The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

Dinner plates designed by couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee on the shelves of British tableware brand Thomas Goode’s stores in London and Mumbai. Pooches with designer collars by swimsuit specialists Shivan & Narresh, through pet luxury start-up Heads Up For Tails. Mighty Aphrodite, a gin cocktail created by San Francisco-based Trick Dog — on the world’s 50 best bars list — at The Bombay Canteen. And even workout gear by local denim brand Spykar at Talwalkars’ gyms across Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad.

From high-end to hyperlocal, collaborations are the latest currency finding takers across segments, from fashion and lifestyle to food, sports, art and design (think projects by Asian Paints and street art foundation, St+Art India). “With millennials guiding almost all industries, collabs are a great way for brands to stay relevant. They help customers discover established brands in a new way or see new ones in a more democratic fashion,” explains Narresh Kukreja, creative director, Shivan & Narresh. His luxury resortwear label’s collaborative roster this year also includes an athleisure-inspired line for online store Koovs and art furniture with home décor brand Bent Chair.

The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

Collab and co-exist

Such partnerships are blurring definitions of ownership and creative control, and is helping brands expand their product universe, find diverse audiences, create hype, increase recall value and build brand loyalty. Case in point: serial collaborator Masaba Gupta’s foray into make-up (Nykaa), merchandise (Game of Thrones), jewellery (Amrapali), shoes (Puma) and clothes (Rhea Kapoor). Even Swarovski, the fifth-generation crystal company, is not immune. One of their biggest collabs was with 11 Indian designers, including Rohit Bal and JJ Valaya, for the Confluence range.

Manjula Tiwari, CEO, Future Style Lab, sees this as brands “moving on from the traditional business models... to attract the millennial audience”. In October, the company’s homegrown label, Cover Story, unveiled a 90-piece collection by Karl Lagerfeld, marking the German design icon’s first Indian collaboration. Incidentally, it was Lagerfeld who, back in 2004, partnered with high-street retail giant H&M, paving the way for more high-low collaborations.

Over the years, H&M’s work with the likes of Italian and French fashion houses Versace, Balmain and Kenzo has created mass hysteria. Their recent tie-up with Giambattista Valli, the Italian couturier known for his voluminous dresses, hit stores worldwide last month. Though Valli’s name doesn’t resonate as much in India as say, Gucci — perhaps why a few dresses are still available on the Indian website — the collection has done well internationally, with most items selling out online hours after the launch and shoppers camping all night outside the stores.

The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

To keep up the hype “we need to keep surprising, engaging and reinventing the concept every year. These collaborations strengthen our brand and clearly show that design is not a matter of price”, says Dhatri Bhatt, Head – Communications, H&M.

For Christian Westphal, Chief Creative Officer, Koovs, collaborations are a win-win for creators and consumers. “For the latter, they provide an opportunity to own designer pieces at high street cost points,” he says. This year, the online store launched its second collection with Manish Arora, one of the early Indian adopters of the ‘collab’ concept — having designed shoes for Reebok through his brand Fish Fry back in 2007 and four jewellery collections for Amrapali, featuring Candy Crush hearts and pink enamelled gazelles. The Koovs 40-piece ‘Love is Love’ line (clothes, shoes, passport holders) featured archival pieces, such as the sparkly ‘Shiny Happy People’ jacket.

Think global, act local

According to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2020 report, which forecasts industry growth, the Indian clothing market will be worth $53.7 billion next year, making it the sixth largest globally. More than 300 international fashion brands are expected to open stores here in the next two years, and collaborations are bound to grow, to understand and cater to the complex Indian market. For example, when Japanese retailer Uniqlo debuted here this October, it roped in Delhi-based Rina Singh of Eká, known for her natural weaves and timeless silhouettes, to create a high-street version of the kurta. Their partnership hinged on their matching philosophy of minimalism and wearable fashion. “Placing a product that the Indian woman can easily buy alongside their signature dresses and tunics was an intelligent strategy,” says Singh, adding, “Since the collection launched during Diwali, some felt that I could have added brighter colours. However, neither Uniqlo nor I are embellishment-oriented.”

The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

Wishlist 2020
  • Shounak Amonkar: Collabs between big Indian designers and streetwear, perfume brands and luxury home décor.
  • Harish Bijoor: In the telecom sector, where networks such as Airtel and Vodafone tie up with players in different segments [fashion, art, food, etc] and transform from just being a communication network.
  • Narresh Kukreja: With artists and brands in the luggage and cosmetics category, to bring out travel editions.

Digital marketing is also key because it facilitates the drop model — where brands tease consumers with intentional scarcity and create social media hype, making the products irresistible. American apparel brand Supreme is a master at this. Last year, when they collaborated with German luxury luggage makers Rimowa, a post on Instagram on the limited-edition line had the entire range selling out in just 16 seconds! Closer home, Cover Story’s online campaign helped it reach out to non-metro audiences. “It was refreshing to see the collection being anticipated in cities like Surat, Vadodara and Ahmedabad,” says Tiwari. “All our stores carrying this merchandise have seen a sales growth of 25% to 30%.”

The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

Finding the right fit

Meanwhile, alcohol brands are also swapping ‘title sponsor’ tags for more creative experiences. “Today, they prefer that these collaborations showcase their ethos,” says Ankur Chawla, co-founder, Scope Bev, a Delhi-based F&B management consultancy. Last week, Rémy Martin curated an evening of art and alcohol in Mumbai with contemporary artist Lakshmi Madhavan and mixologist Vasundhara Vats. The latter created cognac and gin cocktails using sandalwood, turmeric and other earthy flavours, inspired by the artist’s work. Chawla adds, “The ROI (return on investment) isn’t just measured by money, but through guest lists curated to bring in people who would typically buy the brand.” The audience at Madhavan’s art showcase ranged from 28 to 60-year-olds, including old-school cognac consumers and young cocktail enthusiasts. And such collabs are set to grow in 2020.

But not each match is made in heaven. Without a clear strategy, some collaborations either end up being one-night-only events, or border on the bizarre (why exactly did the high-street Forever 21 blend its fast fashion clout with American snack brand Cheetos for a virulently orange line this June?). Another question: how invested are both parties? This is most apparent in the numerous celebrity associations in the beauty industry. Sonakshi Sinha donned the role of brand ambassador for MyGlamm’s range of HD make-up while Katrina Kaif launched Kay Beauty with Nykaa. How real these collaborations are is anyone’s guess. “If someone without knowledge of that category gets into a collaboration and calls it their label, the brand’s integrity is lost,” says brand expert Harish Bijoor.

The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

Sometimes, it can also lead to a case of overpowering each other. Like it happened with the Prada for adidas collection, which dropped this month. Though it featured on Christmas lists the world over, many felt that the limited-edition monochromatic line diluted the Italian fashion house’s often eccentric sensibility. According to Shounak Amonkar, co-founder of boutique styling consultancy Who Wore What When, “Prada’s aesthetic was lost, it was all Adidas.”

Where’s the impact?

Internationally, collections by Balmain x Puma (a boxing-inspired, non-gender offering) and Virgil Abloh — the founder of luxury fashion label Off-White (and artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear) is the king of collabs, having teamed up with the likes of Ikea, Nike, Jay-Z, Moncler, and Jimmy Choo, among many others — have shown how exciting collaborations can get. In India, while Fila’s line with Anand Ahuja’s VegNonVeg brand and Budweiser’s collections with Huemn and Hanif Kureshi gave a boost to streetwear, there is yet to be an impactful combination from the country. “What we have today are only anecdotal collaborations,” says Bijoor. “These work better in more advanced economies because they’re at the high end of marketing sensitivity. In early marketing economies [like ours], the basic DNA of a marketer is to compete rather than collaborate.”

However, Kukreja believes that India will see a large-scale, impactful collaboration sooner than later. “We are a young nation where international brands are also trying to figure out how to gain a firm foothold. The medium-sized collaborations are only setting the right tone for much bigger ones. For instance, in China, H&M has already started collaborating with local, luxury designers for limited-edition lines. You’ll see that in India soon too,” he concludes.

The age of X: How collaborations are helping brands

Your kitchen or mine?

In 2019, chefs pushed the envelope with restaurant swaps and partnerships, whether it was MasterChef Australia’s Gary Mehigan X Nicobar for a homeware line or Mumbai restaurant Yauatcha X Manish Malhotra for a dessert collection merging food and fashion. Two months ago, Mumbai, saw its first restaurant swap, as chef Hussain Shahzad of O Pedro and chef Alex Sanchez of Americano took over each other’s restaurant kitchens for a weekend each, to offer cross-over dishes. The Bombay Canteen’s calendar was also dotted with bar takeovers (Trick Dog) and regional food pop-ups.

Meanwhile, Prateek Sadhu of Masque and Thomas Zacharias of The Bombay Canteen participated in The Grand Gelinaz Shuffle, which saw 148 chefs in 38 countries interpret recipes of another participant. “That was the craziest collaboration because you’d ideally like to control and have a say [in the way your dish is interpreted by another chef],” says Sameer Seth, partner, Hunger Inc. “Honest conversations and an openness in sharing ideas are key to successful collaborations. They also need to work financially for both the parties because barter doesn’t work in the real world.”

The millennial love of sharing skills (and not getting bogged down by questions of ownership) is one of the main reasoins why such collabs work. And brands from other categories are keen to collaborate with chefs now because “the culinary arts are no longer seen as odd jobs but one of the main arts”, says Prateek Sadhu, founder and executive chef at Masque, who was part of Belvedere’s Studio B creative collaboration with actor Arjun Kapoor, fashion designer Kunal Rawal and artist Shilo Shiv Suleman.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 1:17:12 AM |

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