Commentary

Can we officially proclaim it #CollabSZN? Bands and brands teaming up to combine marketable forces is nothing new, especially in the fashion world. But this summer and fall, the hype train has accelerated with high-profile collaborations between music superstars and juggernauts like Nike and McDonald’s.

Just in time for fall, two of Seattle’s most recognizable brands have gotten in on the action. Eddie Bauer and Sub Pop unveiled last month a joint line of limited edition flannel shirts “with roots in the outdoors and music.” The campaign launched with Sub Pop artists and hometown favorites Tacocat and Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler doubling as models for the plaid shirt bearing Sub Pop’s logo subtly beneath the outdoorsy clothing company’s.

“Micro targeting your contradictory, throwback Seattle brand loyalties since 2020,” wrote the self-aware and brand-savvy label in one typically cheeky Instagram post.

Yes, 30 years later, as ’90s fashion has come back en vogue, we now effectively have the Official Seattle Grunge Flannel, retailing for $85. It may surprise you to learn people on the internet had opinions.

“What little of my soul was left is dead now.”

“Only Lamestains would buy these.”

“A flannel shirt from Eddie Bauer is the least punk thing in existence.”

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“I knew Sub Pop would sell out eventually. How gross.”

Don’t tell the last guy about their store at the airport. To be sure, there was plenty of fanfare, too, but a number of people in promoted post comment sections (who may or may not have grasped the Seattle link) weren’t there to gush about the shirt’s “anti-pilling performance.” Having pledged my allegiance to elastic waistbands around the time toilet paper became rarer than Nirvana’s first 7-inch, my fashion opinions should be greeted with caution. But this collaboration sits fine with me.

I understand the reflex to cringe any time culture is commodified. But even putting aside Sub Pop’s anti-self-serious approach to branding and their shared Seattle roots, this feels pretty tame among the contemporary field of music-brand mashups.

In other higher-profile deals, Nike’s line of SB Dunk shoes has gone from a relative afterthought to an impossible-to-get commodity, thanks in part to recent “collaborations” with rap giant Travis Scott and hippy icons the Grateful Dead. Prices on the co-branded shoes soared north of $1,000 on the aftermarket. Crocs, once the preferred footwear of parents who garden, has borrowed cultural cachet from the likes of Nirvana-loving pop-rap behemoth Post Malone and country star Luke Combs. One of Crocs’ latest co-branded waffle clogs with Latin trap hero Bad Bunny sold out within 16 minutes.

In one of the more gratuitous examples in recent memory, Nike cash cow Travis Scott unveiled a deal with McDonald’s last month, bringing a limited run Travis Scott meal to its menus. His likeness and “it’s lit” catchphrase appeared on a line of over-the-top merchandise and ads that included a $90 Chicken McNugget body pillow. TikTok drive-thru pranks ensued and apparently the campaign was so McLit that the patty-slingers have a similar new meal deal with reggaeton king J Balvin.

The Eddie Bauer-Sub Pop flannel puts a Seattle twist on odd couple music/brand partnerships proliferating this year. (Coco Aramaki / Eddie Bauer)
The Eddie Bauer-Sub Pop flannel puts a Seattle twist on odd couple music/brand partnerships proliferating this year. (Coco Aramaki / Eddie Bauer)

At least Sub Pop and Eddie Bauer, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, have shared cultural DNA as longtime Seattle brands. Granted, I’m probably the bull’s-eye of the targeted demographic here, as my wardrobe is largely sourced through merch tables and REI Garage. But I’ll admit it took me a minute to reconcile a partnership between the “subterranean pop” merchants and a clothing company with an aesthetic that is more “state park business casual” than rock ‘n’ roll — Seattle connection or no.

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Come to think of it, I might be the only person whose earliest memories of Sub Pop and Eddie Bauer are weirdly intertwined.

Growing up at the height of the Parental Advisory sticker era, obtaining Discman filler capable of impressing the cool seventh grader on the bus wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt often required a parental diversion, lest a precheckout inspection land some of those CDs back on the rack. (As an awkward 10-year-old, I wasn’t equipped to litigate the feminist undertones of a song like Nirvana’s “Rape Me,” which surely would have drawn track list scrutiny.)

So while Mom was perusing Eddie Bauer racks, I was around the mall corner rifling through Musicland bins, trying to maximize my allowance savings before the parental filter could be applied. For every lawn-mowing buck wasted on ’90s forgettables like the Crash Test Dummies, I also came home with classics from Nirvana, Soundgarden and Ace of Base (“The Sign” still slaps, fight me). A number of these formative discs bore the same “Sub Pop” stamp now commingling with the Eddie Bauer logo I equated with my parents.

While the Mickey D’s-Travis Scott collaboration is American consumerism at its most frivolous and absurd (we have questions for anyone welcoming a 3-foot McNugget into their bed), music and pop culture at large, especially fashion, will always be closely linked.

Elsewhere on the regional fashion front, Burien rapper Travis Thompson recently worked with local streetwear boutique eTc Tacoma to create shirts in conjunction with a now COVID-delayed concert at Tacoma’s Alma Mater. The popular local clothing brand has close ties with Tacoma’s hip-hop scene and the collaboration felt like a mutual salute between the Seattle and Tacoma hip-hop communities, which haven’t always seen eye to eye. Hardly the sort of high-dollar merch deal Drake and Nike reportedly struck around the rap superstar’s forthcoming album, which feels more like a corporate merger.

Every situation is unique and different music scenes have different ethos, but speaking broadly, the “sellout” line in the sand has moved since the grunge era; the stigma of artists cozying up with brands softened over time. For musicians without a Drake-sized profile, placing a song in a commercial can be an avenue for exposure at a time when media saturation has made it harder to stand out. In one of the cooler promos we’ve seen, Singapore Airlines recruited Seattle beatsmith Chong the Nomad last year for an ad plugging new direct flights between the two cities without sacrificing an ounce of her artistic integrity.

In the video, the electronic artist known for incorporating quirky found sounds in some of her beats turns an airplane into one big musical instrument, pounding rhythms on its wheels and recording the sounds of tray tables and overhead compartments closing, cockpit knobs fiddling and first-class glassware clinking. The ad, and the subsequent full-length song Chong made with the recordings, has been viewed more than 125,000 times on YouTube. Too bad Alaska Airlines didn’t hire her to do the same when the Seattle-based airline unveiled its Sub Pop-emblazoned jet commemorating the label’s 30th anniversary.

Of all the things to take seriously in 2020, flannel shirts and Chicken McNugget pillows aren’t high on this Lamestain’s list. A career in regional music journalism keeps $85 flannels out of my price range, but I’ll hold out for the Sub Pop-Dick’s meal deal I didn’t know I needed.