NikeLab has tapped Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director, Kim Jones, for its latest designer capsule collection. Much like Balmain's Olivier Rousteing, who recently fronted a collaboration with Nike, Jones announced the news by way of his personal Instagram account on Monday. The collection, which is slated to drop next month, is the second from a creative director of an LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand; Givenchy's creative director, Riccardo Tisci, has been teaming up with the Portland-based sportswear giant since last year.
Given the increasingly frequent nature of high end-meets-mass market collabs, it appears that the contracts that come hand-in-hand with the creative director positions at luxury conglomerate-owned houses, such as those that fall under the umbrellas of LVMH and Kering, for instance, may not be as stringent as one might otherwise expect.
The High Fashion Creative Director Collab
Looking beyond the NikeLab capsules for a moment, consider Raf Simons. The former creative director of Christian Dior has an ongoing arrangement with German sportswear giant, adidas, which was alive and well during his three-year stint at Dior. This scenario varies quite a bit from the Tisci/Jones ones, though, as it was formed prior to Simons taking the helm of Dior. Moreover, Simons maintained (and continues to maintain) an eponymous label during his Dior tenure and it is in connection with that brand that the ongoing adidas collaboration is associated.
Unlike Simons, neither Tisci nor Jones currently have their own labels (Note: Jones did operate an eponymous label upon his graduation from Central Saint Martins in the early 2000’s but closed up shop to take on the lead role at Dunhill in 2008). As such, the NikeLab collections are categorized as personal projects, not technically associated with any brand of their own or of their employers. (More about that in a minute).
Such collabs are not limited to LVMH-owned brands, though. The Arnault empire’s rival, Kering, which owns YSL, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, and Gucci among others, has allowed for somewhat similar projects. While employed by Balenciaga, for instance, Alexander Wang was able to team up with Swedish fast fashion giant H&M for a collaboration, in connection with his eponymous label, that is. And Stella McCartney, whose brand is also owned by Kering, maintains a longstanding partnership with adidas. So, such individualized collabs are not completely unheard of.
Louis Vuitton x Nike or Kim Jones x Nike?
If you are at least a bit skeptical as to just how separate these collaborations are from the houses that employ the big name designers tapped to collaborate on them, you should be. Thus far, most publications (this one included) have identified such designers largely by the houses that employ them. Given the widespread visibility of modern creative directors, Olivier Rousteing, for example, is not just Olivier Rousteing. He is Balmain's creative director, and as a result, headlines about his Nike collection read as follows: "Balmain's Olivier Rousteing Is Collaborating With Nike", "Olivier Rousteing Is Releasing a Nike Collab, and It Looks Very Balmain", and "NikeLab’s Collection with Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing Is Already on eBay", etc. The same goes for Tisci's ongoing Nike collection and its headlines, which basically follow a similar format: "A First Look at Givenchy Designer Riccardo Tisci's NikeLab Apparel." And Jones - the least widely known of the Nike high fashion trio - as well.
In this way, are such individual creative director collaborations all that different from ones in which an actual brand, itself, teams up with another (think: Marni for H&M or Missoni for Target)? Obviously, the technical differences are quite vast (they are likely much cheaper for the mass market brands, for one thing, as they are licensing (more or less) the name of an individual and not a full-fledged luxury brand), but are the risks all that different? Maybe not. Certainly, to some extent, by avoiding putting a high fashion brand name on an outside collaboration, LVMH and Kering are positioning themselves to bypass some of the obvious concerns that arise with these types of projects. These include the potential creation of the appearance of a lack of exclusivity (something crucial in the upper echelon of fashion) or the hypothetical risk of a labor scandal (something with which H&M is extremely familiar), among many others. But by lending their creative directors as opposed to their own brand names, such houses stand to proactively mitigate an array of potential harms by giving them the option/ability to distance themselves – even if they are only doing so by way of a technicality – from the situation in case things go south (think: "It wasn't our collaboration. It was his," as such creative directors are most likely not going to be indemnified by their employer houses if something were to go wrong in connection with that outside collab).
At the same time, however, at least part of the gamut of potential risks remains for a design house, whether it is lending its name or its creative director, because at the end of the day, the designer brand name does come into play, as indicated by the headlines above. This fact makes it interesting that high fashion houses, like Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, have agreed to sign off on such projects (directly or indirectly by way of some contractual loophole). It is worth noting that given the recent announcement of the impending Kenzo (an LVMH-owned brand) collaboration with H&M, though, maybe we should not be all that surprised by the conglomerate's seemingly laissez-faire attitude when it comes to partnerships.
Most interestingly, maybe, is that neither Givenchy nor Louis Vuitton appear to have ironclad clauses in their directors' contracts prohibiting them from taking on such side projects; thereby, permitting these individuals to team up with other brands and more or less, bring their employers' names right along with them. Chances are, both LVMH and Kering have identified that consumers are able to readily distinguish between collaborations and high fashion collections, and the respective brands at play, particularly because collaborations of this kind have been extremely commonplace in the market for over a decade now. Moreover, by not enforcing all-out exclusivity provisions in their creatives' contracts, such conglomerates stand to avoid even greater pay outs to their creatives than those already in place because contractual provisions limiting an individual’s ability to work elsewhere tend to be extremely expensive (and fashion is a business, after all)!
Finally, there is also the argument that modern day creative directors have quite a bit more pull when it comes to their careers. Signing long-term contracts and staying at any house for any significant amount of time (read: longer than 3 years or so) is no longer "in fashion." Raf Simons left Christian Dior because he did not want to sign a long term contact. Hedi Slimane reportedly left YSL, where he has dramatically revamped its sales numbers, over contractual issues, as well. As such, there is a chance that in order to retain top talent, design houses are simply being forced to become more amenable to negotiation with such talent, no small number of which are becoming celebrities in their own right, to some extent.
This is not to say, though, that such outside collabs do not come with very strict rules from these creative directors' employers, in terms of how the high fashion house's name may be used and to what extent the creative director may participate. Such terms, unfortunately, are only speculable, though, as they'd clearly fall under the category of highly confidential information.
UPDATE (6/24/16): Here's the first look at Kim Jones x Nike ...