Th­ese streets

Esquire (Singapore) - - This Way In -

Zoo York was one of my few favourite brands grow­ing up. Mind you, I’ve never bought a sin­gle thing from them and I have never skated. I loved them be­cause of a par­tic­u­lar stunt that they pulled in 2008 when they re­leased cock­roaches marked with their brand logo across New York. This was even be­fore the term “guer­rilla mar­ket­ing” en­tered ad­ver­tis­ing’s headspace.

It wasn’t the sheer au­dac­ity or shock tac­tic that ap­pealed to me; it was that they un­der­stood the zeit­geist spirit of their brand. Zoo York’s anti-es­tab­lish­ment youth­ful aban­don­ment ei­ther drew you to them or re­pelled you en­tirely. They knew that they didn’t have the bud­get of a high-lux­ury brand—even if they had, spend­ing that kind of money would have been off­brand any­way—they just needed cock­roaches.

That was about a decade ago. To­day, the on­slaught of col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween street brands and artists with fast fash­ion and high-lux­ury brands is as­tound­ing. Sure, it does sound like an­other mar­ket­ing gim­mick, but there’s some­thing more unprecedented at play here.

One of the most pop­u­lar street/fash­ion col­labs took place even be­fore Zoo York flung cock­roaches at un­sus­pect­ing pedes­tri­ans. Adi­das worked with Yo­hji Ya­mamoto in 2003 and launched a per­ma­nent col­lab­o­ra­tion called Y-3 two years later. In 2004, H&M col­lab­o­rated with Karl Lager­feld on a cap­sule col­lec­tion. Not to be out­done, Louis Vuit­ton has col­lab­o­rated with ev­ery­one from Scott Camp­bell (2010), Yayoi Kusama (2011) and, most re­cently, with Amer­i­can artist Jeff Koons, Ja­panese streetwear icon Hiroshi Fu­ji­wara from frag­ment de­sign and Supreme.

The power of th­ese col­lab­o­ra­tions may seem like a glo­ri­ous mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise: the merger of the real street with high street takes the loot train to the same point. But I re­call a con­ver­sa­tion I had with a friend of mine, Henry, about Supreme. As an art col­lec­tor, his nose is al­ways turned to­wards the coun­ter­cul­ture and he shared a story about why Supreme has be­come the only brand in the world that could sell a brick and the kids would queue all day for it.

“When James Lavelle [who’s part of the elec­tronic mu­sic group called UNKLE] col­lab­o­rated with James Jeb­bia [founder of Supreme], Lavelle wanted to charge a lot of money for the T-shirts,” Henry says about the col­lab­o­ra­tion back in 2014. “But Jeb­bia would rather stick to sell­ing it for less than SGD70 be­cause he said that the kids would sell them later. Th­ese T-shirts were lim­ited [there were only 50 pieces]. That’s his mar­ket­ing. He didn’t even need to do any­thing.” The same T-shirts are go­ing for about SGD3,500 to­day.

Lux­ury brands can’t do that. They can’t re­lease 50 items for 50 dol­lars and ex­pect their loyal base to not bat an eye­lid about the wa­ter­ing down of value. They can, how­ever, have a rea­son to do it: say, col­lab with a re­spected street brand and sell 50 for 5,000 dol­lars. Both brands not only get stronger, re­sellers will also get richer.

Fol­low the money. If you con­sider that the re­seller mar­ket is pegged at about SGD8 bil­lion glob­ally for sneak­ers alone, that’s a lot of money flood­ing the streets (in­stead of cock­roaches). A trend? Sure. Ev­ery eco­nom­i­cal struc­ture will give way in due time. But now is not that time for the col­lab­o­ra­tions on th­ese streets. It has only just be­gun.

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