When outfits started buzzing on social media this weekpeople responded in amazement: why were McDonald’s employees, usually dressed in basic black clothes, suddenly appearing in photos wearing chic, Balenciaga-style skirts, shirts and hoodies emblazoned with oversized versions of the logo? iconic ?
The designs turn out to be the result of an official collaboration between the brand and VAIN, a recently launched Helsinki-based fashion label helmed by designer Jimi Vain, representing an exciting new entry in a years-long trend that has seen big names like TELFAR and Forever 21 team up with fast-casual chains like White Castle and Taco Bell. The goal? Offer new, quirky, lightweight clothes for sale at accessible prices.
Unlike luxury brands like Gucci and Ralph Lauren, which have recently begun to branch out into the culinary space with Michelin-starred restaurants and branded cafes, somewhat less glamorous fashion brands are harnessing the populist power of food via collaborations with beloved channels. Not everyone can afford a meal at Gucci Osteria Tokyo, but almost anyone can shell out for the occasional Big Mac; that relatability engenders deep emotional connections with consumers, even despite scandals or criticism of the fast food company.
McDonald’s has been consistently criticized for the nutritional value of its food (or lack thereof), its environmental practices, and its poor treatment of workers. In November, the owner of seven McDonald’s locations in Brooklyn was ordered to pay $1 million to 511 fast-food chain employees whose workers’ rights were violated; some employees were prevented from taking paid sick leave.
“The draft does not comment on McDonalds as a company,” Vain told The Daily Beast. “For us, it was a fashion project with a brand that was important to us growing up, and we focused on our task of designing clothes from recycled work clothes.” McDonald’s did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“As children growing up in the no man’s land that is rural Ostrobothnia, it all seemed so far away,” Vain said. “A McDonald’s along the local highway is what we had in common with the western world and beyond. When I lived in the countryside, the only way to get to McD was by moped: that’s the idea of the motorcycle jacket.
There are 13 items in the VAIN x McDonald’s capsule collection in total; other standouts include a striped logo dress with a Peter Pan collar and a skirt constructed from layered McDonald’s belts. One could imagine Julia Fox, queen of bizarro street style, rocking the apron-style minidress with ease.
“McDonald’s approached us through a marketing agency requesting a collaboration for an apparel line,” Roope Reinola, CEO of VAIN, told The Daily Beast. “We had complete creative freedom because the brand guidelines were our only limits.”
“Brand boundaries were tied to guidelines such as how the logo was used in apparel and colors,” Vain said.
In 2019, Balenciaga released a shoe inspired by the carton of McDonald’s fries, raising the question of whether Vain had the Spanish luxury brand in mind when creating its capsule collection.
“Not consciously,” Vain said. “I do not deny that Demna would not be an inspiration in my career. He has changed the fashion industry a lot with his work. I don’t see a lot of Balenciaga in the collection, but I can understand that.
Also, if there’s anything about pop culture over the past two years that could probably be universally agreed upon, it’s that high and low culture have become so deeply intermingled that it’s now almost no need to try to differentiate between the two. Balenciaga sent a handbag inspired by Lay’s chip bags on the runway in Paris in October, folks.
“Being able to do something over and over again with integrity and excellence, even if it’s fast food, is something to truly admire,” said Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller, trumpeting his love for In-N -Out Burger. Going through magazine in 2007. The same could be said of fast fashion.