In a world that seems more combative and polarised than ever, it’s nice to see collaboration in some form or another. Luckily, in fashion we’re spoilt for choice. In recent years we’ve been unable to move for collaboration, that little ‘x’ between our favourite brands’ names a constant in the daily round-ups of menswear and sneaker drops.
Collaborations are a welcome opportunity to experiment, bringing the best of both worlds together for limited releases. Some are modest, combining complementary brands, while others are frankly ridiculous, which in itself is quite endearing. You don’t have to buy it, but it’s nice to know it’s there nonetheless.
One of the most notable of the year was a collaboration between Lil Nas X and rogue design studio MSCHF, which ended up with a blood-filled shoe that caused an outcry in conservative American circles and a hefty lawsuit filed by Nike. Further confirmation that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Others, like Barbour x Noah, were just effortless capsules, the results of two labels getting it on.
Without further ado, here are our favourite collaborations of the year – from items we’d actually wear to those we’re just happy to have seen from a distance.
Rowing Blazers x Umbro
Umbro isn’t the only classic sports brand to team up with New York modern prep label Rowing Blazers this year (Fila have too) but this colourful, pattern-led capsule of kits and training wear is a thing of wonder. Tartan and mixed-up rainbow striping – what’s not to love?
Barbour x Noah
Few brands seem able to consistently present wearable collaborations like Barbour. Whether it’s their past work with Engineered Garments or this year’s efforts alongside the likes of Bape and CP Company, you get the impression that behind everything, the design heads over in South Shields never forget that said garments still have to be wearable.
The same is true of its collection with Brendon Babenzien’s skate-prep fusion brand, Noah, which introduces the perfect amount of colour and pattern to stand out.
Snow Peak x Pendleton
A collaboration doesn’t have to involve clothes. A collaboration can be two notable brands just making really, really good blankets – that’s cool too. Like an ageing superstar DJ with a sideline in saké or an international footballer with a hobbyist passion for turmeric shots. Do what makes you happy. We’ll bet these camping-inspired blankets do exactly that.
Arc’teryx x Jil Sander
Going anywhere snowy this year? Kit yourself out in a collaboration between Frank Ocean’s favourite outdoor label and brand of the moment Jil Sander. Go on, you deserve it. One of the 2021’s most hotly-anticipated drops came in the form of skiing, snowboarding and mountain sports gear. For something more affordable, Jil Sander also worked with Uniqlo this year. Less of a strain on your wallet.
Brompton x Oliver Spencer
We’re big fans of Oliver Spencer at Ape. Everything about the brand feels especially personal and curated and in an age when most bricks-and-mortar shopping experiences are, let’s put it lightly, not great, walking into an OS store is immediately comforting. Teaming up with British cycling icons Brompton this year, the resulting pieces channelled practicality but also flecks of stylish innovation like reflective threads in grid formats for optimum visibility in the saddle.
Stone Island x New Balance
Good luck getting your hands on them as they’ll be long gone into the re-sell-osphere by now, but it happened and life is all the richer for it, right? A memorable sneaker design to be filed under ‘we’re good thanks, we’ll watch from over here’. Always nice to ogle though.
Nike x Patta
A big one for sneakerheads everywhere. Dutch streetwear label Patta worked with Nike on some especially hype-worthy Air Max 1 releases this year – including the Rush Maroon, Monarch and Noise – as well as some associated hoodies, pullovers, track pants and tees.
Frame x The Ritz
It doesn’t have to be exclusively clothing brands that get together. Labels can team up with, say, a hotel – especially a ritzy hotel like The Ritz. And that’s exactly what high-end basics brand Frame did this year, with eye-catching results perfect for a posh breakfast buffet.
8ON8 x Canali
You had us at Marco Polo. Canali’s collaborative venture from Italy to the streets of modern-day China inspired by the explorer is the collab we didn’t think we needed. But the more we look at it we definitely do. Wider silhouettes, inspired use of silk and a nod to Canali’s heritage… tick, tick, tick.
Reebok x Eames
British sportswear brand Reebok, originally founded in Bolton, collaborated with Eames this year. Who would have thought? Yes, that Eames: makers of aspirational reading chairs. The Reebok x Eames Club C collection was a two-shoe project celebrating the 20th century designer Ray Eames, reinterpreting his artwork. A good little conversation starter at the pub when someone asks about your sneakers.
Coach x Bape
Tokyo meets New York in this year’s mash-up of old and new. Coach’s use of premium materials and classic silhouettes meets Bape’s trademark bold prints inspired by camo and the inevitable skate deck. A welcome contrast and a sign of the old guard warming to experimentation.
Christopher Raeburn x Private White
Two innovative, high-quality brands combine as Private White’s luxury menswear approach gets a sprinkling of Raeburn recycling magic. Ventile and parachute canopy are transformed into some remarkable coats with classic silhouettes and bold use of striking panels.
Aime Leon Dore x New Balance
A notable one this year for the chunky sneaker hypebeasts. Rolling in off the back of a slipstream of subreddit speculation and some very good lookbooks – featuring among others, Action Bronson – Aime Leon Dore and New Balance was a sought-after drop. Very New Jersey.
Salehe Bembury x Crocs
Now, we’re not saying we’d wear them out but we absolutely would wear them at home or if we worked in a busy kitchen. Iconic American designer Salehe Bembury does the impossible: designs the only potentially acceptable pair of Crocs. Bravo.
R.M. Williams x Drake’s
Drake’s are no strangers to collaboration. And for a brand that deals in timeless preppy style, Australian heritage bootmaker R.M. Williams seems like an obvious match. The result was handsome boots that are as at home on the range as they are teamed with tailoring, strutting around the city.