No creative worth their salt will ever admit to being out of ideas. Even no idea is an idea these days. Collabs. have become the go-to to fill the gaps in fashion’s creativity and its continual appetite for product over the past decade. Two empty heads are always better than one?
Fashion is a cycle and like the Ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail, it goes around and around. But, today, that coil has become so tight it has almost devoured itself. In a ‘pop will eat itself’ moment, former rivals are now collaborating and even swapping creative roles, while retailers, desperate for new ideas are trying to incubate new designers, labels and ideas to fill the ideas vacuum.
Is fashion officially out of ideas?
The biggest ‘hacking’ of the season, (not a collab. anymore - FYI), was the tie up between Balenciaga and Gucci. Both Kering brands, and in Gucci’s centenary year, Gucci’s ‘Aria’ collection, meaning air in Italian, featured no-doubt sell out product the resellers will only dream about.
Left - Balenciaga & Gucci's 'Hack' in retail form
Tagged as Balenciagucci or (Gucciaga), the internet blew up in April when Alessandro Michele added Balenciaga’s silhouettes and branding across Gucci product.
Two of the biggest and most desirable names in luxury fashion merging like this is unprecedented. A classic Jackie bag was emblazoned with the diagonal Balenciaga font, while Balenciaga’s Triple S was reimagined with the recognisable Gucci Flora print.
If this wasn’t enough rehashing of ideas, the collection also mined the famous Tom Ford era of the mid to late 90’s, reproducing some of his vintage looks from the Gucci archive. Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia said on Instagram Stories after the Gucci show with regards to the homage to Tom Ford’s Gucci. “It really defined the decade in fashion, I think. But I love how today everything mixes in together — ’70s, ’90s, ’00s, etc. Anything is really possible and fashion is such a melting pot of the past, present, and future. That’s what makes it so special and intriguing I guess.”
This product will be in great demand - it isn’t currently available on the main Gucci website - and is therefore guaranteed that it will be swapping hands for a premium when it enters the market. While fun, it does a reek of an ideas cul-de-sac.
Mario Abad, Fashion Editor at Paper Magazine wrote on Twitter (Nov 8th) “Something about Balenciaga tagging their stores with “Gucci” to mark the collab’s launch is making me lose it.”
The biggest ‘swap’ of the SS22 season, (not a collab. anymore - FYI), was Fendi by Versace, Versace by Fendi. Donatella Versace and Fendi’s Kim Jones swapped roles and designed collections for each other’s brands. Versace and Fendi, Capri Holdings and LVMH brands, respectively, unveiled “two iconic collections that celebrate their friendship and the cultural impact of Versace and Fendi.”
Right - Versace's Medusa looks very natural with Fendi's Greek key
Labelled ‘Fendace’, the collection saw Fendi directors Kim Jones and Silvia Venturini Fendi create 25 Versace looks while Donatella Versace reciprocated with 25 Fendi ensembles. Items included Fendi Baguette bags with Medusa heads and Versace’s signature safety pins scattered across Fendi looks all set to hit stores next spring.
Considering Kim Jones only joined Fendi as artistic director of women's collections in September 2020, we’ve yet to clearly see what he can do with the brand. He is also men’s creative director at the giant, LVMH owned, Dior. Fashion conglomerates are finding it increasingly hard to attract big names designers to their houses. Note Daniel Lee just exciting Bottega Veneta.
Left - Kim Jones & Donatella Versace at the launch of 'Fendace'
On the retailer front, MRPORTER.COM announced a competition to find the next menswear design stars to celebrate its 10th anniversary in April 2021. Called MR PORTER FUTURES, the three lucky candidates could not already own a registered or trademarked business with an annual turnover of over €10,000 and was open to anybody regardless of experience of background.
Sam Kershaw, Mr Porter buying director, “We have always been committed to championing a diverse mix of new and emerging designers throughout Mr Porter's decade in business, but if this year has taught us anything, it is that we have the responsibility to use our global platform to give equal opportunities to all new aspiring menswear voices, no matter their experience or background”
Announcing the winners in September 2021, MRPORTER said. “Fashion, after all, can be a tough place to succeed, and, if we’re being honest, isn’t quite as diverse as it could be. For all that it speaks to a global audience, the industry that drives it is largely centralised in just a handful of cities – historically New York, London, Milan and Paris – while talent is disproportionately drawn from a small number of high-profile schools.”
The winners began a year-long design programme to turn their ideas into reality. At the end of the year, they will debut their very own menswear collections exclusively on MR PORTER.
Exclusivity is the way forward for multi-brand luxury sites all battling for the same customers. This also offers MR PORTER the potential of a fresh wave of ideas and a newness that isn’t just another collaboration. It also looks as though it is supporting the fashion industry and diversity.
Another brand desperate for cool is Tiffany & Co. A much-rumoured high profile collaboration between Supreme and Tiffany & Co. is set to drop this week.
Right - Would you return this to Tiffany? Tiffany & Co.s collab with Supreme
The VF and LVMH owned businesses’ collection called ‘Return To Tiffany’ is inspired by pieces originally launched in the 1960s and comprised of pendants, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, and keyrings. Tiffany’s new CEO, Alexandre Arnault, was also the head of Rimowa when they did a collaboration with Supreme.
Fashion consumers have reached collaboration fatigue and this is why the big brands are spinning these as ‘hacks’ or ‘swaps’. It is also why they are upping the ante by partnering with brands of equal stature. Collaborations needed to get bigger to have any impact. Collaborations before were always a David and Goliath type relationship of big brand supporting little. There was no threat there and everybody knew who was the bigger and more important of the two. Where will the brands go from here?
These do look like a desperate grappling for new ideas and attention. Brands not coming up with fresh ideas and therefore not impressing the retailers is making them look elsewhere to nurture a new crop of ideas and designers, especially outside of the main fashion capitals. Considering fashion had something of a pandemic break, for the last 18 months, the latest round of shows in September didn’t feel like a group of creatives burgeoning with fresh ideas. It felt like an industry fully burnt out and these partnerships do nothing to argue against that.
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It could be part of the new push for a genderless society or simply the boundaries being widened for what is, or feels, acceptable for men to wear or carry, but it feels right and looks right for men to carry handbags, right now. This isn’t about making a statement or being provocative, it’s about design, rather than gender and size, that is dictating what a stylish man carries.
Left - The Dior Saddle bag reborn on Kim Jones' first catwalk for Dior Homme
There are certain styles that are simply great pieces of design or are fashion classics and look just as good on a man’s shoulder as on a woman’s. This isn’t about ‘feminising’ men, it’s just something of beauty that is practical in carrying what needs to be carried. Enough said.
What started with Loewe’s ultra-chic ‘Puzzle’ bag has ballooned to include many other classic women’s styles. It was the reintroduction of the Dior ‘Saddle’ bag on Kim Jones’ SS19 catwalk, at his new gig at Dior Homme, in Paris in June, that cemented this new feeling. The #DiorSaddle hashtag featured male influencers reintroducing this style designed by the former Dior Creative Director, John Galliano.
Luke Ross, blogger at Fashion Samaritan, says, “I noticed a real change around 2012 when Hedi Slimanne debuted his first Saint Laurent collection that featured his signature slim cuts that really made pockets obsolete.
“Guys wanted to wear these skinny silhouettes, but the garments just didn’t have sufficient pockets” he says. “You couldn’t carry a wallet, keys, phone etc in them as it ruined the lines and for the first time we started to see men carrying bags with them that weren’t just backpacks.”
Right - Spanish influencer, Prince Pelayo
We have so much more to carry today: wallet, phone, keys, charger, water bottle, notebook, that unless you have a coat with huge pockets, a bag is an indispensable accessory for men. Men want the elegance a bag can give their total look, rather than numerous bulging pockets which can make you look dishevelled and untidy.
Alvin Cher of Bagaholicboy, the dedicated blog for bags, fashion and luxury based in Singapore, says, “I think it was just a matter of time before men got more and more confident and realised they were not restricted to just bags made for them. And if the ladies can dip into what was offered for the guys, the guys can do the same too.
“Boys actually loved the Boy Chanel when it first came out. And started buying. Then slowly, but surely, more and more brands came in.” he says. “Remember Tisci's Givenchy when they had the Pandora? That was a hit too. Even Mulberry's Alexa was deemed 'boyish' enough by some guys to use. After that the gates opened, Dior did it, so did Gucci, Loewe. Even Celine has fans amongst the men, remember the Cabas that everyone wanted?” says Cher.
“I think everyone played a part by releasing a piece that helped the evolution - Ghesquiére released those 'Arena' leather document cases at Balenciaga that every guy in fashion had and they kind of trickled down as more and more people were carrying ipads and laptops so they could be justified as practical even if they weren’t for the everyday man.” says Ross. “For me, Loewe really moved things along by making it cool to have a bag that was a replica of a female bag with the Puzzle. It’s large enough to look like a duffle bag, but then also can be small enough to look like a camera bag.”
This new trend has been pioneered by men’s celebrities, bloggers, influencers and street style images, all making the look believable and cool: men seeing other men carrying these types of bags, making it feel contemporary and fresh.
Navaz Batliwalla, founder of disneyrollergirl.net and author of The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman, and champion of androgyny in womenswear says, “With the influence of streetwear on men’s luxury, men's style icons like A$AP Rocky and any Korean boy band member you care to mention, have long embraced their fashion-forward side, so increasingly, the idea of carrying a bag that’s more exciting than a briefcase or a Uniqlo backpack is no biggie.” she says. “Plus, the fact is that everyone is simply carrying more stuff. Why let your outfit down with a sad generic gym bag, when you can have something that’s as considered and design conscious as the rest of your outfit?”
Left - Luke Ross, Blogger, Fashion Samaritan
The term ‘manbag’ was from the age of the ‘Metrosexual’ and feels just as dated. Who can forget that episode of Friends when Joey becomes too attached to his new shoulder bag, and the ribbing he took from his friends. Looking back, it was huge.
“I think the rise of the reusable tote also fuelled this fire as it became normal for a guy to carry a tote without it looking like a ‘manbag’.” says Ross.
Men don’t need the labels anymore: manbag, mutch - male clutch - or whatever else adds a masculine moniker to a name. I think brands will start to offer more gender neutral shopping areas and put more styles into the men’s shopping areas and advertsiing. This is a market growing into another and actually the true meaning of ‘unisex’.
So, what should us guys be looking for?
“I'm all for a guy carrying a bag made for ladies, but it still boils down to my proportion ratio. You have to try it on and see if it looks correct visually.” says Cher. “I think the time has gone when it comes to specifying which bag suits which gender. More and more brands are coming out with versions that look exactly the same for both guys and girls, so it is all about trying them on, seeing what works and having fun. It is a bag after all at the end of the day, we don't have to be so so serious about it.” says Cher.
Right - Blogger - The Modman with the Loewe Puzzle bag
“I think it’s about being authentic and genuine to your attire and aesthetic.” says Ross “Don’t do a tailored suit and then wear some flimsy nylon, touristy looking money bag.” he says. “Lastly, buy the bag for what you want it to do not the label. I’ve bought bags in the past that I wanted because they were cool, but they actually couldn’t take that much weight in them before the leather started to warp leaving them at the back of my closet and mind.”
The opinion formers in menswear have been carry women’s styles of bags for a while now, but with the new Dior grey Saddle bag set to hit stores in February, I think we’ll see a huge expansion of men carrying styles that were traditionally seen as women’s.
“Men have evolved, which is what fashion is all about anyway.” says Cher.
Male handbags were a major trend on the Milan AW18 catwalks - See more here