For those whose exposure to hip-hop doesn’t extend far beyond the Hamilton soundtrack, there was a rush to Spotify and Apple Music when Kendrick Lamar ‘s album “Damn” won the Pulitzer Prize for music. While this announcement came as a cultural jolt to many, the savvy forerunners in the worlds of fashion and retail had already embraced the ascent of street culture.
Luxury Goes High/Low
While streetwear styled clothing continues to make inroads into the retail ecosystem, it has emerged as a gateway to a new demographic in the hallowed halls of luxury brands. While LVMH has a history of cross-pollinating with popular culture through their collaborations with Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami and others, these projects appealed to an existing tier of sophisticated customers that could well afford these collector’s items, The Supreme collaboration, from the streets to the Champs-Élysées, considerably extended the brand’s reach. At the Louis Vuitton trunk exhibition’s final stop in New York, “Volez, Voguez, Voyages,” free tickets were issued to everyone to visit their museum-quality exhibition on the history, beginning in 1854, of the brand’s famed flat trunks. Elegant and impressive history aside, the crowds massed before the Louis Vuitton X Supreme trunk display. While this limited-edition, handcrafted trunk was priced at the sky-high valuation of $68,500, the companion apparel items in the collection were offered at aspirational, but earthly prices. The collection sold out, and pieces can now be found only in the resale market. I spotted the trunk online for $125,000, the apparel can be spotted at The Real Real, Stadium Goods, eBay, and other sites at premium prices. Another LVMH brand, Rimowa roller luggage, recently announced its upcoming collaboration with Supreme with a starting price of $1600 per case. It’s doubtful that hundreds of these bags will be Instagrammed on baggage carousels any time soon, but this hip-hop travel gear is inching within reach for a new luxury consumer.
Louis Vuitton connected with the streetwear zeitgeist when it hired Virgil Abloh, the founder of haute streetwear brand Off-White, as the artistic director of menswear. While LV may be a leader in creating this path to new customers, other luxury brands have heard the siren call. Jimmy Choo created a collection with Abloh’s Off-White. Vetements X Reebok high-top sock trainers are selling for $840. LACOSTE teamed up with Supreme for its second capsule collaboration which sold out within hours. And both Balenciaga and Gucci “trainers” are considered accessible couture.
According to the 2017 BOF/Bain Global Luxury Goods Report, the global luxury T-shirt market was worth €2.5 billion ($2.9 billion). These consumers are fueling growth in the luxury market. Retailers need to recognize that the consumer shifts behind these numbers are not simply generational but also sociological. The retailers that get it do more than comment on the cultural touchstones reflected in the mainstreaming of hip-hop and streetwear, they lean into the cultural shift. Whether it is Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer, or Beyoncé’s storming of Coachella, as our society blends ethnically and generationally, our new customers are signaling to us and it is our job to listen.
Streets to Stores
Streetwear as a fad or a trend can be debated, but the reality is that many retailers are taking notice. In Paris, some senior former Collette staffers have opened a tiny store called Nous on rue Cambon. The luxury chic that was a large part of Collette’s DNA has been swapped for eyewear, watches, streetwear and “trainers.” Galleries Lafayette has transformed its BVH shop in the Marais district. Included in this redesign, is the first European flagship for Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape (Bape). Bape also has their own flagship in New York’s SoHo.
Smaller streetwear brands have arrived with fanfare in many New York retailers. Barney’s New York is collaborating with Amsterdam-based designers Filling Pieces to create an exclusive unisex streetwear-infused assortment. At the newly opened Nordstrom’s Men’s store in Manhattan, the retailer has deep dived into streetwear by teaming up with Stadium Goods, the streetwear consignment company that specializes in the resale of limited-edition apparel and sneakers.
During the first Arab Fashion Week, held in mid-April in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, the work of Saudi couture streetwear designer Mashael Al Rajhi was featured. Al Rajhi recently collaborated with NIKE, and is the first Saudi to be selected as part of the International Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week.
Streetwear as Marketing Strategy
Cutting-edge fashion and retail leaders have embraced streetwear and used it as a marketing lever to capture a new audience. And customers have shown up wallets in hand. But what is the message here for more mainstream retailers? Successful retailers listen and respond to emerging cultural signals. Streetwear is having its moment. In this time of retail flux, smart retailers are well advised to follow the cues of the luxury disruptors in our industry who have found great success in adopting a trend and customizing it for their customers.
The lesson here is to be more nimble and responsive to the voice of the consumer. To hear this voice, we need to look up from our computers as we pore over our latest CRM intelligence. Observe the macro trends and respond accordingly. We are mastering the science and art of developing profiles of our customers, diligently collecting intelligence and developing our data sets. But as a cautionary note, we have not factored our inherent corporate cultural biases into the equation. It is these biases that often block our ability to see the relevance of important emerging cultural shifts or hear the voices of new customers.
How do we begin to examine these biases? Four key questions can reveal gaps:
- Are we listening to our core customers?
- Do our buyers understand and anticipate our customers’ desires?
- Do our employees reflect the diversity of our customers?
- Who is programming our hiring bots that screen out applicants before they make it to an interview?
Identifying and addressing these inflection points will begin to change our firm’s culture. If we are smart, we swing our doors wide open and welcome a surprising new shopper across our thresholds. Many luxury brands have either figured this out or are actively working through it. They recognize that the customer is not in the eye of the beholder. New customers want to be recognized and taken seriously. To make that shift, we need stay honest, be observant, respond to relevant trends and ask ourselves the right questions.