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4 Industry Insiders Spell Out the Highs and Lows of Collaboration in Fashion

"Just breathe, focus and be smart with your words."
Chromat's Becca McCharen showcases her collaboration with Intel alongside Intel New Technology Group's General Manager Josh Walden at New York Fashion Week in Sept. 2015. Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Chromat's Becca McCharen showcases her collaboration with Intel alongside Intel New Technology Group's General Manager Josh Walden at New York Fashion Week in Sept. 2015. Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

On Wednesday night, the Fashion Institute of Technology hosted the "Fashion Culture" panel "Collaboration in Fashion" in conjunction with the School of Graduate Studies and the exhibition "The Women of Harper's Bazaar, 1936-1958," which is on view until Saturday, Apr. 2, at the Gallery FIT. Moderated by professor Kyle Farmer, the evening brought together Harper's Bazaar editor Charlotte Cowles, Chromat designer Becca McCharen, stylist Christian Stroble and photographer Matthew Brookes.

Their varied backgrounds and professions served as a jumping off point for the group's discussion, and attendees learned a number of anecdotes and tips when it comes to collaborating with others, whether it's a celebrity endorsement, a photo shoot or working with experts outside of the fashion field. Below, we picked out the key takeaways that keep collaborations both creative and productive.

1. Collaborating with those outside of your field can lead to bigger, better ideas.

At Chromat, McCharen is known for pushing the boundaries of clothing, often experimenting with tech to create runway-worthy wearables. So her team looks to professionals, like those at Intel, to provide insight on projects, such as a self-ventilating sports bra integrated with an Intel Curie module, also known as a shape memory alloy. "That allows us to take our ideas and really bring it to some whole other place that we didn't even imagine," she says. "It's actually the most fun part of my job."

2. Sometimes the best collaborations and ideas can happen by chance, too.

Sure, collaborations are generally premeditated, pitched and organized, but the ones that simply happen are just as rewarding. For Stroble, networking and spontaneity helped him build a solid career in styling, so he often likes to leave things to chance. "You're at a party, an event or a dinner and something sparks and the magic happens," he says. "Everything has a way of working itself out. You just have to put yourself out there." The same goes for Cowles, whose recently published exclusive interview with Georgia O'Keeffe's longtime assistant and companion was the result of "going down this dark Internet hole." Free association, or old-fashioned spit-balling, helps, too. "Just sitting around and sharing ideas," explains Cowles. "I think it's important to let other people you're working with have a little room to think about things."

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3. Giving credit to those you collaborate with can be tricky sometimes.

Running a brand is an everyday collaboration — and if a designer is also the face of a brand, recognition of the entire team can be rare. "I find taking credit uncomfortable sometimes," says McCharen. She uses the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund's Amazon series as an example, where the majority of filming was focused on her. "Me being the brand, me being the designer, but I know that it's really not just me," she says. "As many times as I could bring [the team] up, they weren't interested. It's very weird to be the only one representing a huge group."

4. And so is collaborating with people who, um, get on your nerves.

Brookes admits that the creative industry has "a lot of egos," which means you might come across a not-so-pleasant collaborative experience. Stroble advises not to bring your personal emotions into a project: "Just breathe, focus and be smart with your words."

5. In the end, it's all about compromise — and being clear about what you want.

"Some people will have a completely different way of approaching things and it's about marrying those two," says Brookes. "It's about push and pull." Cowles brought up the Harper's Bazaar profile on Melania Trump. "We had this crazy idea that we would drape her in a flag and she was not interested, which I understand," she says. "Instead, we photographed her in front of a flag. There's always a compromise." Cowles also revealed to the audience how a surprising number of female celebrities refuse to wear pants, and won't tell the stylist or editors that until photoshoot actually starts. She's learned that you have to say exactly what you want — but also with caution. "I was way too blasé about it," she says. "That has lead to some sticky situations."

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