By now we have all heard the rumored acquisition of Supreme by luxury giant LVMH after the presentation of the brands’ collaboration at the Fall 2017 men’s show in Paris. This is just a rumor, but the impact of this “alternative fact” had sparked the interest, concern and commentary from many avid streetwear lovers and high fashion aficionados alike. What would an acquisition like this mean to fashion and what is the future of luxury apparel collaborations?
Many non-fashion people were wondering how the union of Louis Vuitton and Supreme came about. It may seem like a total juxtaposition but according to my street wear ambassador, the two brands actually have a lot more in common than revealed on the surface.
History of LV
LouisVuitton has solidified its brand for centuries. The Louis Vuitton label was founded by Vuitton in 1854 on Rue Neuve des Capucines in Paris, France. The luggage maker has always directly defined and associated itself with the high end luxury consumer. A constant staple in luxury, it has managed to never dilute or tarnish its brand, making it a staple among luxury consumers without oversaturation. Currently the brand has a net worth around $28.1 billion. When it comes to luxury, LouisVuitton is one of the most recognizable brands.
History of Supreme
Supreme, similar to Louis Vuitton, has also solidified its brand amongst the (sub)culture it belongs to. Started by James Jebbia, the first Supreme store opened on Lafayette Street, downtown Manhattan in 1994. Designed with skaters in mind, the unique store layout positioned clothing around the perimeter of the store created a large central space that permitted skaters with backpacks to skate right into the store and still feel comfortable. In line with it’s skate culture, Supreme doesn't do runway shows and it shoots lookbooks/ editorials the same raw way consistently. When it comes to skate culture, Supreme is one of the most recognizable and respected brands.
After understanding that the two brands are authentic representations of their cultures, we can see how this union has some strong connection points. But the connection of subculture to both brands is even more interesting.
The 37 year old Men’s Artistic Director at Louis Vuitton has his own history in subculture and is renowned for flawlessly designing for the youth and the boardroom. As a 2001 graduate of Central Saint Martins MA program in London, he launched a sporty menswear label, mixing street clothes with tailoring and offering an exciting new path for menswear to take. His early world travels and british street wear upbringing gave him an edge of culture and sophistication in design. During an interview with WWD he commented on how the collaboration came about, “I used to work when I was at college unpacking boxes of Supreme at a company in London that distributed it when it was just starting out, so it’s something I’ve known all along in my life.” Kim went on to comment , “You can’t have the conversation of New York men’s wear without Supreme right now, because it’s such a massive global phenomenon.” Supreme’s ability to avoid mainstream tactics and yet remain a global sensation has a lot to do with authenticity and remaining loyal to its consumer.
Supreme’s founder, Jamie Jebbia’s genius lies in his ability to maintain the brands aesthetic through every channel and not compromise the integrity of the brand. This type of authenticity is important to culture based brand such as Supreme. In a 2016 interview, Jebbia pointed out that his employees are first friends of the brand, people in skate culture that will appreciate the brand and grow it as their own. He also incorporates the culture of the area into the culture of each store in new locations. This preserves an authenticity that most brands fail to maintain. Nowadays, brands desperate to push sales often shift their focus to new customers or new product categories without maintain its original identity.
The Perfect Pair
It's not hard to see why this particular collaboration works for both brands. As cultural icons, both brands stubbornly and successfully maintain their aesthetic for their consumers. This shared characteristic has preserved them amongst their core customers, allowed new customers to explore them without having to tarnish the image of the brand. In other words neither brands are “sell outs”.
In a time when consumers are having the greatest say in what brands are doing, sticking to your core customer will prove to be rewarding. Both Louis Vuitton and Supreme are testaments to this. The key is establishing and staying true to the core customer base and not getting distracted with short lived trends or pressure to constantly maximize profit at the consumer’s expense. This does not mean growth or expansion won’t happen but it will happen organically in tune with the core consumers.
Insight for Future Luxury Streetwear Collabs
Luxury fashion houses are leaving their ivory towers in favor of grabbing more interest and dollars from the majority of consumers. This is evident in the countless designer + mass marketer collaboration we have endured over the last few years. So what does this mean for the luxury industry?
According to a study conducted by Bain & Co. , the 2016 luxury market saw only 1 percent growth – a trend that is expected to continue throughout the year.“The luxury market is stuck in a holding pattern for the foreseeable future,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, a Bain partner and lead author of the study. “All eyes are again on Mainland China, which is the key to unlock recovery around the world, and the U.S., where local consumption is failing to offset decreased tourism.
To counter the slowing luxury market, many luxury brands are creating licensing deals and partnership to bridge the sales gap. However this could have both positive and negative effects for brands as some non-authentic collaborations could cost brands their core customers. We have also seen that the collaborations sometimes produced cheap representations of the high fashion line. Quality compromise could continue to be a great issue with collaborations.
Even though the acquisition of Supreme by Louis Vuitton was only a rumor. We have to wonder what luxury brands are willing to do to drive profit. Is the aesthetic of luxury on decline as new apparel trends such as athleisure, and casual activewear emerge? Is streetwear the new luxury? And if so, will brands continue to push renditions of manufactured subculture in order to stay on trend? New brands such as Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, are positioned amongst high fashion teen angst with the illusion of a well-developed subculture. Is manufactured luxury subculture the future of apparel? I am anxious to see what we can expect in the future of collaborations and how authenticity will play a role in future fashion endeavors.