From Sneakerheads to Art Collectors

From Sneakerheads to Art Collectors

It was a damp Tuesday evening in London, but they waited down the block and around the corner to get in, mostly young men, mostly in sneakers, at least one with a Supreme bag.

It wasn’t a so-called product drop. It was an opening at the Gagosian Gallery. “We have never had a lineup around the block to get into an exhibition,” said Nick Simunovic, the director at Gagosian Hong Kong.

Mr. Murakami made a smiling flower character; Mr. Abloh built a greenhouse around it. Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

The occasion was the opening of “Future History,” a collaborative exhibition by Virgil Abloh, the American designer behind Off-White, and Takashi Murakami, the Japanese fine artist whose menagerie of adorable cartoon monsters have become pop totems (and the guest stars on a best-selling line of Louis Vuitton accessories).

Each man is a hero of the “hypebeast” community, and they came together last year at ComplexCon, the annual convention at which hypebeasts swarm. Mr. Abloh and Mr. Murakami had set up a silk-screen station to create T-shirts together and were mobbed.

“I never knew sneakerheads,” Mr. Murakami said of his first time at ComplexCon. “I said, ‘What is happening?’ I am walking around this convention, and everyone knows my face.” He imitated the fanboys he encountered in a gasp: “‘Oh my God, Takashi Murakami, oh my God, oh my God!’” Then he giggled in disbelief: “What?

The collaborators made a limited-edition T-shirt for the exhibition. Flo Kohl

ComplexCon had led here to Gagosian, the gallery that represents Mr. Murakami, for which, over the course of about two and a half months, he and Mr. Abloh collaborated on paintings and sculptures. Mr. Murakami made a large sculpture of one of his smiling flower characters; Mr. Abloh built a greenhouse around it. Mr. Abloh requested a screen print of an image from a 17th-century self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; Mr. Murakami screened the mouselike ears of his character Mr. DOB on top.

“Truth be told, I don’t go into these things knowing if they’ll work,” Mr. Abloh said.

The day before, Mr. Abloh, in T-shirt and camouflage pants, and Mr. Murakami, in baggy sweats and Off-White Nikes, had installed the show and discussed their working process.

“My position is, he’s the master, I’m the labor,” Mr. Murakami said. They had come together each with their own thoughts and bounced them off each other, and developed ideas quickly.

“From the idea to do the show to what some of these first pieces would be was, maybe, two minutes,” Mr. Abloh said. Both men’s icons are instantly recognizable in each piece — Mr. Abloh’s ever-present air quotes, Mr. Murakami’s characters — but here they’re presented as co-signed artworks, even if Mr. Abloh’s usual media are clothes and shoes.

“When I’m designing a shoe, I’m employing ideas from art, everything I’ve seen, and it’s manifesting itself in a shoe,” he said. “Why not cement them in serious art pieces? That’s what these four walls do, more than a retail store.” He paused at a sculpture of a Murakami character rising off a base made from an Off-White logo mark. “I could see this in a retail space,” he said. “I could also see it in a home of a billionaire.”

It could well end up in one. Even before the exhibition’s opening, half of the pieces had been sold. “The feedback and results have been incredible,” said Mr. Simunovic, the gallery’s liaison to Mr. Murakami. “We sold a painting today, for example, to a 21-year-old who had never worked with the gallery before.” The gallery does not disclose artwork pricing.

A screen print of an image from a 17th-century self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from the Abloh and Murakami collaboration. Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

For Mr. Abloh, part of the project’s appeal was bringing his dedicated fan base into contact with the new horizons of the art world. In 2019, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago will stage the first museum retrospective of his work. “It’s generational,” he said. “I was born in 1980. I always thought that us buying a rare Supreme shirt is like buying a print for a previous generation.”

Mr. Abloh and Mr. Murakami did design an edition of 400 T-shirts to be sold on the Gagosian website, which will be finished by hand as an entry-level offering; they quickly sold out. But none were for sale the night of the opening, and the lines formed anyway. (Many of those waiting were hoping that the artists would sign their sneakers and shuffled around the gallery, once they were finally let in, in socks.)

Mr. Murakami, who between the installation and the opening had traded his hygienic face mask (he had a slight cold) for one fashioned out of a Nike sneaker, one of Mr. Abloh’s signature zip ties and a bit of camouflage print from his Louis Vuitton collaboration, seemed delighted. He sneaked out of the gallery to take selfies with those waiting. (“How’s the population in London of sneakerheads?” he had wondered in all seriousness the day before. “I really want to welcome the new audience.”)

“The world moves as fast as Instagram scrolls,” Mr. Abloh said. “What excites me more is the physical. I think that will be rewarding. That’s my barometer: Is the piece done? Is it good enough? Is it worthy of someone’s time?”

Outside, they were still waiting. Even Mr. Martin, the marine. “I’m not going to get in,” he said, with admirable even temper. There was over an hour to go. Luckily, the exhibition remains up through April 7.

Get In Line

Get In Line

The Cult of the Line and Weekly Drops.

Shoppers standing in line to get into a Supreme store in Tokyo. For many, the lure is as often the wait as the wares. Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Theolus Jackson slouched against the stanchion separating him from the entrance of Supreme, the streetwear emporium on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He had registered on the company’s website to pick up a ticket assuring him a spot near the head of a line that by 10 a.m. that day spooled around the corner toward Broadway.

Wearing loose trousers, a football jersey and earbuds, he bided his time. “Most of the time I have my music, so I’m not bothered,” Mr. Jackson said. “I come every week — I like the vibe — and I just chill.”

The ostensible draw for Mr. Jackson and his comrades on that balmy June morning, the so-called drop prompting a couple of hundred fashion die-hards to snap open their wallets, was a jacket ($298) and companion shirt ($158), stamped with the image of a Richard Prince-inspired cowpoke, which sold out within moments after 11, when Supreme opened its doors.

Did it matter? Not much. Though upmarket streetwear — hoodies, sneakers, skateboards, ball caps, sanitation-worker boiler suits — is the ostensible lure for these hunter-gatherers, the wares are just part of the draw.

“These kids don’t come to go into the store,” said Jeff Carvalho, the executive editor of Highsnobiety, a content-and-commerce website and magazine focused on high-end streetwear. “They want to be in the line.” Casting an appraising eye on the restive Thursday morning scene, he drove home the point.

“The line is the new community,” Mr. Carvalho said. “When 200 to 300 kids are lining up outside of a store, it’s because they want to be part of something.”

Mr. Carvalho and Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director, make it their business to monitor the weekly drops at emporiums like Supreme, Nike Lab and Palace, the London-based skate-fashion store with a new outpost in New York.

On this day, they had offered themselves as field guides to what promised be a highly engaging hybrid of tribal rite and street theater, a latter-day alterative to the once-ubiquitous bands of adolescents raucously swarming malls.

“Come get your number — hurry before they pass you over,” a gangly guy in a tank top yelled to a companion. “You only have a certain amount of grace period.”

Like other fans of the streetwear brand, Kenta Kashiuagi shows off his reward in Tokyo: a new Supreme T-shirt. Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

His shouts and those of companions volleying from one end of the street to the other pricked up the ears of hypervigilant store personnel ready to pounce on infractions.

Glancing at them furtively, one petitioner stammered: “I can’t talk to you. I’m going to get thrown off the line.”

But overbearing security and a building sense of pressure did not seem to ruffle the mood. For many of these strivers, the chance to swap insider intelligence and bask in camaraderie was, after all, the point.

“Those things make the kids more agreeable to doing something that on surface you think is a sort of absurd proposition,” said Noah Callahan-Bever, the editor of Complex, an online youth-culture magazine that has chronicled the evolution of the line phenomenon in a series of videos.

Absurd, for sure, when a “luxury” recliner can be reserved at the multiplex on an app like Fandango, and a puffer coat from Vetements summoned at a click at ssense.com, rendering the queue all but obsolete.

Jay Hines, a fashion stylist, talking to shoppers outside Supreme’s London location. Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

Yet the line persists, a global trend stretching these days from Tokyo to Tucson and Berlin to the Bronx. Its members, millennials and their younger Gen Z kin, share a mind-set, making common cause of a yen for authenticity. What’s more, they defy facile stereotyping.

“One time I saw a guy with a three-piece suit,” Mr. DeLeon said. “He was wearing immaculate Moscot tortoiseshell glasses. He told me, ‘I’m a lawyer meeting with a client, but I want first to get a sweatshirt here.’”

A mere half-dozen years ago, a shared lust for skateboard and locker-room gear sustained the community. “A limited-edition sneaker was so rare that when two people were wearing it, you knew something connected them — certain music, certain art, certain fashion,” said David Fischer, Highsnobiety’s Berlin-based chief executive. But time, as he noted, wrought changes.

Today, the queue is partly a resellers’ market: energetic young entrepreneurs snapping up wares in multiples, then flipping them at soaring markups on eBay or selling them for pocket change to finance their own buys. On this day, the spirit of commerce was lively on Lafayette Street, with vans lining the far side of the block, the trunks popped to display boxes and bags packed with limited-edition inventory from Nike, Supreme and other vendors — a lure for passers-by.

“Reselling, it’s an easy way to make money,” said a tank-top-garbed youth who goes by the street name Young Sin. “I do this every Thursday. You can’t get locked up for it.” Young Sin, Y S to his friends, planned to pick up a cap for himself and offer additional, marked-up items to all comers.

“I like Supreme,” he said, shrugging, “but they could be Old Navy as long as it helps pay my rent.”

For many others, though, the wait itself is sufficient reward. Some could have taken a page from Andy Warhol, who observed in his loosely structured 1975 memoir, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,” that lining up for movie tickets offered distinct pleasures. “The possibility of never getting in is exciting,” Warhol mused. “But after that, waiting to get in is the most exciting.”

Traveling in packs has additional perks. “The death of the shopping center has created this void in kids’ lives,” Mr. Callahan-Bever said. “It’s being filled in part by this society of kids, some known to each other only from the internet, all of them into this niche product that acts as a social identifier. For them, standing in line for a T-shirt or baseball cap is a way of telling the world that you know about something that not everyone is hip to.”

Professed connoisseurs, plenty of these queuers like the kick of the chase. “You can’t find this stuff at Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s,” said a 40-something, suede-clad man at Supreme, too press-shy to provide his name. “I like the exclusiveness of people always seeing me and saying, ‘Wow.’ It’s kind of like being a movie star.”

As David Andrews noted playfully in his 2015 pop culture rumination, “Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?”: “I can attest to the sense of togetherness that sometimes develops with the strangers around you in line.”

Shoppers standing in line along Lafayette Street to get into Supreme’s SoHo store. Jackie Molloy for The New York Times

“We become a little band of survivors, with a grim gallows humor to match,” Mr. Andrews wrote. “We’re all in this together.”

Will Gamble, a student at the University of Exeter, is a regular at Supreme’s weekly drops in London. “The line,” he said, “is quite a sociable thing. I’ve made friends purely from going to Supreme every week and seeing what’s going on.”

Shared interests with his queuing companions vary from gallery hopping to sports to music. “We’re big fans of Radiohead, and we like a bit of art,” said Mr. Gamble, the preening owner of a “pill shirt,” a Supreme item influenced by a signature artwork by Damien Hirst.

“I meet up with one of my friends,” he said. “We wait, we take photos — it’s almost the whole day.”

What, after all, is the point of the wait if you can’t share? As Mr. Fischer, at 38 an old hand in this unlikely ritual, views it, “Standing in line and finally getting the product, that’s only one exciting part of the cycle.”

The peak experience: going social with your trophy.

“Once you have it,” he said, “you get to snap it a couple of times on Instagram.”

And after? “It’s on to the next thing,” he said.

Ruth La Ferla, The New York Times

STAYING SUPREME

STAYING SUPREME

What the Fashion System Can Learn From Supreme-Style Product Drops

Most people with knowledge of the streetwear market are familiar with the concept of a “drop,” a controlled release of new product at a clip that’s far faster than the traditional fashion cycle and designed to drive consumer excitement with a stream of constant newness. It’s one of the reasons lines at Supreme stores tend to snake around the block every Thursday morning, when the company releases new items.
Supreme, which is vertically integrated and controls the vast majority of its distribution, creates seasonal collections, but drops new product in weekly batches. These drops generate so much interest that entire forums are dedicated to celebrating purchases and guessing which particular pieces will sell out first. What’s more, on the first “drop day” of a new season, traffic to the brand’s website can spike by as much as 16,800 percent, according to Samuel Spitzer, who leads Supreme’s e-commerce operation. E-commerce has become an important part of the business and while Supreme does not disclose sales figures, Spitzer says that on drop days “we get a very, very high rate of orders per second.”
According to Chris Gibbs, owner of multi-brand retailer Union Los Angeles, the system of “drops” stems from a cluster of Japanese streetwear labels, including Hiroshi Fujiwara’s Goodenough, Nigo’s A Bathing Ape, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover, Hiroki Nakamura’s Visvim and Shinsuke Takizawa’s Neighborhood, which all set up shop in the backstreets of

Tokyo’s Harajuku district in the early 1990s and were, themselves, inspired by the DIY methodologies of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s legendary London store Sex, as well as Fujiwara’s involvement in the International Stüssy Tribe.
You want to try to give customers a sense of consistency and create excitement.
“Japan’s streetwear is very retail-based. They’re thinking about the end consumer at the very beginning and all throughout the process. They’re thinking what the retail price is when they’re looking at the fabric,” says Gibbs. “That culture and that market is more organised from my experience,” adds Ryan Willms, who handles marketing and art direction for Stüssy’s North American operation.
“There’s just so much product releasing at all times that you want to try to give customers a sense of consistency and create excitement,” continues Willms. “People are a lot more aware and the customer just demands a lot more now. I think they just want more product more often.”
In addition to delivering new items every week, brands like Supreme and Palace, a London-based streetwear label, keep distribution tight and quantities limited, undersupplying demand. Together, the strategy generates excitement and encourages customers to constantly re-engage, creating a kind of consumer ritual.
For Brendon Babenzien — previously the design director at Supreme, who, after a 10-year hiatus, relaunched his label Noah in October 2015 — the decision to embrace weekly drops was rooted in practicality. “We’re small. You don’t want to have a tonne of stuff at once. This is just an honest, genuine way to do business: Here’s what we need now, let’s put it out and let’s continue bringing product in throughout the season when it makes sense.”
At a much larger scale, Stüssy has made a concerted effort to drop new product on a weekly basis, but Willms says the process is not without its challenges and requires close coordination with suppliers. “We see from the outside Supreme does a good job, but I’m sure behind-the-scenes they’re scrambling around to get some of those things done on time as well,” he adds.
“Brands like Supreme and Palace don’t follow the same seasonal calendar as high fashion brands at all,” observes James Gilchrist, general manager of Comme des Garçons USA and Dover Street Market New York, which stocks both brands. “Actually, their approach makes a lot of sense compared to the way high fashion brands are currently delivering.” As Gilchrist points out, traditional fashion deliveries are structured around far fewer,

bigger shipments.
You don’t want to have a tonne of stuff at once… Let’s continue bringing product in throughout the season when it makes sense.
Gosha Rubchinskiy, a buzzy brand operated by Comme des Garçons, has fused the traditional delivery schedule with something closer to how streetwear brands like Supreme operate. “This was just how things naturally developed; it was not an intentional part of a strategy,” says Gilchrist. “Gosha does a fashion show and is a wholesale business, so he has to work to that calendar and the collection is separated into deliveries in the showroom that govern when certain things will drop. However, the distribution and the quantities produced are very tightly controlled and limited in a similar way to Supreme or Palace.”
Rubchinskiy also makes exclusive product for Dover Street Market that is released throughout the season, further fostering a sense of newness. But Gibbs says Rubchinskiy’s delivery schedule isn’t that different from the rest of Comme des Garçons’ labels, which are typically delivered in four batches throughout a season. As a result, he’ll rarely order from Rubchinskiy’s fourth delivery, since by the time it ships to Union, the store has most likely already begun marking down product.
Gibbs says the drop model works better for vertically integrated businesses, as piecemeal delivery of a collection can be challenging for both multi-brand retailers — which pride themselves on maintaining a carefully calibrated merchandise mix — and brands that depend on wholesale distribution for a significant chunk of their income.
But like Rubchinskiy, Los Angeles-based designer John Elliott, who splits his label between a core line of basics and a seasonal collection that gets shown on the runway, has adopted a hybrid approach. Elliott ships his core product — including t-shirts, knitwear and sweatpants, which comprises 60 percent of his business — to department stores on the traditional calendar, but also does a healthy direct-to-consumer business based on weekly drops via his own e-commerce site. On Mondays, Elliott’s website is updated with pieces from his seasonal collection. On Thursdays, higher volume items like t-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants are released in new colours. Traffic to the site increases by an average of 60 percent on “drop days” over other days, says the company.
“For us it’s a result of probably three things,” explains Elliott. “One would be cash flow, two would be the fact that we produce 90 percent of our stuff in a really small factory in Los Angeles and the third would be that if we were to drop [the collection] all at once, our customer would choose some big winners and probably pass on some stuff.” The

approach also means Elliot can drop product like coats and heavier knits when it’s more seasonally appropriate, he says. In addition, the system allows the label to shine a new light on different items each week, which has helped to boost sales for non-core categories like denim.
What’s more, Elliot feels weekly drops lend themselves to a strong marketing narrative. For each drop, the label shoots a new lookbook, then delivers each of the featured items, a process that requires a lot of planning with regards to production schedules and purchasing. “The most value is in showing a collection, telling a story and giving your customer a taste of what’s to come.”

Athletic Gear Has Influenced Everything

Athletic Gear Has Influenced Everything

Alexander Wang’s new Adidas collaboration for spring 2017. (Kate Warren for The Washington Post)
NEW YORK — The track pants, T-shirts and jackets are basic black, which doesn’t sound all that interesting, but the color manages to give it all a sleeker look so that it is at once retro and kitschy but also modern. Alexander Wang designed the collection in a collaboration with Adidas Originals, which he unveiled on the runway as part of his spring 2017 presentation.

It may be hard to believe, but once a time sweatpants and sweatshirts were just throwaway garments meant for, well, sweating. Then along came hip hop and Run-DMC and Juicy Couture, and sweatsuits became a fashion thing, a cultural thing, a rarified thing — not because of how they looked but because of how much they cost.

The advertising campaign for the collection features models on the streets of New York looking particularly grumpy, perhaps because several of them appear to be dragging overstuffed garbage bags — or perhaps designer gym bags that just look like Hefty bags. Whatever they are, they don’t look fun to haul around.

Getting one’s hands on this collection will be a complicated endeavor as it will initially be sold via pop-up trucks that will be driving around in New York on Sunday, and in Tokyo and London on Sept. 17. Knowing exactly where those trucks will be or when involves following either Wang or Adidas Originals on Instagram or Snapchat or calling 917-325-3342. For those with more patience, the collection will be available in the usual online and bricks-and-mortar way in the spring.

The unveiling of the 84-piece unisex collection, which also included footwear, was celebrated after the runway show with an elaborate video and giant music festival that suddenly appeared as the catwalks’ backdrop gave way to reveal food trucks, a performance stage, a fully functional 7-Eleven, Slurpee machines, a McDonald’s and plenty of booze.

That is a lot of hoopla to sell track pants, pullovers and sneakers, which speaks to the dominance of street and athletic style over pretty much everything else in the fashion universe. Sacai’s Chitose Abe has created a collection with Nike. So has the brand Undercover. Stella McCartney has a long relationship with Adidas. Athletic gear has influenced everything.

Still, when these sportswear companies step into the fashion ring, they often can’t resist bringing in a celebrity to add sizzle, whether it’s Rihanna at Puma or another Adidas co-conspirator, Kanye West. It’s easy money. But it’s really unnecessary.

In many ways, Wang is a celebrity, but he’s mostly a designer — one sensitive to the relationship between fashion and street style. And the funny thing about Wang’s take on Adidas is that he didn’t move the garments that far from their origins. What would be the point?

High fashion isn’t welcoming lowly streetwear into its rarefied world by giving it a luxury makeover. The balance long ago shifted. Fashion is coming down from its high perch to marvel at the allure of a sweatshirt.Cris Weer Photographer Designer Creative Director New York Berlin Hong Kong Guangzhou Shenzhen