Last year, I was most looking forward to the “unexpected” retail partnerships we’d see unfold in 2020.
And, I must say, this year did not disappoint—especially within the luxury sector.
Pre-COVID-19, there was a lot of buzz around the merging of fashion with travel to create immersive brand experiences with Instagrammable allure. Whether it was staying at a Cheval Blanc hotel operated by LVMH, dining at Gucci’s rooftop restaurant in Beverly Hills, or even glamping in France for the Le Mans race as part of the Waldorf Astoria and Aston Martin partnership—one trend was clear: luxury was becoming immersive through travel experiences.
But then 2020 happened. It brought the travel sector to its knees and luxury hasn’t been spared either. Without world travel, embedding luxury brands within lifestyle experiences is easier said than done. But it’s still possible—the following collaborations may just prove it.
Gucci and The North Face
In September 2020, Gucci revealed its collaboration with The North Face. The outdoor retailer had teamed up with a number of high-end brands before, like Supreme, Junya and others, but the partnership is surprising given Gucci’s scale and reputation as one of the leading luxury fashion houses of the world.
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At the time of writing, details of the collaboration were sparse. Who knows, we could be setting up our Gucci print tents on a remote, COVID-safe mountain sometime soon; or in a more likely scenario, we’ll see TNFxGucci Denali jackets donned across tomorrow’s university campuses.
Dior and Nike
In June 2020, after a two-month postponement, the limited edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior sneakers were finally released. Retailing for a substantial $2,000 USD, the waitlist for the sneakers was five million deep and the shoes have since been labeled one of “the most wanted trainers of all time.”
Is the concept of fashion and streetwear new? No. In fact, during the pre-Yeezy days of 2005 Nike shocked sneakerheads around the world (at least the handful who were ‘in the know’ as specific release dates were not announced) with its ‘Tiffany Dunk’ in collaboration with Diamond Supply Co. But again, for a fashion house as legendary as Dior, I’m surprised. And as time goes on, fashion and athletic-streetwear are increasingly becoming one and the same.
Yeezy and GAP
And finally, I can’t leave out the Yeezy and GAP partnership announced in the summer of 2020. Does it surprise me that GAP would partner with Yeezy? No. From GAP’S side, we all know they’re struggling. Gap cancelled a planned split from Old Navy earlier this year, then over the summer, the retailer announced the end of its Hill City menswear brand after a short two-year run. GAP needs help. From Kanye’s side, GAP is a brand close to his heart. He raps about his days working there when he was a struggling artist. What surprises me is the length of the partnership deal between GAP and Yeezy: 10 years. A decade is a long time. I look forward to the first half of Q1 for the tentative launch.
Agents of change
Aside from interesting partnerships, I’m keeping a close eye on two change agents in this sector: the Chinese consumer and consumers of traditionally underrepresented groups.
In time, luxury will depend even more on e-commerce and the affluent Chinese consumer. Luxury e-commerce is a high-growth market in China; in fact, a Forrester report from 2019 predicted that half of luxury e-commerce growth will come from China by 2023. That’s likely magnified now on both fronts due to the COVID-acceleration of luxury e-commerce and the buying power of the Chinese luxury consumer compared to other markets.
Diversity and inclusion are evolving rapidly as well, from brand leadership to marketing imagery to product line offerings. An exciting moment in time was when Louis Vuitton appointed fashion designer Virgil Abloh as Artistic Director of menswear in 2018. Virgil’s own Milan-based label, Off-White, is arguably defining a new aesthetic and creating renewed demand in the designer sneaker and lifestyle space. I hope we increasingly see fashion houses embracing diversity in all aspects of the business.
As British Vogue’s Edward EnninfulI once said, “I can tell you, without diversity, creativity remains stagnant.”