Fri 9th October

Liam Hodges Is the Master of Fashion Collabs – and Here’s Why

Text   Dino Bonacic

The bubbling landscape of emerging designers makes London fertile ground for big brand partnerships that merge excitement with experience. But what does it take to make a successful collab? With over 20 under his belt, Liam Hodges is the man to ask.

From Domino’s (yes, the pizza place) and Urban Outfitters to Ellesse and Fila, Liam has proven he can take his own unique ethos and visual language and apply it to just about anything. He’s partnered on underwear, fragrances and installations, as well as a number of full fashion collections. And throughout the process, he never lost sight of the final goal – establishing a brand with a bright future. 

Founded in 2013, Liam Hodges’ eponymous brand was born out of a wish to combine contemporary art with fresh ideas of streetwear that began emerging at the time. With a clear and concise vision established during his studies at the Royal College of Arts, he showed his first collection for the spring/summer 2015 season as part of Fashion East’s MAN programme for emerging menswear designers. Black denim, heavy patches and a mish-mash of found objects as embellishments on workwear-inspired silhouettes – this was the beginning chapter of a book that’s been writing itself ever since.

Liam Hodges x Dickies for SS17

For his first ever collaboration, Liam chose a brand that was not only near and dear to him personally, but also perfectly embodied everything his own label stood for. Patchworked into colour-blocked looks, Dickies garments were given a new life as they became recontextualised for the modern times through his SS17 show. Simultaneously with the rise of Dickies as a solid fashion choice, this partnership allowed Liam and his team to dig deep into someone else’s heritage and create something totally new out of it. “It was really something that we’ve come back to in recent seasons as we’ve been honing our remaking and upcycling skills with vintage products,” he remembers. 

The following season, for AW17, he turned his focus on reimagining another classic story – classic Levi’s trucker jacket and 501 jeans were hand-dyed with oversized marker pens as an abstract, DIY take on a camo print which has since become a Liam Hodges Signature.

Liam Hodges x Levi's for AW17

But Liam’s collabs aren’t always about breathing new life into heritage items. Last year, he paid homage to his love of the nightlife through a special edition t-shirt design created in collaboration with Phonox club night Mantra. Just like with many of his fits, this one became a true collectible. Extending his reach into other senses, he worked with emerging, London-based fragrance brand Cremate on a signature incense for his SS20 collection. Titled Cypress Chills after the legendary music group and smelling of both cypress and patchouli, the scent was pumped through the catwalk show for the season with numerous incense burners dotted around the space. SS20 also marked a partnership with Liam’s friend and artist Alfie Kungu, who worked on several prints and hand painted artworks, as well as the structural set design for the show. Psychedelic, cartoonish and with that quintessential tongue-in-cheek element – this was a match made in heaven.

Liam Hodges x Alfie Kungu for SS20

While high-street collaborations aren’t necessarily new, the idea of megabrands working with emerging names on their way up in the industry through the medium of street-wise garb was definitely unexpected in 2017. That’s when Urban Outfitters announced a partnership celebrating London Fashion Week Men’s with a trio of cool bois – Bobby Abley, Christopher Shannon and Liam Hodges. Using surplus military garments and mixing them with graphic t-shirts and hoodies, Liam’s capsule collection not only sold out quickly but became one of those urban legends that continue to live on through Depop.

This collab ended up being so successful it was due a sequel – and it finally got one in 2019, when the inspiration of football uniforms resulted in an outing focused on reworking vintage sportswear and workwear into an homage to Sunday league sports teams and amateur athletes we all aspire to be. “This was a really great opportunity to play around with some ideas we had developed for sustainable processes. We really looked at it as an opportunity to experiment and see if there was a customer there who would buy reworked vintage at a lower price than our core range. It’s the only way we can ethically reach better price points without compromising on our standards.” Liam explains. 

Liam Hodges x Urban Outfitters (2019)

There’s an overarching sense of democracy that follows his brand. Yes, you can currently buy those high-ticket, one-off pieces that are a result of high craftsmanship techniques, but Liam has never been afraid of going into as many directions and offering his input on a whole range of products. Björn Borg’s sexy underwear got the Liam Hodges treatment two seasons in a row (AW19 + SS20), while Boardies swimwear transformed into illustrated objects of technicolour in his last show. But where these categories might be unique in its limitations, it’s the field of sportswear that allowed Liam to fully explore everything a collaboration can be. And he’s not worked with one, but two legendary sportswear brands on two very different, yet complimenting stories.

First came FILA, who not only produced garments and socks which were shown as part of the SS18 collection, but also the first ever Liam Hodges kicks. “We would be working towards a brief of an almost diffusion line that would sit along the main collection on the catwalk. These types of projects are much longer lead working to big brands timelines for sampling, which means they have to be well thought out from almost one year in advance,” he remembers. This one went on for a total of three seasons, before ending on the highest of highs – an acid-infused remake of FILA’s 1995 Mindblower trainer available in three colourways with a distorted logo and gone in a matter of days. This was hype-culture at its finest.

Liam Hodges x FILA (SS18, AW18 + SS19)

Following straight after and debuted on the catwalk for AW19 was the partnership with Italian heritage sportswear label Ellesse. The first interpretation added a touch of retro-futurism to the collection through the shell trackies reminiscent of 1990s snowboard suits as well as boots and trainers which looked like they could take you straight to the moon. “The plus side was accessing new ways of working, factories and processes that we wouldn’t normally have access to. It was also great to see the inner workings of larger design teams and companies that we hadn’t seen or experienced before,” Liam says. In SS20, the nostalgic ideas continued with a more tropical take – purple, orange and black morphed into this space-y mix of past, present and future. 

Liam Hodges x Ellesse (AW19 + SS20)

But if there was an award for the most “bizzare, yet exciting” collaboration ever, Ben & Jerry’s x Netflix would have been beat out by the ultimate Friday night combo – Domino’s Pizza x Liam HodgesWhat, how and when, I hear you ask? This was part of a marketing project with a brief to create and shoot a simple collection based around a big night in coinciding with London Fashion Week last September. “We approached it as an exercise in styling and storytelling – working within our aesthetics and building something that we were proud of as well as delivering for a client. We managed to ensure the project also had a sustainability angle to it working with vintage and upcycled sleeping bags and sweaters to create the collection,” says Liam. Two lucky people (unfortunately, not me) got sent the upcycled sleeping bag onesies through possibly the most exciting IG giveaway ever.

Liam Hodges x Domino's Pizza

As his brand evolves, though, so does Liam’s approach to collaborations. Most recently, he worked with alternative fabric experts Wool and the Gang and Nukak on sustainable products for the making of his AW20 collection that is currently on sale. This past year, Liam also partnered up with fellow creative Carri Munden on a set of upcycling print workshops at the Stock X drop off space in London which led to the release of a collaborative T-shirt design and a print workshop hosted on Zoom. But if he had to draw the line right now, what would he say makes a good Liam Hodges collab? “As a brand we are always looking to access newness and be challenged. That can be accessing new customers and price points, or material and processes. It’s also important for us that it isn’t just a logo on another brands product, challenging us to make sure that the product is challenging the status quo in some way.”

@liam__hodges