FentyxPuma, Off-White, Yeezy, VetementsxChampion, SupremexLouis Vuitton.
Finally, after long last, the luxury fashion industry is taking note of a genre of clothing that has been brewing in the background for a while now.
Although an already prominent style among the masses (from Sports Direct to Liverpool FC shirts), streetwear has never really achieved recognition within the fashion community for its originality and expression of individuality. In the past, it has merely been accepted as practical clothing for physical activity. That is, until now.
In recent years, streetwear has come to the fore, at both fashion week and on social media. No street style review or instagram feed is complete without a pair of trainers or an oversized hoodie. This, once exclusive and elusive, bubble of style has exploded into a legitimate clothing option among the most elite in the luxury industry; even the most exclusive and prestigious of restaurants accept customers bearing what was once considered ‘inappropriate informal wear’ (provided it all hails from a high-end brand). Every blogger, editor or model now views a pair of designer trainers, a duffle bag, or even a skateboard, as an essential wardrobe item.
Of course, where the luxury industry beelines for, investors naturally follow, like a dog to scent. Those who would commonly play for safe bets in LVMH, and Kering are becoming increasingly more appreciative of more niche areas of the luxury market. The “hype” sector, one among these niches, is certainly being taken more seriously. Supreme recently revealed that the Carlyle Group, a major private equity firm, had invested in them. To be among oil and energy companies in the fund’s investment portfolio is indeed promising for the brand, despite a nigling feeling that it is somewhat out of place among its counterparts. The faith Carlyle has in Supreme is signified by its valuation, at a whopping $1 billion USD, and a rumoured 50% stake.
So, why such a bold exhibition of trust in an anti-establishment and all together controversial brand?
Streetwear, with its standard-bending enigmatic approach and high price tags, is becoming increasingly popular among the younger population, especially in Asia. This may, in fact, be down to the fact that most under 35’s continue to live at home, the overwhelming density of living in major cities, overpopulation, and as a result, sky-high house prices. With an increasing disposable income, most of the wealthy and young seek status symbols, which come in the shape of luxury fashion and sensationalism, given the immediacy with which a trend can emerge on social platforms. Enter, highly (yet seemingly reasonable) priced Streetwear with a strong and identifiable brand.
But, why not just opt for the go-to, high fashion brands, with a deep heritage and reputation in the industry? The answer lies in the fact that Streetwear maintains both a loud and proud brand, simultaneously to providing originality, imagination and gutsy humour. Designers such as Thom Browne, for example, a pioneer by any standards of the tailored streetwear genre, now have successful stores on an incredibly international basis.
Perhaps, this is what Supreme is aiming for. Having become accustomed to the market and figures, they are no doubt setting their sights on a presence in large consumer economies, such as China. In order to penetrate this particular area of fashion, however, you need the funds to prevent the bombardment of counterfeits you undoubtedly face. Quashing counterfeits has no doubt been a top priority for Supreme (and other Streetwear brands), who ensure, while at this scale, they provide at a very minimal level, having shut down stores within hours of the LV collaboration drop, due to the number of fakes already being passed around. This, no doubt being an expensive branding technique, would need the increased funds to maintain on an internationally expanded level.
Some might argue, however, that the fun for Supreme might not last. The brand is already facing backlash from its core customer interest, who believe that the house has become a “sell-out”. Skaters and brand reps are already speaking out about their dissatisfaction with the latest moves made by what was once their favourite brand. Supreme, like brands such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Jack Wills, is at high risk of losing their edge and their cool to what many might consider to be greed.