COLLABORATION NATION: Balmain x Z2 Comics x Sofitel
Whether it’s Louis Vuitton x Supreme, The Luxury Collection x Margherita Missoni, Dior X Nike or The Faraway x Katherine Jetter, luxury brands across the board recognise there is strength in numbers.
The most exciting collaboration in the worlds of luxury fashion, hospitality and art right now is Balmain Dreams 10:OR, a graphic novel, fashion statement and afternoon tea in one. Yes, really. Before we get stuck into the details, here’s some background on the concept.
The Concept & Collaboration
Balmain Dreams 10:OR is a book that showcases more than a dozen illustrated short stories in the form of a graphic novel, each one inspired by Balmain Creative Director Olivier Rousteing’s most celebrated collections over the past 10 years.
To launch Balmain Dreams 10:OR, a Special Edition of the book housed inside a bespoke chrome and fluorescent orange suitcase, will be travelling to Sofitel Hotels and Resorts in London, Dubai, Singapore and Seoul, heralding the start of a specially-designed afternoon tea of savoury dishes and patisserie inspired by Olivier Rousteing’s designs. The tea is being served at Sofitel St James until March 3,before it continues its journey around the world.
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Insight from the Key Players
A collaboration this complex requires visionary creativity, serious management and plenty of trust. To understand the genesis of this extraordinary team effort and how it was brought it to life, we sat down with the key players that made it happen: Michail Papadogkonas (Head of Content, Balmain), Marie-Paule Nowlis (General Manager, Sofitel St James) and Jim Fynes (SVP, Z2 Comics) to deep-dive into the world of brand partnerships.
Why did you embark on the partnership?
Michail Papadogkonas: We wanted to create another expression of the brand we couldn't have done by ourselves and a fitting tribute to Olivier’s ten years at the helm of Balmain, something that would make him proud and surprised.
Jim Fynes: Historically, Z2 Comics has worked closely with renowned musical artists such as the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Machine Gun Kelly, and Gorillaz. When the company was approached by Balmain to partner on this exciting opportunity to help celebrate Olivier Rousteing’s ten years of iconic collections as Creative Director of Balmain, we felt it was a great chance to explore showcasing his creations in a new and innovative way.
Balmain Dreams 10:OR was actually our first foray into the fashion industry. I think this product showcased that our vision for creativity has a variety of use cases outside of music. Z2 Comics feels that our unique approach allows artists/ brands to showcase their vision in a medium that celebrates the passion behind their success. This collaboration with Balmain has shown that Z2 Comics has an exciting opportunity to not only continue paving the way for graphic novels/ other products, but has the ability to work with entertainers, athletes, and brands to deliver what their fans love most in a different medium.
What do you enjoy most about collaborations?
Michail Papadogkonas: We love that you get a view of the brand, and our creative universe, from an outside view. This allows us to improve, evolve and explore sides of the brand that we hadn’t thought about before.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: Firstly, they push us to see how different brands and different people work. In this partnership, we loved observing the conversation between Balmain and Z2 and how these two iconic brands brought the book and global itinerary to life.
These sorts of collaborations never have a totally financial bottom line. They are more focused on how the brands involved can help each other, and bring the best of their worlds to one another.
Jim Fynes: Z2 Comics focuses on innovation and creativity. We love working with unbelievable artists and brands that allow us to understand their creative vision and bring it to life in a new medium that hasn’t been previously explored. The process of working directly with these unbelievable creatives unfolds in a variety of ways based on each specific project, and we appreciate the uniqueness of all our collaborations we have partnered on as the goal has always been to create cool products that connect artists/ brands' most passionate fans.
What makes a great brand collaboration?
Michail Papadogkonas: Collaborating brands don’t have to have exactly the same aesthetic or background, so long as they share a common vision. As long as you have a strong foundation, you can usually work out the rest, whether it’s finding the right angle or an interesting story to tell.
We always try to step out and see the collaboration from a third party perspective. What will our existing audience think? Will they think it’s in line with what we represent? And how about our potential new audience? Will they be intrigued enough to explore our brand? You need an element of surprise.
We are lucky enough to have a lot of great people reaching out to us to collaborate, however we only move forward if we feel the journey is going to be interesting, pleasant and rewarding for all concerned.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: The most important thing is brand positioning and common interest but there has to be a natural harmony too. Once that’s established, it’s about the people and minds behind the partnership. On paper you can have the best match, but if the people in charge of bringing it to life don’t have the drive to make it happen, it won’t.
Have you learned anything from collaborating with other brands?
Michail Papadogkonas: We always try to learn from partners while we stay true to our main axis: equality of product, consistency of vision and messaging, supporting diversity, inclusivity and the ‘chase of the impossible’.
How do you manage the views and objectives of all parties involved?
Michail Papadogkonas: We wouldn’t trust just anyone to play with Olivier’s work but when we saw the level of talent that Z2 was suggesting to work on the book, we were sold. It helped that the guys at Z2 were so incredibly accommodating to Olivier’s vision. The Z2 team also made sure to hear, respect and amplify our input and feedback.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: It’s not unlike a relationship. You have to understand what matters the most to the partners involved. It’s critical that this is explicit. Respect is key, as is communication; behind the scenes, there were a million Zooms and calls!
Jim Fynes: Our success is the success of our parties. Our Founder and CEO, Josh Frankel, has always described Z2 Comics as somewhat of a “glacier” company. The artists and brands we work with sit above the water for all those that love them, see and celebrate them. Z2 sits below the surface - as long as the partner and fans see success in the project, we can celebrate behind the scenes. When we get positive feedback on all ends of the spectrum, that is good enough for us.
How did you come up with this concept? Why do you think the brands involved are a good fit?
Jim Fynes: I actually worked in the hotel industry for over a decade in Boston, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. Hotels are at the intersection of culture, from music, to fashion, to memories. Balmain and Sofitel Hotels are two iconic French brands, and we felt their existing partnership was a great opportunity to showcase this amazing graphic anthology across the world, as the intention behind the project was truly to celebrate a decade of greatness from Olivier Rousteing. Fashion knows no boundaries, and we felt this super cool creation needed to be showcased from London, to Dubai, to Singapore, to Seoul.
Michail Papadogkonas: Joshua at Z2’s enthusiasm and his way of seeing things reminded me of how we at Balmain like to see things - he’s not afraid of the impossible and the difficult, he just goes for it. Additionally, Z2 has a close connection to music; we’ve collaborated with many of the artists they’ve worked with in the past too, such as Gorillaz.
There was no better partner than Sofitel to explore the travel angle of the concept – they brought Parisian savoir-faire and a modern view of Paris to the international stage.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: Balmain was a very traditional luxury fashion house before Olivier Rousteing brought his contemporary energy and ‘lifestyle’ touch to the brand. Without his influence, I’m not sure I would have jumped on the collaboration. Sofitel is also a classic brand but one with that renowned French je ne sais quoi. I believe that we have Z2 to thank for laying the foundation; without Jim's extraordinary effort, this collaboration would not exist. It was a stroke of luck that Jim comes from a luxury hospitality background; he knows exactly what creating a partnership means in a luxury hotel.
How did you ensure the project was delivered authentically?
Michail Papadogkonas: We made sure that the baseline messaging was there, and supported this with constant communication. It’s not easy creating something almost unbelievable’ and we all tried to push it to the max, which is something I believe is reflected in the end product. The book respected the balance of everyone's input, you could see the seed of the idea from Olivier’s sketch then the artist’s letting their imagination run free.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: We got all teams excited and on board and stayed in constant contact to make sure we had covered everything – there’s no detail too small. As with any new relationship, it’s a learning curve and a fine balance so it was important we built trust and got to know each other and the best way to do this is through achieving common goals.
Jim Fynes: We worked directly with the partners to understand how they felt the partnership could unfold to deliver positive results on each end of the spectrum. Our partners at Balmain and Sofitel spent a significant amount of time on virtual calls across the globe to ensure the project spoke to the true and authentic vision Olivier Rousteing delivers in his projects. It was important that this project was a true celebration of a decade of greatness, and we were really happy to play a role in this exciting project.
Were there any points of friction? How did you overcome these?
Jim Fynes: I wouldn’t use the term “friction,” but there were certainly challenges. There is no ignoring the fact that the globe has faced an immense challenge over the past two years in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating the complexities of the regulations in each country was something that changed frequently, and when you are collaborating in four different time zones, it is never easy. Luckily we all saw the opportunity to deliver this tremendous project in a unique way across the globe and celebrate that we are slowly emerging from a challenging couple of years. There will always be challenges in any collaboration, however, if you can revert back to why the project was first launched, you can generally take that “friction” and shift it into positivity- and that is where results come.
Michail Papadogkonas: This collaboration was so fluid, thanks to trust and respect for each other’s craft.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: I don’t think so. All of us went into this collaboration with the mindset and determination to do whatever it took to make it a success.
How did you ensure each brand’s objectives were met?
Michail Papadogkonas: To have Olivier’s work reinterpreted in a way that we would never have seen or created ourselves was a leap of faith. But when it comes to comics, you have zero limits, which chimes with what Olivier says all the time: “The sky’s the limit”. You can let your imagination run free and go beyond, and we have.
We took iconic outfits from throughout his career, highlighting elements behind each look to the graphic artists commissioned by Z2, and gave them total freedom to reinterpret through their stories and artwork. The feedback from everyone has been amazing; the artists have truly managed to give Olivier’s designs a second life.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: We created an honest and authentic partnership, one that respected the DNA of each brand and didn’t try to promote one more than the others.
Jim Fynes: We worked very closely with Balmain and Sofitel Hotels on the global activation. Each party was clear on how they felt the project could unfold best - we are all specialists in our own ways, and taking into consideration each partner's specialty allowed us to deliver on all ends of the spectrum.
How do you define success in a collaboration?
Jim Fynes: We define success by the reaction of our partners and their fans. The project was launched at Paris Fashion Week and to see the reaction of the industry was an absolute pleasure. Z2 focuses on quality first and foremost – our artists and creators put a ton of passion into every project we drop, so when people get our products in their hands and we see their reaction, that is what drives us to keep innovating and pushing the limits even further.
Michail Papadogkonas: Everyone needs to feel proud of the outcome and feel like they can still see themselves in the final 360 vision. Additionally, you have to make sure that your existing audience recognises what you’ve created and that you can justify why you did it – it mustn’t come across as just another PR exercise. It should help them see the brand as even more rooted.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: Success is creating a great story with a natural energy. When all parties play the game well, the results can be even more wonderful than anticipated.
What did Olivier think of the collaboration?
Michail Papadogkonas: When Olivier finally got wind of the project it was already pretty evolved. He was in love - and he’s not easy to please. He said it was the best thing he could have imagined to celebrate his decade with Balmain. The risk of doing something where he was not 100% onboard from the beginning was a big challenge, so knowing that he loved the book was the icing on the cake. Instead of closing the last decade in a passive way, we’ve opened a new chapter.
Jim Fynes: We hope that Olivier sees that this was truly a celebration of his unbelievable creativity and innovation. He has achieved so much, in such a short time, and at such a young age – we are just excited to see what he has in store for the next decade. Also, as a former hotelier, it was an unbelievable privilege to work directly with a brand that gave so much to me in my ten years in hotels. Coming out of the pandemic, this was a great opportunity for this unbelievable collection of hotels to welcome their guests back and celebrate French fashion in a unique way. We aren’t fully in the clear in terms of the pandemic, but Z2 Comics has always been about approaching challenges (or opportunities would be a better word) with a positive mindset. Luckily, the partners we tend to work with are unbelievably creative, and if we can keep the focus positive, we can continue to deliver amazing projects.
Marie-Paule Nowlis: In luxury at least, partnerships are not opportunistic, they’re about a long term vision. I really hope what we’ve built with Balmain and Z2 will continue to flourish. There’s definitely great potential to do more, but we all have to agree to move forward together.
Want to get your hands on Balmain Dreams 10:OR? Here’s how.
The book comes in three tiers: a boutique tier of 2,400-editions for $500, the 50-edition VIP tier for $2,500, or the Special Edition tier (of which only three exist) at a staggering $50,000. There’s also a one-of-a-kind edition complete with silver and gold plated covers and bindings etched with the iconic Balmain monogram, plus original, hand painted illustrations. Keen? Sadly it’s off the market already, snapped up for an unknown price.
Brand collaborations are at the very least a melting pot of ingenuity, creativity and passion. But the kind of collaborations that see big shining light success are built on something a little different, as outlined today by Balmain, Sofitel and Z2 Comics. It’s about total respect and admiration of one another’s craft. Your expertise doesn't have to be the same. Neither does your personality. As we heard from this interview, Balmain brought unbridled imagination, Sofitel its renowned French je ne sais quoi and Z2 a visionary understanding of graphic innovation. But all were guided by a red hot north star; a crystal clear overarching vision executed with the utmost quality. It’s this genuine passion and desire to deliver it seamlessly - even if the process isn’t quite so seamless - that makes projects like this so momentous.
Our takeaways? Brand collaborations are:
An infinite opportunity to think outside the box, whilst always rooted in the same brand values as like minded visionaries.
A celebration of different arts, technique and innovation for your most loyal brand fans to relish.
Let others push your thinking and challenge your team in ways that you might not have even dreamt of.