Todd Snyder breaks down his savvy business of collabs
Jul 29, 2020
Joe’s Blackbook Sessions emerged early in Covid's shutdown in a bid to keep industry conversation ongoing. So far the Sessions have featured Ben Pruess, President North America Retail, Tommy Hilfiger; Anthony Cuthbertson, Global Design Director, Topshop; menswear designer Robert Geller; and Josh LeVine, Co-Founder Frame Denim, with all proceeds going toward the Joe’s Blackbook Scholarship Foundation.
Fresh on the heels of the announcement that he had been nominated for the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year, Todd Snyder sits down to be interviewed by Randy Cousin, VP Brand Merchandising at Tommy Hilfiger, on his career highlights and post-Covid plans.
During the course of the lively chat, Snyder reveals he puts at least 50 percent of his success down to one thing: the collab, He identified early the power of hitching his wagon to other established brands: “I knew collaboration was really the mouthpiece to drive awareness for the brand. I wasn’t going to buy ads and billboards and I had to be clever. Everyone benefits from the engagement. All of a sudden you’re talking to a whole new audience.” Two years into his label, a deal with iconic athletic label Champion inked in 2013 proved a winner, only gaining relevance during pandemic times when sweatpants and tailoring became the remote-working professional’s go-to business casual.
“I wasn’t the first to do collabs,” he admits. “Junya Watanable and Comme des Garçons were doing them. I just wanted to do the American version.” But Japan inspired him even beyond its native designers: “Japan loves Americana, and American items. Who’s big in Japan? New Balance, Champion––that’s how I got my collab road map.”.
Snyder devotes time to researching suitable partner brands and cultivating relationships long before contracts are ever drafted. Of past pairings, he says, “Red Wing took two years to create, Timex, a year to land.” But he is no stranger to facing rejection. “You’d be surprised how many say no," he says. "Companies have to be ready.”
Fashion collabs allow emerging designers to engage with heritage brands
One uniting element among his targeted brands is that they have all been around for more than a century which aligns with Snyder’s values of American classics, craftsmanship and authenticity. “It’s about the heritage, you can’t make that up,” he explains. “You get to borrow their history, their heritage, their story––they’re all originals in their space.”
The one that got away is Brooks Brothers. “I’d been courting them, and we were in talks,” he says, ruefully revealing a concept called Black Fleece 2.0. “We were probably just a season away.” The 200-year-old menswear retailer’s fate is now uncertain after filing for Chapter 11 in early July. Snyder bemoans the further loss of American manufacturing brought on by the fall of Brooks Brothers such as Southwick in Massachusetts which also produced garments for his line.
Collaborations have to resonate as authentic and while Snyder believes Nike is leading in the space, he thinks the hottest ones are currently happening in Europe but they are fueled by all things Americana, He references, in particular, Virgil Abloh's work at Louis Vuitton, and Demna Gvasalia, previously of Vetements, now at Balenciaga: “It’s as if he flew into Iowa, looked around, then did his take on it,” observes Snyder, a born-and-bred Iowan himself. “I guess sometimes it takes an outside eye.”
At age 30-something, back when Snyder was made head of menswear at J Crew, a huge opportunity, he says, “I knew I had to surround myself with great talent.” And long before his namesake’s launch he prioritized aligning with fellow creatives over competing with them. He credits former bosses Ralph Lauren and Mickey Drexler at J Crew for informing his style and work ethic, and today is able to return the favor to friend and “all-time mentor” Drexler by offering advice to him on starting his own new, small enterprise.
Never burn a bridge. Never be a jerk. These are Snyder’s rules. “I want to work with people I’d want to have a beer with,” he says, “but I like to be challenged.” And to that goal he has no intention of staying in his lane, designing only clothing and accessories. He has previously created an Eames chair, an Anglepoise lamp, the interior of an inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, and ten of his own stores with an interior designer. But it's the results of his latest collab, which will be available this fall, that he credits as being the reason behind this year's, his fourth, CFDA nomination: a collection with LL Bean.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.