If you’ve been floating on any corner of the internet that covers fashion or pop-culture in the last 24 hours you’ve no doubt seen the news about Michael B. Jordan’s collaboration with high-fashion brand Coach that features characters from Naruto. At the surface this isn’t anything remarkable, anime & game collaborations are a dime-a-dozen nowadays and all different ranges of designers are participating. This is a collection that stands above the rest and deserves your attention though, for a variety of reasons.
Let’s start off with Michael B. Jordan’s involvement. After his celebrated performance in Marvel’s “Black Panther” Twitter users started to take notice of his posts talking about anime and celebrating moments in Naruto in a way that looked like he was live-tweeting while watching through the series. Since that time he’s been very vocal about his love of anime and has shared his favorites in interviews whenever the opportunity has come up. Jordan has stated that the art form was a major part of his childhood and a huge influence on his creativity, and when you consider many of the titles he calls his favorites it’s safe to assume he’s been consuming anime since at least the early Toonami days on Cartoon Network. He’s earned his stripes and has been embraced by the larger English anime fan community as a bonafide member of their ranks.
As for Coach, last year they signed Michael B. Jordan as the face of their menswear brand and it was pretty big news at the time. It would make sense for them to want to do a collection with him on the back of an announcement like that, and embracing something Jordan loves like Naruto is a pretty standout idea. They’ve done collaborations with Disney, Nasa, and other properties in the past, so it all makes perfect sense in a way. That’s where things could have taken a turn though, Coach is by far not the first high-fashion/luxury brand to do an anime collaboration and the examples we’ve seen over the years have been pretty hit or miss if we’re being perfectly honest. Even celebrated collections like the one Supreme did with Akira a few years ago didn’t actually look like there was a ton of effort put into the design, regardless of how cool you may find them. I own several pieces in that vein from different brands myself, sometimes the most simple solution is best, but too much of the same look gets stale pretty quick and Coach is a brand I feel most people would expect more from. Thankfully looking at what they’ve pulled out of their hat shows that they delivered in full.
More than just delivering on the design front the choices they made on everything from cuts to colors to materials all show a level of care for the source material that could have only been achieved by working with a die-hard fan. Sure you have some items that seem pretty basic at the top level, things like T-Shirts and bags, but when you look at the details it all starts being more clear. The choice of character graphics are all clear representations and very striking, and their implementation on things like a vintage band/tour style shirt or a full embroidered back graphic on a denim jacket allows the imagery to fit perfectly in with current trends in fashion. While those are the pieces that probably stand out to most fans, I’d argue they aren’t the ones that deserve the most attention.
Looking at the cut & sew pieces featured in the collection, that’s where everything really shines. You can see a clear influence from the show in these pieces, some of which walk the line between high fashion and cosplay in an absolutely brilliant way. A pair of utility pants made out of “Ninjutsu Military Green” material with straps and pouches that look like they were ripped out of a hypebeast version of the anime, or the 2-in-1 MA-1 Military Jacket that features removable sleeves that transform the item into a flak jacket employed by many ninja from the series ranked chunin or higher. These pieces would be at home in any wardrobe even without the Naruto connection, which is only made apparent by the inclusion of a tastefully embroidered Hidden-Leaf Village emblem on each.
This use of graphics and themes from the source material to create pieces that even people who aren’t familiar with the property will appreciate are what make these items so brilliant. It’s the kind of tactic that you don’t often see in these kinds of collaborations, with the only other example that immediately comes to mind being some of the items offered by Radio Eva in Tokyo. Many fans are happy to wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to clothing representing the properties they love, but including items with a bit of subtlety open the doors for other fans who aren’t as outspoken about their love but still want to give a nod to their fandoms. It’s also pretty cool when someone who recognizes this imagery acknowledges it when you’re in public, it can feel like you’re both members of a secret club who “get it” and share the same fandoms.
In this collection, when all things are considered, Michael B. Jordan and Coach give a prime example of where collaborations can, and probably should, head in the future. A balance between outspoken and subtle pieces. Details and embellishments that celebrate and mimic the property they’re representing. Clean and intelligent design. These are all things that would take it to the next level across the board and would open these collaborations (and by virtue the properties themselves) to a whole new market who otherwise might not explore this side of the culture. It’s a very welcome change and something I personally would love to see continue from brands of all kinds and sizes.