Cultural relevance is key to being a successful fashion designer in 2023. The multifaceted role has never only been about craftsmanship; labels also need to be positioned comfortably in the zeitgeist to sell. As the domination of streetwear has proven, the social connotations of clothing often hold more weight than the designs, so it is crucial that houses build their identity through cultural capital.
Doing just that, this week’s brand collaborations reflect a rise in fashion designer-led exhibitions. The Museum of Modern Art has invited It-girl menswear creative of the moment Grace Wales Bonner to curate an exhibition, while Robyn Lynch has been commissioned by London’s Now Gallery. And in the fall, Hood By Air founder and ex-creative director Shayne Oliver will take over the Schinkel Pavillon art gallery in Berlin.
Below, we dissect each of these partnerships, as seen in this week’s Collabs & Drops newsletter. Subscribe here to receive these updates directly to your inbox every Tuesday, plus all the collab news you need to know about.
Wales Bonner x Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Date: November 18, 2023 to April 7, 2024
Product: “Spirit Movers” exhibition at the MoMA in New York and a book, “Grace Wales Bonner: Dream in the Rhythm — Visions of Sound and Spirit”
Social context: Wales Bonner has 266,000 followers on Instagram, and her post announcing the collaboration has 14,000 likes.
Verdict: Along with Martine Rose, Grace Wales Bonner another talent whose name was tossed around as a potential replacement for Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton Men’s. That in itself is indicative of the popularity of her eponymous label and her cult following in the fashion industry right now.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the MoMA has selected her to be the next subject of its celebrated Artist’s Choice series. The exhibition will showcase 50 selected works chosen by Wales Bonner, accompanied by a book titled “Grace Wales Bonner: Dream in the Rhythm — Visions of Sound and Spirits” as part of the MoMA collection.
The 16th installment in the series is a chance to celebrate Wales Bonner’s success in fashion, present her dedication to Black representation and, hopefully, expand her consumer base in the process. MoMA says the exhibition “will gather artworks with a particular focus on Black cultural and aesthetic practices inspired by the styles, experiences, forms, and sounds of the African diaspora.”
Robyn Lynch x Now Gallery
Date: December 6, 2023, to February 25, 2024
Product: Greetings From Ireland exhibition at Now Gallery in London
Social context: Robyn Lynch has 22,500 followers and Now Gallery has 27,400 on Instagram. Their shared post about Lynch’s debut exhibition has 201 likes.
Verdict: Awarded the Now Gallery Fashion commission, Irish-born and London-based designer Robyn Lynch will present her work at the South London location, inviting more consumers to engage with her brand identity.
Said “to plunge visitors head-first into the bold, playful universe of Robyn Lynch and her eponymous menswear label,” the event demonstrates how collaboration can be used to bring wider audiences and new perspectives to labels.
Exhibitions are an opportunity to explain the story behind a brand and to introduce lesser known yet amazing designers, like Lynch, to the world.
Shayne Oliver x Schinkel Pavillon
Date: August 12, 2023 to September 2, 2023
Product: “The Mall of Anonymous” exhibition at Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin
Social context: Shayne Oliver has 12,000 followers on Instagram. His company profile has 21,300 followers, where the three posts about the exhibition have garnered 1,074 likes in total so far.
Verdict: Described as merging the “legacy and future” of Hood by Air founder Shayne Oliver, the “Mall of Anonymous” exhibition coming this August will accompany the launch of the designer’s newest brands: Anonymous Club, As Seen by Shayne Oliver and his eponymous label Shayne Oliver. Each one is available from summer 2023 until March 2024.
Combining art and retail, the Berlin Gallery will take the form of a “two-and-a-half-store walk-in sculpture,” exhibiting the three new labels of the Shayne Oliver Group. As brick-and-mortar stores fight for attention, experiential and immersive shopping is an increasingly winning strategy to draw consumer attention.
Launching brands in this way not only creates buzz, but also enables full conceptual storytelling. In addition to releasing his own designs, Oliver is also using the exhibition to put the American mall concept on a pedestal. It’s an exploration of how malls contribute to social hierarchies in youth culture, being at the center of teenage fever for most American kids.