When the outfits started to pop up on social media this weekpeople asked in shock: why were McDonald’s employees, usually decked out in plain black separates, suddenly appearing in pictures wearing sleek, Balenciaga-esque skirts, button-downs and hoodies emblazoned with oversized versions of the iconic logo?
It turns out that the designs are the result of an official collaboration between the brand and VAIN, a newly launched Helsinki-based fashion label run by designer Jimi Vain, representing an interesting new entry into a year-long trend that has seen big names such as TELFAR and Forever 21 join forces with fast casual chains such as White Castle and Taco Bell. The goal? Come up with bizarre, cheerful new garments that can be sold at reasonable prices.
Unlike luxury brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren, who have recently begun branching out into the culinary space with Michelin-starred restaurants and branded cafes, slightly less prestigious fashion brands are harnessing the populist power of food via collaborations with beloved chains. Not everyone can afford a meal at Gucci Osteria Tokyo, but almost everyone can pay for the occasional Big Mac; that relatability creates deep emotional bonds with consumers, even in the face of scandals or criticism of the fast food company.
McDonald’s has consistently been held accountable over 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 employees at the fast-food chain whose workers’ rights were violated; certain employees were prevented from taking paid sick leave.
“The project does not comment on McDonalds as a company,” Vain told The Daily Beast. “For us, it was a fashion project together with a brand that was important to us in our childhood, and we focused on our mission to design the clothes from recycled work clothes.” McDonald’s did not immediately respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“As a child growing up in the no-man’s land that is rural Osterbotten, everything felt so far away,” said Vain. “A McDonald’s along the local highway is what we had in common with the western world and beyond. When I lived in the country, the only way I could get to McD’s was by moped: that’s the idea behind the motorcycle jacket.”
There are a total of 13 items in the VAIN x McDonald’s capsule collection; other standouts include a striped logo dress with a Peter Pan collar and a skirt made from layered McDonald’s belts. One could imagine Julia Fox, the queen of bizarre street style, rocking the apron-style mini dress with ease.
“McDonald’s reached out to us through a marketing agency asking to collaborate on a clothing line,” Roope Reinola, VAIN’s CEO, told The Daily Beast. “We had full creative freedom as the brand guidelines were our only limits.”
“The brand boundaries were related to guidelines such as how the logo was used in the clothing and the colors,” Vain said.
In 2019, Balenciaga released a McDonald’s French fries box-inspired shoe, raising the question of whether Vain had the Spanish luxury brand in mind when creating his capsule collection.
“Not consciously,” Vain said. “I do not deny that Demna would not have been 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.”
Plus, if there’s one thing about pop culture over the past couple of years that can probably be universally agreed upon, it’s that high and low culture have become so thoroughly mixed that it’s now almost irrelevant to try to distinguish between the two. Balenciaga sent a bag inspired by Lay’s chip bags down the Paris runway in October, folks.
“To be able to do something over and over again with integrity and excellence, even if it’s fast food, is something to really admire,” said Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller, who trumpeted his love for In-N-Out Burger. Via magazine in 2007. The same can be said about fast fashion.