Luxury fashion hunts ‘hype beasts’ with high-end streetwear

Photos: Barneys New York
Apr 04, 2018
Matthew Stern

Luxury fashion doesn’t always look like it used to. Designer denim, limited-edition sneakers and other high-end streetwear offerings can fetch price tags once reserved for modish foreign formalwear. Some traditional luxury department store retailers have begun to pick up on the trend, adding assortments that cater to the big-spending, fashion-obsessed young people sometimes known as “hype beasts.”

Nordstrom recently announced that it will be opening a store-within-a-store from streetwear sneaker consignment brand Stadium Goods at its forthcoming Manhattan men’s store, a move that Glossy reports as one of the big recent examples of the growing connection between luxury fashion and streetwear. Over the past few years, Bergdorf Goodman has begun stocking products from streetwear brand Kith and Barneys New York has partnered with streetwear fashion magazine Highsnobiety to curate collections.

Barneys has also begun to conduct “product drops” along the lines of what brands like Adidas and Nike have done to roll out limited-edition items with a maximum degree of excitement. Last year’s “Thedrop@barneys” event featured custom designer hats and Converse products. More than 80 designers took part, as well as celebrity tattoo artists, piercers and popular hip-hop artists.

High-end streetwear is having a significant impact on the global luxury market. Business of Fashion reported at the end of 2017 that streetwear boosted global luxury sales by five percent. In that article, a Bain & Co. analyst attributed the trend in part to lifestyle changes and the move to less formal work clothing in the past 10 to 15 years.

As members of the generations raised on online shopping become high earners interested in luxury goods, luxury retailers are also going digital. A 2017 report from Bain & Co stated that online sales will make up 25 percent of luxury sales by 2025.

Nordstrom, in particular, has taken steps to try to become an operation more geared to the digitally savvy. Last month the retailer acquired two digital startups, BevyUp and MessageYes, to enhance its e-commerce and omnichannel offerings.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do luxury retailers run the risk of alienating their traditional customers if they focus on streetwear and other high-end fashions enjoyed by younger audiences? How do you see the luxury fashion market evolving to appeal to the digital generations?

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"I would love to see the return rates on these “hype beasts” as I can see many buying, taking snaps, posting on Instagram and returning..."
"There must be real money here."
"If I were a luxury retailer, I’d get into this to the degree that it works for my customers. I sure doubt that I would “focus” on it."

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11 Comments on "Luxury fashion hunts ‘hype beasts’ with high-end streetwear"

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Bob Phibbs

I would love to see the return rates on these “hype beasts” as I can see many buying, taking snaps, posting on Instagram and returning — worn or not, just like high-end electronics companies are seeing customers buy the top-end video camera and accessories to shoot a wedding or other event and then return them after doing so.

Neil Saunders

High-end fashion has always been at the cutting edge. People expect it to be challenging, radical and even somewhat inaccessible. It’s there for theatre and spectacle as much as to be purchased.

As such, I see no real problem with major luxury brands or the successful upscale department stores in big cities adopting this trend, In any case, consumers can buy into certain aspects of the look rather than the whole aesthetic.

I don’t think this will be so successful in some of the mainstream department stores. Hype beasts are not likely to come a-hunting on Macy’s off-green carpet in suburban Nowhereville.

Georganne Bender

I agree with you on this not working in some of the mainstream department stores, but I love the idea of limited window shopping events like Thedrop@barneys. Cutting edge fashion. Fast. Gone.

Cathy Hotka

There must be real money here. The Men’s Store at Saks adopted this trend three or four years ago, with distinctive sneakers and leather jackets, even here in buttoned-up Washington, D.C. It’s nice to see an alternative to traditional men’s workwear.

Warren Thayer

If I were a luxury retailer, I’d get into this to the degree that it works for my customers. I sure doubt that I would “focus” on it. But I’d do it with a different brand name, both to avoid alienating any traditional customers (not much of a risk, IMHO) and to appeal to the hype beasts without the “ick factor” of them having to buy a traditional luxury brand. This is a fad, and it will run its course.

Gabriela Baiter

This move feels like a disingenuous attempt for legacy retailers to catch up. Anyone else feel like the store-within-a-store format is a cop out? Rather than just bringing in new “trends” that spike sales temporarily, I’d love to see these retailers take bigger bolder bets that tell a larger story than “what’s cool.”

Nordstrom Local (their small format concept stores) is not mentioned in this article but is a good comparison to randomly celebrating a subculture in a corner of their department store. At least this tactic continues to serve its neighborhoods, bringing in homegrown collaborations that resonate with the local culture.

Mike Osorio

This is not a “fad.” Luxury players are very in tune with youth culture, whether on the streets of Paris, Tokyo and Beijing or New York, LA and Detroit. This drives recent design inspirations for Gucci and Louis Vuitton, including the latter’s recent collaboration with Supreme.

I have been able to watch this unfold over the last decade from my role with one of the largest luxury retailers and I can say with confidence that the only thing that will change is how youth street culture defines what’s next.

The luxury consumer loves this. Its presence on the floor in Nordstrom, Barneys or Galleries Lafayette does not turn off “traditional” customers. Rather, it draws them in because most luxury customers want to be part of authenticity — and little today is more authentic than luxury streetwear. Macy’s on the other hand, is definitely not luxury and has no place in this conversation.

Gabriela Baiter

I agree that this is an authentic subculture that makes sense for fashion retailers. However, I’ve seen good and bad executions of this. Barneys didn’t use a data point to allocate a corner of their store for “testing.” They instead took the time to partner with the right people and use their reach to tell a story. That’s the kind of commitment we should see from these retailers in the future.

Ricardo Belmar

Fashion is all about edgy, trendy, and avant-garde. The streetwear trend fits into this motif quite naturally. It’s one reason why fashion is not the same thing as apparel! IT makes sense for some of these luxury department store brands to adopt this trend in a limited manner where they believe they have potential customers. I don’t see this making sense in suburban areas vs urban ones, so I wouldn’t expect any of these department stores to shift their focus in this direction any time soon. It becomes one more tactic to appeal to those digital savvy consumers.

Min-Jee Hwang

Retailers that want to stay relevant need to evolve. Product assortment must fit with what shoppers want and will actually buy. I am sure that a number of these initiatives are tests for top luxury retailers to see what sticks. Once they determine the best way and the best products to reach emerging target markets, they will double down on the strategies that were especially successful.

Ralph Jacobson

Don’t be alarmed. The sky isn’t really falling. This is literally nothing more than fashion trends evolving … like they always have. Bottom line, innovate or perish.

"I would love to see the return rates on these “hype beasts” as I can see many buying, taking snaps, posting on Instagram and returning..."
"There must be real money here."
"If I were a luxury retailer, I’d get into this to the degree that it works for my customers. I sure doubt that I would “focus” on it."

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