Monday, March 9, 2009

designer collaborations

I was about to post about the recent Pierre Hardy footwear line at Gap when I paused to reflect on how I was overrunning my blog with my overzealous excitement for designer-retailer collaborations (
Felix Rey for Target, Alexander McQueen for Target, Steven Alan for Uniqlo). Observing this pattern brought to my attention the important evolution that has occurred over the past few years in the areas of affordable design and how I see the future of design evolving within this area.

I worked for
Michael Graves, one of the most influential and well-known American architects, for 3.5 years in Princeton and in Manhattan. When I first started as an architectural intern in 2004, Michael Graves was already an established icon in the architectural world but he was also becoming a more recognizable name in American mainstream culture. Only a few years earlier the architecture firm had expanded to form a Products department and developed a Michael Graves Design product line, which was exclusively produced for and sold at Targets across the country. The line has expanded over the years and now includes kitchen, cleaning, storage, and home decor products.

When Michael Graves started this collaboration it was an innovative and risky idea. The prestige and respect that came with winning multiple architectural awards and being recognized internationally as a talented and successful designer brought extreme skepticism from elite architects about designing a line that would be sold at a low-priced retail chain. Architecture critics questioned the respectability of "selling out." How could the designer of the highest selling Alessi product of all time (a tea kettle that retails for $159), the "first post-modern building" (the Portland Building in Portland, Oregon), and countless other design accomplishments design a toaster that retails for $37.99 and is sold at a big box store?

"Good design should be accessible to all" is Michael Graves' motto and he was pursuing his dream to make that concept into a reality.

I truly believe in this idea and applaud designers in all areas of our culture who have challenged an idea that fashion is only for the priveleged and created collaborations with retailers that offer a wide slice of the population the opportunity to choose a product that is beautiful.

Some of my favorite designers like Vera Wang, Abaete, Proenza Schouler, Phillip Lim, and Stella McCartney have followed in these footsteps and created lines with retailers like PayLess Shoe Source and H&M. Designers have realized that this is how to have their designs truly reach people and I see it continuing to expand and evolve as we look into the future.

This idea has now become so prevalent that it's hard to keep up with all of the collaborations between high-profile designers and mass market retailers...but now I've come to realize that that is why I'm here. Oh and I'll do that Pierre Hardy for Gap post tomorrow.

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