Five minutes of innovation: the most remarkable collaborations, brand extensions, special editions and licensed products from the last month.



No-one can deny the revolution that retail has undergone these last 10-20 years. Malls, outlet parks and eCommerce have transformed the shopping landscape, bringing convenience and greater spending power to consumers.
But a common criticism of modern retail trends is increasing homogenization. Despite an abundance of supply, many consumers find it difficult to discover relevant products that are right for them. And while the wizards of the digital world attempt to use algorithms to make shopping less impersonal, shoppers unquestionably lost a key ally when local, independent retailers began disappearing from the scene.
A new breed of store is stepping into the gap left behind by the independents, operated by retail renegades like publishers, museums and shoppers’ clubs. While these newcomers can’t claim to know their customers directly, they resemble independent shop-owners in their ability to gain trust and to filter out irrelevant products. Who else can recall browsing stores like Wallpaper*, the V&A Museum or Ace Hotel and finding them so much more captivating and calming than typical mall and high street retail?

More and more, brands are making special, exclusive products for unconventional outlets. Great examples from last month included Hodinkee, whose accessories department launched with brands like Montblanc, Sigg and Drake’s. The watch blog made a return to Harrods with a four day pop-up shop featuring the range together with a selection of vintage timepieces: it’s not hard to see how Hodinkee brings a unique swagger that not even a shopping palace like Harrods can replicate.

Montblanc for Hodinkee
Billabong x Desillusion
Elsewhere, Billabong released Sable Noir, a dark, brooding surf capsule in collaboration with the arty surf magazine Desillusion, Olympia Le-Tan released exclusive Russ Meyer clutches through erotica publisher Richardson, and Sennheiser sold 5,000 limited edition headphones through Massdrop in a day! 
A big highlight of my recent visit to 'Revolution' at the V&A was the exhibition's gift store, with its superbly curated selection of pop artefacts and merchandise – among them an exclusive denim capsule from Levi’s.
As customers, these curatorial retailers buy narrowly, but they offer brands prestige and powerful platforms for showcasing their most iconic and remarkable products.


A quick look back at some of last year's most inspiring and influential brand innovations.

JANUARY: a design re-think gives Segway new functionality and transforms it from cringe brand to cool brand.

FEBRUARY: Tommy Hilfiger introduces a line of adaptive clothing for disabled children with Runway of Dreams

MARCH: Hunter achieves perfect brand fit with Oxford and Cambridge boots for The Boat Race.

APRIL: Only the brave...Iris Ceramica teams up with Diesel Living for a gritty, authentic range of wall and floor coverings.  


Graffiti and urban art has been an increasingly common component of product design lately, in particular thanks to renewed interest from luxury brands.
In December, Art Basel Miami provided the backdrop for Tag Heuer’s announcement of a forthcoming collaboration with artist Alec Monopoly. The news from the LVMH watchmakers follows a similar move by Hublot, who launched a limited edition series with muralist Tristan Eaton in November. Also in Miami, the luxe streetwear brand Hood By Air released an avant-garde series of oversized t-shirts dedicated to Jamaica’s Gully Queens and the street photography of Pieter Hugo. Other notable examples of collaboration between luxury and urban art in 2016 included Philipp Plein (Filfury), Bally (André Saraiva) and Gucci in cahoots with its Brooklyn graffiti counterpart, Trevor Andrew a.k.a. Gucci Ghost.
As a tool for brand alignment, street art has become less about rebellion, and more about being contemporary, exotic and collectible. Many luxury brands, however, still seem to think of it as something naughty, no doubt like their customers living in mansions and gated communities.

Alec Monopoly and LVMH's Jean-Claude Biver
Montana Cans for Jägermeister
By contrast, premium brands often make a bigger impact with urban art by tapping into its status as a democratic art form.

Great recent examples of this include a limited edition watch series from Diesel, created using cut-up pieces from a 150m2 Rostarr canvas, or the special edition packaging created by Faile for Kiehl’s and the charity, Feeding America. A different approach came from Jägermeister, who marked its support of a collaborative art project in Berlin with limited edition Montana Cans collectibles in the brand’s signature colour, “Knall-Orange”.


MAY: Nike co-opts Krispy Kreme's style - and a doughnut truck - for Kyrie Irving's charge into the NBA Finals. 

JUNE: The World Surf League and Airbnb consummate their partnership with the launch a targeted new service for beach rentals. 

JULY: Justin Bieber pushes the boundaries of tour merchandise with a daring, Jerry Lorenzo-designed capsule at Barney's.

AUGUST: The natural fast food chain, Leon, makes an effortless extension into healthy home cooking via John Lewis.  


The holiday shopping period isn’t just the highpoint of the sales year, it’s also the time when consumers are most likely to seek out products that are anything but ordinary.
High-volume users of brand innovation understand this point perfectly.  Many save their best ideas for the end of the year, while others use it to revisit popular projects from the past.
Another typical behaviour of these ‘power-users’ is to release several product stories in close succession. Several brands spent the early part of the month announcing new products and projects almost daily. Among this group, names like Alpha Industries, Converse and Porter stand out: not only for their high intensity but for the creativity they bring in to bolster specific iconic products.

Alpha Industries MA-1 by ALIFE x Budweiser
Bunney x Converse
Last year saw bomber jackets make a big comeback: and Alpha used collaborations throughout 2016 to reinforce its MA-1 style as the market’s reference jacket. In December alone they created new versions together with ALIFE and Budweiser, the basketball aficionados at K1X and even Justin Bieber.
Converse used the period to shift focus away from its traditional All-Star platform and put second-row models into the spotlight with collaborators like Bunney and Stüssy, while the brand also teased a new luxury offering to be styled by Lanvin-designer, Alber Elbaz. Meanwhile Porter from Japan saw its name attached to new capsules with at least six different collaborators.
I recently crunched some data to get an idea of how many brands worldwide fit under the power-user banner. Among the roughly 250 I counted, around half come from fashion and denim. The rest come from all corners of the market: gourmet, décor, audio, automotive and more.
All of them use collaboration and licensing at least three times a year. The top power-user of 2016 celebrated its anniversary with more than 20 special editions spaced out through the year.
Looking at the variety of the brands on the list, it’s worth reflecting on what plans you have to reach new fans, tell new stories and sell more products in 2017. There’s no doubt that collaborations and licenses broaden the options you have to make something remarkable.


SEPTEMBER: Faber-Castell's limited edition 'Karlbox' packages 350 art tools with Karl Lagerfeld's creativity and opulence.

OCTOBER: Penguin Books reissues and repackages its greatest sci-fi titles with the help of Alex Trochut and Neil Gaiman.

NOVEMBER: Lexus spices up its brand and sets the press on fire with a one-off custom IS inspired by Sriracha hot sauce.

DECEMBER: Happy Socks crowns a year dominated by infuriating populists by teaming up with YouTube's biggest star.
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