About that Reported Louis Vuitton x Supreme Collaboration

According to our friends over at Racked, Louis Vuitton is set to unveil a collaboration with cult streetwear/skatewear brand, Supreme, as part of its Fall/Winter 2017 menswear collection this month. Racked’s article makes an interesting point: In 2000, Louis Vuitton sent what was likely a strongly worded cease and desist letter to Supreme for making and selling skate decks that bore a print similar to Louis Vuitton’s toile monogram. Supreme responded by pulling the deck from its site and replacing it with the following notation: “Recalled after two weeks due to lawsuit.”

A compelling bit associated with the aforementioned article stems from its title, “Louis Vuitton Goes From Lawyering Up Against Supreme to Collabing With Them, Maybe,” and writer Cam Wolf’s assertion: “Regardless, [the reported collaboration] shows how far Supreme and streetwear have come since 2000. We’re almost two decades removed from that cease and desist, and now Louis Vuitton is welcoming Supreme to its Kumbaya circle hoping it has a short memory.”

Is it really that streetwear and Supreme has come so far as to fit neatly in with Louis Vuitton? I’m not sure, maybe. The more applicable element here for us is that a nearly 20-year old cease and desist letter (a legal correspondence sent to an alleged wrongdoer describing the alleged misconduct and demanding that the alleged misconduct be stopped) might somehow preclude this type of collaboration on Louis Vuitton’s end. There are a few salient points to consider in this regard, all of which suggest that the alleged collab is not as shocking as some might think.

Undeniably, the collaboration – if bona fide – is somewhat surprising given Louis Vuitton’s highly protective approach when it comes to intellectual property (IP). Some have stated that Louis Vuitton’s penchant for cease and desist letters and IP-related litigation means the brand is a “trademark bully.” Others – this website included – have tended to view such enforcement tactics as the zealous efforts of an enormously valuable luxury brand - the world's most valuable luxury brand, to be exact - working to ensure that its valuable IP assets are not diluted to the point of lessened worth. It is, after all, the duty of a trademark holder to police the unauthorized uses of its trademarks.

Louis Vuitton very clearly does not take kindly to others – oftentimes even those within its own ranks (remember the alleged fight that former creative director Marc Jacobs had to wage in order to “deface” the brand’s monogram canvas with Stephen Sprouse’s neon graffiti) – interfering with its IP. However, just as in the collaborative examples that Wolf cites in his article – such as when the brand brought in Pharrell or Kanye West to design items, which were done entirely in house, under the Louis Vuitton umbrella, and under premise that Louis Vuitton had control and ownership of the end products – the Supreme one (assuming the reports are legitimate) will almost certainly be closely monitored.

As such, Louis Vuitton will ensure that it benefits from the partnership without many of the risks commonly associated with collaborations (namely, a lack of control). In this way, the collaboration is not all that surprising. It is certainly less surprising that if the roles were reversed and Supreme was using the Louis Vuitton logo. 

As for the infamous cease and desist letter, this should not be given too much weight – in my opinion. Much has changed in the market, which undeniably affects the legal landscape over the past 20 years. Consider, for instance, how much consumption patterns and consumer preferences have changed over the past few decades; collaborations are far more socially acceptable for luxury brands than they were twenty years ago.

Sure, luxury brands are the result of many decades – and in some cases, centuries – of careful positioning and significant sums of money, which enables them to demand $4,000+ for a bag and even more for a dress. And for many years, the worlds of luxury and non-luxury did not mix. You may recall the famous tale of when Halston teamed up with JC Penney for a mainstream collection in 1983, only to have his main line immediately dropped from Bergdorf Goodman. 

Long gone are the days of consumers (and stockists) dismissing brands for collaborating with other – often dissimilarly situated – brands. And still yet, in-house collaborations are very far removed – both practically and legally speaking – from the unauthorized usage of another’s intellectual property, and this potential collaboration is demonstrative of that. If we consider these factors, the collaboration - while certainly not business as usual for Louis Vuitton, is a bit less shocking. 

The question that remains: Why? Well, chances are, Louis Vuitton wants to tap – for a season or so – into the wild dedication and rabid willingness to spend that is consistently displayed by Supreme fans. (They are the ones that line up outside of the brand’s New York store or wait with baited breath on its website once a week to “cop new shit.” Some then go on to sell (and in some cases, make a living) from re-selling the wares online).

In this way, the collab is likely an opportunity for Louis Vuitton to sell (and judging by Supreme fans, any garments and accessories will sell out regardless of their prices). Moreover, it is a chance for Louis Vuitton to up its cool factor, particularly among millennials – the demographic with which every brand is consistently hoping to find favor.

With this in mind, it seems that Louis Vuitton has identified a potential goldmine in this potential collaboration if it is handled properly.