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Fruit of the Loom gets fancy

The designer Cedric Charlier poses for the Cedric Charlier X Fruit Of The Loom Presentation on June 21, 2017 in Paris, France.
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The designer Cedric Charlier poses for the Cedric Charlier X Fruit Of The Loom Presentation on June 21, 2017 in Paris, France.

If you're a Paris-based luxury brand and you're not collaborating with an American basics brand, what are you even doing?

Belgian-born, Paris-based fashion designer Cedric Charlier is the latest to pull a Vetements, collaborating with Fruit of the Loom on a collection of unisex shirts that come in four styles for his men's and women's spring/summer 2018 collection. Inspired by the Todd Knopke work "Felipe," a pink foam armchair with golden overlays, Charlier called it an apt juxtaposition of "nonchalant and sophistication."

Charlier's love for Fruit of the Loom dates back to his teenage years. "This just began because I wanted to make some T-shirts," Charlier tells Racked. "When I look back in my memories, what I was wearing was Fruit of the Loom. In the '80s and the beginning of the '90s, it was quite important in Europe." He loves the brand so much that his presentation featured a giant replica of a Fruit of the Loom multicolored shirt by artist Christophe Hamaide Pierson, which Charlier joked may become his bedspread.

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The partnership happened quickly: Charlier asked his team to get in touch with Fruit of the Loom, which was into it, so they met in New York in March and agreed upon four styles, each reimagining the classic tee with elements like asymmetrical seams, double pockets, and multicolored stripes.

Colors were easy, since Charlier had already started working on his summer collection, and there's only one color currently dominating fashion: "For this season, I was attracted by the pink," he says. The shirts are intended to be worn with the other pieces in Charlier's collection, like a dual-toned gray pleated skirt paired with the Fruit of the Loom gray double-pocket T-shirt. High-low!

Like many of the brands that've dipped their toe into high fashion over the past year — Hanes, Ikea, Champion — this marks the first designer collaboration for Fruit of the Loom (though it worked with stylist Leslie Fremar a few years ago).

"When Cedric approached us, we were excited because it allows us to reach a new consumer," says Karen Kendrick, vice president of brand communications and creative services for Fruit of the Loom. "We were so aligned on values — comfort and confidence and fit and quality — and when you have that affinity for the brand that he does, it's the perfect partnership. The classic tee is still there, but it's been transformed and made available to a new audience."

A collaboration like this is obviously a big deal for a brand you find in the undershirt section at Target, especially one looking to expand into the high-end market like Fruit of the Loom. The brand is not intimidated by the higher price point of the shirts because, as Kendrick emphasizes, they are interested in value and quality above all else. "We obviously have basics and we're very accessible at mass," she says. "Part of our growth has been at mid-tier and higher-end retailers. We think about value as not only a great price, but all the things that go into clothing and apparel, such as design and quality."

So it's obviously great for Fruit of the Loom, but what does this sort of partnership do for a designer like Charlier, who is not yet a household name? The designer says that he simply likes working with a company that has similar values. He adds that he's attracted to the way Fruit of the Loom emphasizes comfort and accessibility, elements in Charlier's new collection.

"For me, I'm interested because I'm looking for quality, and I think Fruit of the Loom is one of the best, you know?" he says. "It's more true to go to that kind of collaboration. They gave me the quality, they gave me the experience, and I tried to give my vision. It's a combination of both, and in the end I hope we have a good result. I think that's why it's interesting to make a collaboration. I think Fruit of the Loom connected to me because I love colors. You can see that in my work. And I try to give a positive message in my work."

The 100 percent cotton shirts will retail for $120 to $135, and three-packs of the pocket tees will be available for $260 alongside the rest of Charlier's collection beginning in November, but only at brick-and-mortar retailers. Currently, Charlier's pieces are available in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, among other stores. Although Cedric Charlier X Fruit of the Loom is considered a capsule collection, it's not being sold in a limited quantity because Charlier wants them to feel accessible.

Do you need a $100-plus T-shirt in your closet? And does the fashion industry need more high-priced basics? No, but there's genuine whimsy and sincerity here, and that's not always present in these sorts of high-low collabs. Also, the double pockets are pretty cool.