When the outfits started burbling up on social media this week, people responded with shock: why were McDonald’s employees, usually decked out in basic black separates, suddenly appearing in photos wearing chic, 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 freshly-launched Helsinki-based fashion label run by designer Jimi Vain, representing an interesting new entry into a years-long trend that’s seen big names like TELFAR and Forever 21 pair with fast casual chains like White Castle and Taco Bell. The goal? Come up with bizarre, lighthearted new garments to be sold at accessible prices.
Unlike luxury labels like Gucci and Ralph Lauren, which have lately begun branching out into the culinary space with Michelin star-courting restaurants and branded cafés, slightly less prestigious fashion brands are tapping into the populist power of food via collaborations with beloved chains. Not everyone can afford a meal at Gucci Osteria Tokyo, but almost everybody can shell out for the occasional Big Mac; that relatability engenders deep emotional bonds with consumers, even in spite of scandals or criticisms of the fast food company.
McDonald’s has been consistently taken to task 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; some 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 for us in our childhood, and we focused on our task to design the clothes out of recycled workwear.” McDonald’s did not immediately respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“As kids growing up in the no man’s land that is rural Ostrobothnia, everything felt 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 I could get to McD was by moped: that’s the idea behind the motorcycle jacket.”
There are 13 items in the VAIN x McDonald’s capsule collection in total; other standouts include a striped, logoed dress with a Peter Pan collar and a skirt constructed out of layered McDonald’s belts. One could imagine Julia Fox, the queen of bizarro street style, rocking the apron-style minidress with ease.
“McDonald’s reached out to us through a marketing agency asking for collaboration for a clothing line,” Roope Reinola, VAIN’s CEO, told The Daily Beast. “We had full creative freedom as the brand guidelines were our only boundaries.”
“The brand boundaries were related to guidelines such as how the logo was used in the clothes and colors,” Vain said.
In 2019, Balenciaga released a McDonald’s french fry carton-inspired shoe, begging the question of whether Vain had the Spanish luxury brand in mind when creating his capsule collection.
“Not consciously,” Vain said. “I don’t deny that Demna wouldn’t be an inspiration in my career. He has changed the fashion industry a lot with his work. I don’t see that much Balenciaga in the collection, but I can understand it.”
Plus, if there’s anything about pop culture in the last couple of years that could likely be universally agreed upon, it’s that high and low culture have become so thoroughly blended that it’s now almost irrelevant to try to differentiate the two. Balenciaga sent a purse inspired by Lay’s chips bags down the runway in Paris this October, guys.
“To be able to do something over and over with integrity and excellence, even if it is fast food, is something to be truly admired,” Michelin star-awarded chef Thomas Keller, trumpeting his love of In-N-Out Burger, told Via magazine in 2007. The same could be said about fast fashion.