Why luxury retailers are tapping into the streetwear market

Luxury and streetwear collaborations

A decade of increased demand and growth, coupled with the simultaneous growth of digital, changed the visibility and accessibility of luxury brands. In addition, celebrity culture and social media cast influence over our choices like never before. These factors have led to changes in consumer attitudes, behaviours and the very definition of ‘luxury’. And, in turn, this has forced many luxury brands to think about their customers and how they connect with new audiences. 

Luxury fashion brands have been taking inspiration from streetwear and have borrowed from subcultures for decades. Or, as some see it, did streetwear infiltrate luxury? Either way, the result is ‘new luxury’, and what’s different is that luxury brands have learned to stretch, successfully selling both high-end couture and affordable fashion, thus gaining a larger share of the market. Consumers, including millennials, are happy to trade up and down from mid-market price points, placing ‘absolute’ luxury items in their baskets alongside cheaper items. 

But streetwear brand collaborations also give luxury brands an edge. It means luxury brands can represent what’s new, as well as representing high quality and exclusivity. Rather than watching and modifying styles from emerging designers, in collaboration luxury brands can part-own new styles and bring them to market themselves. Luxury brand marketers are able to leverage the attributes of streetwear style – associating additional attributes their brands do not possess – such as Louis Vuitton’s hugely successful collaboration with Supreme. In this way, streetwear keeps luxury brands fresh for loyal audiences and makes it relevant to new, younger audiences – the lifeblood for all brands, including the high-end ones. 

These collaborative partnerships allow us to associate with the brand in many different ways, defining it in a wider societal context. In this sense, they enable us to understand the brand and what it stands for, giving it depth and meaning, allowing us to say something when we choose to buy it. The fashion industry is unpredictable and challenging, and the decline of physical retail makes it all the more important that we are able to connect as consumers with brands for many reasons, not just that they represent ‘luxury’ or have street cred. This is of massive strategic importance to brand owners. 

Collaborations between luxury and street also create excitement. They are inherently creative and challenge both brands to consider their limits. Co-branding creates unique, rare and, therefore, highly desirable products that create demand and even hysteria in some devotees. Streetwear is deliberately ‘hard to get’ in order to create scarcity and exclusivity and as this is where luxury also lives, there’s a natural fit. 

But all collaborations are best approached with caution! Consumers are discerning and know their brands. If either luxury or streetwear brands are being overly commercial, seeking not to create new, exciting, well-designed products, but instead only leveraging PR for themselves, it will be noticed. Streetwear brands have cred but used in the wrong way this can be quickly lost, and luxury brands risk looking cheap. Any brand that is inauthentic about the opportunity partnerships provide will be seen to be selling out. Consumers want collaborations between luxury and streetwear brands that are meaningful to them in some way, and brilliantly designed, and – if it’s right – they’re prepared to pay a very high price.

This article contributed to a wider piece in Retail Gazette