The era of fashion brands working in silo is long dead. The last ten years have shown how collaborations between labels from all ends of the spectrum can allow them to flourish both creatively and financially. Speaking at GQ Heroes 2022, in a conversation with GQ’s Global Editorial Director Will Welch, A-COLD-WALL* designer Samuel Ross, radio presenter and music producer Benji B and artistic director of the Serpentine Hans Ulrich Obrist discussed how the electrifying age of collaboration has seen fashion become a magnet for people from different disciplines.
“I don’t think I’ve experienced any space where I’m able to collaborate on such a multi-disciplinary level other than fashion,” said Benji B. “I’ve been very lucky to be able to collaborate with amazing people in the music space, but in terms of meeting people in different fields: architecture, set design, show production, film direction and art, there’s nothing that compares.”
Rather than compromising the artistic integrity of the work, focusing on financial success should be seen as a positive force, argued Ross. “Fashion mediates this space between expression and storytelling, but it’s also backed up by commerce and trade, so that gives you this opportunity to have a broader audience and accelerated conversations,” he said. “The commercial pull, the need to deliver some kind of value, pressurises the process.”
The golden era of collaboration has rolled on for years, but the idea that the bubble will burst and see us return to a more insular fashion industry seems unlikely. “The ancient instinct of old school gatekeeping is out now,” said Benji B. “The only way we can press forward both as humans, for the climate and for art, is through collaboration.
“To address the big topics of the 21st century we need new alliances and for many different fields to collaborate,” weighed in Obrist. “It’s more than just an artist designing for a fashion show, there should be multi-generational collaborations to allow change to happen.” Ross, too, added that collabs, “can’t just mean a £7k influencer fee” but should be about “telling under-represented stories.”
The three creative titans also reflected on how each of their work with the late Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh, a multi-hyphenate who put collaboration at the center of the way he worked and took every day as an opportunity to learn from different industries.
“In the many conversations I had with Virgil I always felt architecture was what he would have done next because he started with that,” said Obrist.
“He was someone who really was collaborating with every conversation and was constantly exchanging passionate ideas,” said Benji B. “There was a movie we worked on during lockdown when we weren’t able to do physical shows, and the mood board for that included everything from The Queen’s Gambit to Wu Tan Clan and ’90s rave in the UK. Virgil turned me from a DJ into someone who was suddenly doing sounds for film and finding myself in a new area.”