Luxury Transformed By Sneakerheads And Hypebeast Culture

I’ve been thinking about this for a while but it took a recent experience in Chinatown with a vendor selling counterfeit luxury brands to finally motivate me to write about it.

Here are 3 signs of Luxury’s paradigm shift.
1. Chinatown’s peddlers of fake luxury are re-prioritizing their brands

Walking through Chinatown recently I heard a seller of counterfeits hawking her wares like this:

“Supreme, Gucci, Vuitton

CANAL STREET VENDOR

Did I hear that correctly? Supreme was getting top billing over Gucci, Vuitton, Prada?

Yes, indeed. I consider it a seismic shift, one I had never before heard on the streets of Chinatown.

That was major – and the biggest sign yet of the ascendancy of streetwear along with its hypebeasts, into the luxury stratosphere.

And for those of you who are wondering what’s a hypebeast? It’s a guy who’s obsessed with exclusive streetwear trends. Someone who’ll wait in line for hours for the latest “drop” from such “hype brands” as Supreme. Hypebeasts buy for themselves but they often also resell these limited release items and make a huge profit. The term hypebeast is also used in a pejorative or mocking way to describe trendy poseurs who overdo the whole hype brand thing.

Scroll down for more examples of these important shifts in the luxury market.
2. the shift in luxury is fueled by guys (the hypebeasts)

Women used to drive the luxury market, spending thousands of dollars on designer handbags and shoes (remember Louboutins?). With the advent of fast fashion in the early 2000s, women gradually swapped out their luxury items for weekly shopping splurges at H&M, Zara and Topshop.

Strange as it may seem, given women’s reputation as shoppers, women’s role in luxury diminished and they were gradually replaced by guys. Specifically by the so-called hypebeasts.

Brands like Supreme, BAPE, Aime Leon Dore, CDC, and Virgil Abloh’s Off-White as well as his Vuitton collection, cater to the hypebeasts. Vuitton’s 2020 season (below) looks amazing. The new luxury brands know these guys will stand in line for hours in the hope of getting their hands on their latest “drop.”

Virgil Abloh’s 2020 Spring/Summer Men’s Collection

But credit must go to Supreme for being the first to recognize this shift in the luxury market. Supreme “got it” and they understood the important role the hypebeasts were going to play. They made it part of their brand DNA. They weren’t just a skater brand anymore, they became an exclusive luxury brand.

I saw it happening first hand. My office on Lafayette Street opened the same year and in the same building as Supreme. I’ve been following (and writing about) James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme, for years. Incredibly impressed by his retail and branding acumen. Here’s a link to my most recent post from January 2017 covering Supreme’s collaboration with Vuitton.

Supreme has now moved even closer to my neighborhood, taking over the gorgeous ground floor space of the former Germania Bank Building at Bowery and Spring. Even easier to keep an eye on what those geniuses are planning to do next!

3. The co-founder of Kith rumored to be the buyer of luxury retailer, Barney’s

Whoa! First, Virgil Abloh, streetwear designer/Kanye West collaborator, is named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear collection and now Sam Ben-Avraham, co-founder of streetwear mecca Kith, is taking over luxury fashion retailer, Barney’s. Now that they’ve got luxury covered, what will streetwear disrupt next?

And here’s more on this major news from HighSnobiety:

KITH co-founder Sam Ben-Avraham has placed a bid to buy Barneys New York after the luxury department store chain filed for bankruptcy back in August, The Wall Street Journal reports. Those close to the situation reveal that Ben-Avraham is working with retail veterans and brand investors to help fund the $220 million offer, as the deadline for bids is currently October 11.

Bottom Line.

At first, a sneakerhead/streetwear takeover of luxury might seem peculiar but it actually, makes sense.

Both are based on exclusivity and limited editions but Streetwear’s “drop culture,” has elevated those brands to luxury status in a way that is absolutely of-the-moment.

In comparison, old school luxury looks staid and in desperate need of rejuvenation. Streetwear and the hypebeasts to the rescue.

Next up. Figuring out how to fix the women’s side of retail. I don’t think “hypebae” is the answer.

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