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Strange '90s Fad: Car Companies and Clothing Companies

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2016

Back in the 1990s, there were many fads -- automotive and otherwise -- that swept the nation. For example, pogs. What was that? What were we thinking? No wonder the aliens chose the 1990s to invade us on Independence Day and speak telepathically to Bill Pullman. They probably saw us playing with pogs and thought we'd be an easily enslaved species.

Well, the automotive world has its own equivalent of pogs -- the most questionable '90s car fad, the one that makes us all say, "What?" as we sit here in the safety of the 2010s. It was when car companies named trim levels after clothing companies.

Allow me to give you a general overview of the situation. Back in the 1990s, car companies -- apparently looking for new trim-level names, because LX and GT were getting boring -- started calling up clothing companies and asking if they were interested in partnerships. I'm not sure how these partnerships worked, but I do know that virtually every automaker paired off with a clothing company as if they were hormonal adolescents going to the prom.

Interestingly, however, these pairings never seemed to do anything. You'd get a Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer, you'd have a bunch of Eddie Bauer logos on places like the steering wheel, and ... that was it. You'd get a Subaru Outback L.L. Bean edition, it would say "L.L. Bean Edition" on the fender, and ... that was it. It's not like you got something cool, like free clothes for a year or a personal sit-down lunch with Mr. Eddie Bauer.

Still, that didn't stop the automakers from really getting into it. For example, Jeep hooked up with Orvis to make a Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis, which featured green seats. I am not kidding. Green seats. Every one of them had green seats, regardless of the exterior color -- though, I must admit, that was also usually green. Remember, it was the '90s.

Even Mercury got in on the whole clothing-company thing. They created a Nautica version of their minivan, the Mercury Villager, which featured white wheels and various Nautica logos on the exterior. There was a Buick Regal Joseph Abboud Edition, which featured 2-tone leather, a leather gear knob and ... that was it, unless you count the plethora of Joseph Abboud logos surrounding the vehicle. And Chevrolet was late to the game with the Avalanche North Face Edition, which debuted in 2002 and included unique seating colors and ... a bunch of North Face logos.

Perhaps the only real car company/clothing company tie-in that made any sense was when Lexus teamed up with bag and apparel manufacturer Coach to create Coach special editions of its RX crossover and its ES and LS sedans. Those came with something: a set of special luggage, which is probably still sitting in the original owner's attic.

Eventually, the trend died off as quickly as it arrived, when automakers figured out that teaming up with clothing companies wasn't giving them any extra sales. I suspect this is because nobody buys a car just because it has a Nautica logo on the headrests. But I'm a little sad about the loss of this interesting piece of automotive history, because it didn't really go as far as it could have. For example, I personally would've loved to own a Hyundai Elantra Baby Gap. I would park it right next to my Honda Pilot Urban Outfitters Edition. Which would have distressed wood panels.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Strange '90s Fad: Car Companies and Clothing Companies - Autotrader