A big shoe company that isn’t especially cool (I know that’s a subjective term), sponsored a sneaker-related event recently, but it was full of rival brands getting free shine when it came to coverage. Doh! You can’t just buy your way into it. I found ecco’s sponsorship of the V&A ‘Fashion V Sport’ exhibition a little perplexing too. I wonder whether the intended message was transmitted enough to justify their outlay?
Don’t assume that print coverage means much. Those kids wandering around shooting for their blogs are creating the important content. Tarquin from whatever-the-fuck magazine might be good for press clippings, but the blog entries hit harder in the long term.
What would be your ultimate collaboration that you haven’t seen yet?
Someone should co-brand some currency. Has that been done yet? That would be the most honest collaboration ever.
Failing that, a meeting-of-minds that does something genuinely beneficial in actually improving a product, or someones’s quality-of-life without seeming like a cynical photo opportunity and exercise in worthiness would be good.
What’s the worst appropriation of youth culture you’ve ever seen?
Wow. That’s a tough one. In terms of collaboration, pretty much every big label approach seems to fall short. As an exception to plenty of fails, Foot Locker seem to be good at shifting artist-series products to their target audience. But generally, it’s exactly the same as when I was a kid – the government and the big brands are happy to appropriate skateboarding, graffiti and hip-hop, but when it comes down to it, they’d rather not see it in the ‘real world’ unless its in a sterile, uncreative environment where it can’t flourish.
In 2009, Any hip-hop event seems to need some daft licence because of media scaremongering, and the broadsheet love to elevate ‘street artists’ – I hate ‘street art’ as a movement and as a term. This ‘Cartrain’ guy they’re fawning over seems like a generic little prick. Utter drivel. He gets shine, while some kids are risking their lives (from choice, admittedly) to get up in tunnels and on trains. And ‘street dance’? I don’t want to knock anyone’s hustle but I’ve got an aversion to Daily Mail “See? Not all kids are stabbing each other in the leg – these guys are DANCING!” type coverage.
NYC Breakers performed for Reagan in 1984, and in 2009, ‘Diversity’ (excruciating name by the way) are performing for the royal family. Same crap, different day. I’m glad that young people still unleash something baffling for adults regularly, whether its music played through pay-as-you-gos or boys rocking pink Nike rucksacks round my way.
What brand would you love to get your hands on to sort out, and why?
I want the Champion USA licence for the UK, because I know someone else will screw it up – it’s already on some cut-price clothing in same appalling perma-sale sports place because someone licensed elements of it. I’d like to nip that in the bud. And having mentioned Mountain Dew, I’d like to see it re-released in the UK, with similar promotions and sponsorships to its US approach.
Any final words to brands wishing to ‘be’ in that whole sub culture place?
Don’t equate the youth market with the hipster market. It’s easy to go online, check the blogs and try to emulate it thinking you’re engaging with the youth of today – please don’t assume that jaded thirtysomethings are ‘it’. ‘Streetwear’ isn’t dead – we old farts just got old. There’s a brace of young people running their own brands with a dedicated audience.