What do Dolce & Gabbana, Shrimps and Adidas have in common? These three very different brands have teamed up with homeware companies on collaborative collections that are a resounding success in the world of interiors. The D&G fridges and kitchen accessories with Smeg were functional, colourful works of art. The Habitat x Shrimps line allowed the cult London label to take its signature palette of pink and red, and its distinctive designs, and translate them into a series of textiles and artworks for fans’ homes. In June last year, it was announced that Adidas and Ikea are working together to create new solutions that enable healthy habits at home, and the much-anticipated results of this partnership are expected to be revealed in 2021.
These kinds of collaborations are brilliant for many reasons: they keep brands interesting, generate extra revenue, offer something unique and, most importantly, they get people talking. It's all about "open-source innovation" – as Adidas's vice president of design, Josefine Aberg, so eloquently puts it – and it's something that's been going on in the fashion world for years. More and more, however, we're seeing a variety of other creative industries follow suit, and that's now starting to spread to the UAE.
A trend that's taking off
“Product collaborations are well-known in the fashion world but it’s not something necessarily seen here in the UAE, especially in the home market,” says Simon Moore, the founder of helmii, an online furniture brand that allows users to design their own beds, mattresses and sofas. They recently embarked on their first collaboration with Dubai boutique design studio House of Hawkes, which saw them conceive and manufacture a stylish new bed with a series of removable frame covers.
“By working with House of Hawkes, we knew we could combine our key strengths of design, service, quality and price into creating a stylish product that is unique and adaptive to changes in people’s lives,” Moore explains. This is what led to the washable House of Hawkes Slip Cover bed, which allows people to freshen up their bedroom style by removing and replacing the entire bed frame cover. Not only is this handy product great for young families who need to adapt to changing tastes of growing children, he says, but it’s also a clever business move. “House of Hawkes has a great following on Instagram and has become a key influencer in the interiors market,” says Moore. “We wanted to build on the insights that the team has gained through years of working directly with customers and felt we could create a product that would solve some of the problems faced by consumers when shopping for a bed.”
Addressing buyers’ concerns is one of the main drivers for these collaborative projects, particularly when it brings brands in different industries together – such as with the forthcoming Adidas x Ikea range. While this includes bringing fresh and functional products into the market, it also means offering these items at an accessible price point. This is exactly why we’ve seen so many high-end fashion brands team up with high-street retailers over the past few years – one of the most recent of which was Giambattista Valli for H&M, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May to much acclaim.
“I admire H&M,” says Moore. “Since 2004, H&M has collaborated with a high-profile fashion designer every year to produce capsule collections for their stores […] They’ve done this while sticking to their value credentials, bringing catwalk style and glamour at high-street prices. This fits with our ideals of creating great-value products that won’t break the bank.”
Room to desire
But it's not just about practicality and accessibility, but also being covetable. A vast proportion of brand bigwigs put their heads together to create lines that are going to be desired and admired. This is one reason why Nisrine El Lababidi, design director of Harf Noon Design Studio, recently collaborated with online UAE retailer KnotHome.com on a series of accessories, cushions and lighting. "The pieces are meant to inject a sense of magic and lustrous spirit to a space," she tells The National.
“The collection derives from trending colours that came out of Maison & Objet and Salone del Mobile.” Ochre yellows and blues are embellished with accents of gold across cushions produced with fine fabrics, or sculptural elements in metal and marble, and hand-blown glass lighting. “I wanted the materials, despite their differences, to give a coherent effect and presence. Whether used as a single piece or as an entire collection, there’s a dialogue between them and they command your attention and appreciation. I like to think of them as conversation starters.”
While El Lababidi is also a fan of Ikea’s collaborations, in particular the one with British designer Tom Dixon, it’s the Kelly Wearstler x Georg Jensen collection that truly inspires her. “The striking combination of Danish minimalism with the Los Angeles cool results in a beautiful challenge where they had to develop new metalworking techniques in order to realise the pieces. This is exactly what makes collaborations interesting – and why design is a problem-solving tool.”
Moore believes that product is key for any retail business. “People are always looking for products that help them solve problems or have great unique design,” he says. El Lababidi believes it’s about more than that, though.
“Today, it takes more than just a good product to succeed,” she asserts. “It has become extremely important to collaborate, as this leads to fresh ideas and perspectives. It also provides value for both the designer and the business, and definitely creates unique value to the customers.”
But not every collaboration will work, she warns. “Brands that partner with one another must also fit. When there’s fit – shared values, goals and target audiences – brand collaborations not only shape perception, expand awareness and excite existing believers, but they also give everyone something to talk about.” In fact, they’re no longer a luxury, she asserts. “They’re a strategic imperative.”
What the future holds
Harf Noon Design Studio has already created two collections of rugs for Carpet Centre in Dubai, which El Lababidi says are continuously being restocked due to popular demand. She's also worked with Ame Creative Studios to fashion stylish tablescapes using the company's flower arrangements. A third, top-secret collaboration is also currently in the works and will only be revealed later this year. "It's very exciting," she says with a smile.
Helmii, meanwhile, is developing its products with House and Hawkes, bringing new fabrics and seasonal colours into the mix, but is also looking to do more collaborations with other brands. “We would love to work with budding local designers of the future and give a platform for them to showcase their skills,” says Moore. “So we definitely have plans to build on this and are already talking to other potential brands.”
After all, it might make good business sense, but creating new products is also a lot of fun for the designers, adds El Lababidi. “I think when you find the right collaboration, the ideas flow and the entire process, despite being more challenging, is enjoyable; moving from an idea to a finished piece in a wonderful, singular journey, each and every time. There’s nothing more rewarding than working for months and then seeing your designs produced and in other people’s houses!” And perhaps that’s the biggest reason of all.