Power of two: The luxury brands teaming up to collaborate

Words by
Simon Brooke

19th May 2020

Companies once considered poles apart are joining forces in special partnerships that reap benefits on both sides – and the opportunity to reach new audiences

One is known for its understated, northern Italy elegance, its sharp, clean lines in suits and casualwear. The other is a US luxury streetwear brand — think oversized hooded sweat shirts and belted cargo trousers — beloved of Kanye West and Justin Bieber, among others. Stylistically and culturally, Ermenegildo Zegna and Fear of God might have almost nothing in common, but perhaps that’s why their collaboration has attracted so much attention among fashion editors and buyers intrigued to see the offspring of this marriage when it hits the runways this spring. 

“With a shared true desire to create the modern man’s wardrobe, we partnered with Ermenegildo Zegna to establish a timeless collection rooted in freedom, sophistication and elegance,” said Fear of God in a statement. According to Zegna: “The creative partnership engendered a contemporary wardrobe thought for a young man whose lifestyle is a hybrid expression of elegance and freedom.”

Power of two: The luxury brands teaming up to collaborate
Fear of God Director Jerry Lorenzo and Ermenegildo Zegna’s artistic director, Alessandro Sartori

Recent years have seen the growth of collaborations between luxury brands and street labels — LVMH’s tie-up with Supreme is a case in point, as is H&M’s work with Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld — but now names such as Burberry, Hermès and Moncler are more likely to engage with other luxury brands. Gucci and Comme des Garçons, for instance, have just launched their second shopping bag, complete with the distinctive Gucci stripe and the CdG logo, following the success of the first incarnation.

“A collaboration is an opportunity to push boundaries and explore cutting-edge technology and design, as the products are often limited edition and produced at lower volumes,” says Yota Pavlou, senior retail consultant at consultants Capgemini. “With the shared knowledge and synergy between two brands, there’s an opportunity to combine different ideas and perspectives. Designers can experiment and trial new styles, fabric and technics without impacting the main collection and harming the core brand identity. It can be a business-savvy way to help the bottom line, as marketing and production costs are shared and can help grow revenues substantially.”

Power of two: The luxury brands teaming up to collaborate
The Ettinger Accessories Room at Gieves & Hawkes’ flagship store

Last autumn, luxury leather goods brand Ettinger announced a major expansion of its partnership with tailor and menswear label Gieves & Hawkes as it opened The Ettinger Accessories Room at Gieves’ flagship store at
1 Savile Row. It has enabled Ettinger to display a wider range of accessories and bags, including its best-selling Bridle Hide Collection, as well as its leather business bags and portfolios, and canvas and leather overnight and weekend bags and totes. There’s also a Craftsmanship and Archive Display so that customers can learn more about how products are made at Ettinger’s factory in the Midlands.

“We’re very much complementing Gieves & Hawkes, not seeking to compete with it,” says Jonathan Boston, sales director at Ettinger. “We’re each specialists in our own field. We share the same values and we have the same type of customer. For us, it’s about creating genuine, authentic relationships.”

Boston stresses that this arrangement is not like a pop-up shop or a concession. “It’s a closer working relationship, but we carry out all the design, display and merchandising to create our own little world. There are no long leases and we work on a profit share so it’s a relatively low-risk relationship. But it takes time and effort to get that relationship right.”

Collaborations are an opportunity to push boundaries and explore cutting-edge technology and design

Alongside Gieves & Hawkes in London, Ettinger also has established what is describes as a “residency” at men’s shirtmakers and outfitters Turnbull & Asser’s New York Townhouse store. The recently launched relationship displays Ettinger’s accessories collection in the Townhouse, as well as Ettinger Bespoke & Personalisation services available on Turnbull’s Bespoke Third Floor. “There’s a brilliant synergy between the two brands and they are the perfect addition to join us here in New York,” says James Fayed, owner of Turnbull & Asser.

Berluti, which started out as a maker of bespoke footwear and is now known for its sleek, contemporary Italian styling, partners this spring/summer with high-end luggage company Globe-Trotter. It continues the traditional manufacturing process that involves the compression of 14 layers of Japanese paper to form an organically textured shell. To this, Berluti’s new Signature Canvas iconic details have been added, under the creative direction of Kris Van Assche, who revealed his first collection for the house last year. These include hand-patinated Venezia leather handles and corners, leather straps and nickel hardware engraved with the Berluti logo.

Power of two: The luxury brands teaming up to collaborate
Birkenstock has collaborated with Proenza Schouler to produce a bright, urban chic range

Meanwhile, Birkenstock 1774, named after the year of its foundation, is being described as “a showcase for special projects” and a “new venture into luxury”. The sandal brand has, so far, collaborated with the king of grunge lux, Rick Owens, and Proenza Schouler, known for its fashion, footwear and accessories inspired by the contemporary art world. Working with Jurgen Teller, the latter has created a range of Birkenstocks shot through with its striking colour palettes and unmistakable urban chic.

Owens, meanwhile, has contrasted elegant nubuk leather with vibrant colours to challenge the perception of the wholesome, earthy sandal brand. Alongside this, his Hancock Rotterhiker Black boot echoes his biker chic aesthetic. 

“By producing something new and different, these collaborations are good for both creativity and exclusivity — two essential elements of the luxury business,” says Mario Ortelli, founder and managing partner of luxury goods and high-end retail consultancy Ortelli & Co. “Another advantage of working with other luxury brands is that you reach new audiences and don’t cannibalise your own market.”

One of the principal drivers can be publicity and profile rather than pure commercial considerations, according to Hugh Devlin, a solicitor at law firm Withers LLP,, who has worked with Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Hermès among others. “There will be royalties payable and perhaps a design fee on top of that, but it depends how long the collaboration is for,” he says. It’s important for luxury houses that work together to limit the scale and production runs of the results of these collaborations to maintain exclusivity — after all, scarcity is one of the elements of luxury. 

“Usually, the collaboration lasts just one or two seasons and the idea is that it sells out and creates demand for both brands through giving them the opportunity to create press comment and potentially the introduction to a new demographic of consumer,” says Devlin.

Power of two: The luxury brands teaming up to collaborate
Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci recently collaborated with Vivienne Westwood

The creative director is the jewel in the crown of a luxury brand’s talent and value proposition and is therefore normally jealously guarded. However, with these new luxury collaborations — such as the recent one between Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci and Vivienne Westwood — they are being let out on a long lead. Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of Valentino, for instance, is taking part in the Moncler Genius project, described by the high-end activewear brand as a “creative hub promoting the energy that comes from a mix of different cultures: it’s a vision beyond borders of season, age and taste, talking to all generations of customers.” 

“These collaborations have taken place for many years, but I think what’s changed is that they’re being done openly now and they’re becoming more official,” says Marc Forestier, a consultant for the luxury retail sector at MAYF Consulting. Such tie-ups not only introduce the partner brands to new audiences, but they can help to reposition them. According to Forestier, who has worked with Louis Vuitton and Dior among others, Moncler’s work with Valentino can be used to emphasise that the former is no longer just a high-end sportswear and activewear brand, but part of the luxury fashion category.

Even where they are working with those outside the luxury fold — with the exception of the H&M projects — prices will reflect their ultra high-end status. In November, Balmain launched a collaboration with upmarket sports brand Puma. Co-designed by Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing and model Cara Delevingne, it’s inspired by the world of boxing and features women’s boxing shorts at £225, a stretch woven mini-dress bearing the Puma logo for around £3,000 and trainers with a “Balmain Paris” badge on the tongue for around £400.

It’s widely reported that April will see another example of this trend as Dior releases its Air Jordan Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior. Limited to around 1,000 pairs, each will have an eye-watering price tag of around $2,000.

Another advantage of working with other luxury brands is that you reach new audiences and don’t cannibalise your own market

There are a number of key factors that need to be in place for the successful execution of such a partnership and marketing strategy, says Fflur Roberts, industry manager, luxury goods at Euromonitor International, a market research provider. “It goes without saying that getting the partner-brand right is crucial, but the relevance and the originality of the offer proposed to the final customer also needs to be viable and honest. Compatibility is therefore crucial — the image of the partnering brand must be a good fit with the identity of the ‘house’ brand.”

Less, is more, she adds: “Multi co-branding parentships may lead to confusion or misinterpretation by consumers and could end up weakening performance and brand identity.”

Attempting to reach a wider audience is a problem for luxury brands that collaboration can address, according to Alessandro Brun, director of the Masters in Global Luxury Management at the Politecnico di Milano School of Management. “You can’t have a one-size-fits all with luxury — you need to be targeted,” he explains. 

“However, rather than trying to share the pie with ever smaller slices, you can expand the pie by working with other designers and brands. We’re seeing this more generally with the sharing economy as luxury brands realise that they can grow by sharing.”