IT’S ALL GUCCI: Branding in The Age of The ‘Collab’

Freddie Young
By Freddie Young | 27 January 2022
Freddie Young.

Freddie Young, co-founder of Good One Creative.

Tom was still some minutes away, having left his phone back at the office and us there waiting on the corner of Collins and Russell. We were headed for lunch and hoping that a few beers might dislodge whatever it was that sat, unmoving, between us and “the idea”, the answer to a brief at once too specific and impossibly vague.

Driven to immediate boredom, as Art Directors so often are, Charlie walked right into the Gucci store behind us. I reached for his arm, sputtered, and caught not Charlie but myself, attempting to restrain my adult friend from entering an open store. He, too, left me there on the corner of Collins and Russell, my arm still out, still pondering the words upon my lips, a thought as pathetic as it was terrifying.

“Charlie, we’re not allowed in there.”

Don’t mistake this for pride: I have never been removed from a Gucci.

The legacy and million-dollar TVCs and the general height of the brand had simply led me, these past few decades, to assume that my kind (mortals, non-Guccis) were simply not welcome in their stores. If ever I were to enter a Gucci, it would only follow that a security guard would compare my face to one of the many on the wall, note the everything-Kmart about me, and immediately lean into their radio. If the security guards of luxury or premium retail are ever given tasers, it’s my photo they’ll use to train.

Now we smash-cut to this morning, to the news of Gucci, The North Face, Highsnobiety, and that Tik Tok Train Guy’s collaboration.

This is the second chapter of Gucci and The North Face’s collaboration. And if this chapter follows the trend, it’s going to work. As mentioned in Highsnobiety’s write up of the campaign, Love the Sales has claimed that chapter one lifted consumer demand for The North Face by 231 percent. And it’s not just The North Face that Gucci has sought out for collaboration. Late last year and around the world, Balenciaga display windows were seemingly defaced, the word
‘GUCCI’ scrawled in red paint, each letter dripping in the style of a hastily thrown-up tag. Similarly “defaced” articles were available to purchase inside the store. This was ‘The Hacker Project’, the brainchild of Balenciaga and Gucci’s (respective) creative directors, Demna Gvasalia and Alessandro Michele.

These are just two examples of a growing trend that has seen the fashion industry, these past few years, adopt the methods and the communicative cadence of its influencers, opting for short-run, flash-in-the-pan collabs - which one might think would lead to the dilution of their own brand strengths. These dynamic, one-minute, hybrid brands, though, are providing these same brands with the opportunity to behave in a way they never could have in isolation for fear of derailing their legacy, their identity in the name of a quick buzz or a slightly wider, yet temporary audience. For those courageous enough to take part, the precedent is now well-and-truly set for brands to swoop down in pairs from their various Olympuses and to lose themselves together in the mires and the fritz of internet culture.

Success in this arena then may be measured by two factors:
1. The amount of interest their collaboration inspires (OR the distance between their newfound partners’ brands and their own).
2. Their ability to return, unaffected. To have their cake and eat it too.

To people and business alike, hear the word. Your brand is for lease - a natural reaction to our generation’s reaction to the fact that shit just won’t stop reacting. 2021 cannot be explained to 2018 (think NFTs) but in leveraging this newfound, crazy world of ours, there is certainly news and money to be made.

Is it sustainable over the long-term? Well, that’s down to the individual brands involved, to playing as smart as you do brave. And the key to all this may still be to return to first position, cultural-capital-in-hand, before anyone can really consider what’s just happened, before the young, everything-Kmart adman has the chance to figure exactly where he and Gucci stand.

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