At best, a collaboration can breathe new life – and a new stream of customers – into brands. At worst, a collaboration causes fans and sometimes critics to scratch their heads. The popular fashion site Racked even parodied some of these with an Improbable Collaboration Generator tool that spit out highly random, fictitious team-ups such as 3.1 Phillip Lim x Dave Matthews. (Like we said, collaborations at their worst.)
Because it appears for every lasting collection (John Varvatos x Converse) or news-making collaboration (Balmain x H&M), there's a questionable one. Who remembers Lindsay Lohan x Ungaro? (Ah, didn't think you would.)
Though collaborations are hardly anything new, the latest iterations are bolder, better curated and hyper-focused on the shopper's delight. Where the "x" or "by" once signified an indie brand lending street cred to a behemoth, it's now an indication that two brands have dived into their strengths – and demographics – to find a real sweet spot.
Here are the brands doing it well and still serving up some surprises with these five recent collaborations.
Levi's x Magasin
When Josh Peskowitz was preparing to open his new men's store, Magasin, at Platform in Culver City, the longtime fashion director and New York transplant wanted to be selective about the denim on offer. As he put it, "If you're going to sell one denim brand, it should be Levi's." Fast-forward to Peskowitz's vision for a collaboration – first rendered in Sharpie on computer paper – that has come to life, hand-cut and sewn from vintage 501s. The button-front denim is cropped with a roomy fit, making for a laid-back yet still fashion-forward silhouette. The limited-edition jeans are available at Magasin, where, according to Peskowitz, people have been driving from all over California to snap them up.
$295, (213) 458-8424, magasinthestore.com
Teva x Artists
The Goleta-based brand is no stranger to collaborations (past ones have included Nasty Gal and Los Angeles design studio National Forest), but its latest artist collaboration spotlights designers with vivid and energized sensibilities that translate beautifully to the company's signature shoes. Teva's third round of the artist series collection brought graphic designer Emily Hoy, textile artist Leah Duncan, and creative group Jolby & Friends to put their unique spin on things. Their nontraditional pair-ups have earned them a fan in Solange Knowles, who came out to celebrate the new collection at a party in downtown Los Angeles. "Teva has evolved so much," she said. "My friend [and past Teva collaborator] Humberto [Leon] gave me a pair, and they were adorable. That's when I started rocking them."
Starting at $60, with 10% of the proceeds going to L.A.-based nonprofit P.S. Arts, which is devoted to improving arts education in underserved public schools, (800) 367-8382, teva.com
Target x Marimekko
What do you get when you mix America's favorite retailer with Finland's most storied design house? A frenzy of all-dressed-up-in-bold florals and hyper-graphic black-and-white patterns. While the collection's home and patio pieces – ranging from a hammock to outdoor poufs – have been among the most thrilling to fans, the fashion component is not to be ignored. Look for highly wearable, focused-on-the-fun (and fit) pieces such as SPF-enhanced swim shirts; a matching casual, short suit in blue and black; and a lady-of-leisure caftan just begging to be dripped in jewels – or sand. (It would fit either situation well.)
Women's clothing from $20-$35, (800) 440-0680, target.com
Funboy x Artists
Los Angeles-based luxury float brand Funboy is already well-loved among influencers including Victoria's Secret Angels and Taylor Swift for its larger-than-life swan float. So why not take it a step further by inviting artists to make that swan their canvas? "Our creative team wanted to work with artists from distinct mediums to inspire unique experiences," said company co-founder Raquel Barrett. Enter Miami-based Alex Yanes and Venice muralist Kelcey Fisher, also known as KFish, to each turn floats into high-fashion works of art deserving year-round display.
$128 each, email@example.com, funboy.com
Chandon x Carol Lim
Rosé is pretty chic all on its own, but Napa Valley-based sparkling wine company Chandon's new collaboration takes it to a whole new level. Carol Lim, the Kenzo designer and Opening Ceremony co-founder, designed a limited-edition bottle inspired by an Opening Ceremony design called Girl Talk. The result makes for, quite possibly, a more fun way to drink – and what's sure to be the ultimate summer hostess gift. (This collaboration has been so popular we had to track down a retailer that still carried the bottle.)
$26 for 750 ml bottle, (212) 838-7500, sherry-lehmann.com