Why do we work with others? For fine artist Nandipha Mntambo, it’s because of the energy released during the process. “The insight that I gain into something that is foreign to me creates interesting spaces in my own work,” she says.

In May, Mntambo released her collaboration with perfumer Tammy Frazer at the Robert Sherwood Design store in Cape Town. The result of this four-year long project is a fragrance called Dissonance. Frazer approached Mntambo with the idea of creating a scent that would evoke the smell and the feel of the works the artist creates in cowhide. Of course, the scent does not actually smell of raw cowhide — no one would wear that. But Frazer wanted a perfume that would evoke the material.

Frazer describes the collaboration as an intimate, bespoke exploration. Seeing what she does through someone else’s eyes, challenged her, Frazer says. “I would never have attempted to craft together hay, clary sage, and tuberose, and leave the ingredients so exposed.” Working together allowed the artist and perfumer to make decisions that were, Mntambo says, “true to both of us, yet creating something that has its own integrity”. 

Creative collaborations of this kind are not new, but they do appear to be a growing trend. Other than the delight of the creative challenges, a major reason for these kinds of collaborations is to reach new markets, says trends strategist Dion Chang. An example of this would be the fusing of the two luxury brands, Ferrari and Hublot, which resulted in new synergies and new sales territories, while they crafted watches that combined the expertise of the two companies.

Trenery, the global fashion brand, has seen success with its recent work with South African craftspeople and artists. Trenery Guild communicates the brand’s values, while giving the local creative industry exposure. Conversation Capital’s account director Emma Jordan, highlights the Swaady Martin of Yswara x Trenery campaign with the expert tea maker. “It was incredibly rewarding for us — we’ve seen more than 100,000 views of the video on YouTube and can tangibly see changed perception.”

Chang mentions too that collaborations are used by brands to appeal to different generations. Citing Gucci as an example, he says that when Alessandro Michele took over as creative director in 2015, he started collaborating with street artists, a process that graffiti artist GucciGhost (aka Trouble Andrew) described as “super-fun”.

Or take the upcoming collaboration between Karl Lagerfeld and 16 year-old-model Kaia Gerber. A press release stated that the collection will “blend Karl Lagerfeld’s timeless, Parisian-chic aesthetic with Kaia’s LA inspirations and confident, original vision”. It didn’t say anything about growing cross-generational appeal, but surely that is what both of them want.

Creative collaborations have been around for a long time. Eighty years ago, the designer Elsa Schiaparelli worked with Salvador Dali to create memorable garments, including their iconic lobster gown, with its sheer panelling and with a sea creature creeping down the front. Schiaparelli said that, in working with Dali, she “felt supported and understood beyond the crude and boring reality of merely making a dress to sell”. Theirs was a mission to create something new, and not merely to associate with each other.

Salvador Dali X Elsa Schiaparelli lobster dress
Salvador Dali X Elsa Schiaparelli lobster dress
Image: Getty Images

Last year we saw a list of astonishing successes: the most significant was the heritage luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme, bringing high fashion and streetwear together. The former enemies (in 2000, Louis Vuitton sued Supreme for infringing on its copyright) curated a collection that blended colours, logos, and signatures. In the process, they created customer hype and a fresh collection, which sold out almost immediately.

Louis Vuitton X Supreme
Louis Vuitton X Supreme
Image: Getty Images

In South Africa earlier this year, Trevor Stuurman collaborated with Absolute Vodka on its One Source Live campaign. Multi-disciplinary visual artist Stuurman told a news website that his contribution is his ability “to tell authentic African stories from an honest and a sensitive place”. Another local collaboration is Cape Town-based fashion designer Lukhanyo Mdingi and Research Unit’s new LM x RU Bucket bag. Mdingi says they achieved “not just the design of a well and beautifully executed product, but a genuine and mutual respect and friendship between all involved”.

Finally, we cannot ignore one of the most anticipated annual fashion events: H&M’s haute-couture designer collaborations. At April’s Coachella music festival, H&M announced this year’s collaboration with Jeremy Scott and Moschino. For Scott, it is a thrill. “Who do I want to see in the collection? Everybody. I want to see all the cool kids who want to wear my clothes, but can’t afford them. I want to see it in Japan, in South Africa.”

Mntambo and Frazer may have called their fragrance Dissonance, but what so many collaborations achieve is anything but dissonant. They are often intelligent, harmonious, beautiful, and push creative boundaries. To this, we can make a toast. How about a glass of Don Perignon? Wait, the vintage champagne brand has just announced its collaboration with musician Lenny Kravitz.

MAKE THAT TWO GLASSES

Dissonance is produced in a limited edition of 20, with one being an “artist’s box”, which will include a hand-blown glass bottle by David Reade, perfume by Tammy Frazer x Nandipha Mntambo, and two gold-leafed lithographic prints by the artist. Research Unit designed the leather packaging, inspired by Mntambo’s work in cowhide. Gary Cotterell provided the creative direction. R47,000 each, excluding VAT, available at Robert Sherwood in Cape Town.

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