The elusive brands the cool kids call home

Masters of high profile collabs and limited edition exclusives, a select group of streetwear brands are using their elusive power to get the cool kids queuing around the block.

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Queues guarded by beefed-up security and “one in, one out” on the door –  no this is not the opening of some super club, it’s the two-day London pop-up by Places + Faces.

The brainchild of London photography duo Imran Ciesay and Solomon Boyede – aka Ciesay and Soulz – Places + Faces is the millennial lifestyle brand of choice. Starting life on Tumblr when the pair were just students, Ciesay and Soulz have forged a reputation based on their enviable access to the rap scene’s biggest players, snapping fresh off-stage shots of Drake and A$AP Rocky – to name just two.

The duo have since translated their raw, laid back photographic aesthetic into a creative ecosystem spanning art, music, events, magazines and streetwear.

The marketing is as low-key and elusive as the brand itself. To promote the launch of its latest magazine and merchandise, for example, Places + Faces pasted seemingly anonymous posters in obscure locations around London, before sharing photos of the posters on Instagram.

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The brand eschews bricks and mortar retail in favour of limited edition online drops and exclusive pop-ups in cities from Paris to Tokyo.

At the two-day pop-up in London’s Soho in June, brand fans lined the streets to get their hands on previously unreleased oversized slogan hoodies, logo jackets and the label’s signature shoulder bags, either for their personal collection or for sale on the highly lucrative resale market.

The pop-up was not simply about selling clothes. The event coincided with the release of a 12-track mixtape recorded in collaboration with Red Bull Studios in South London. The duo also exhibited a selection of photos documenting the recording process.

The pop-up culminated with an entry-free rave where Places + Faces invited its mixtape collaborators to jump on the mic, much to the delight of the pulsating crowds.

These devoted Places + Faces fans are not just buying into a fashion brand – they’re buying into a lifestyle, created by a collective who encapsulate the public desire for experiences. In this way Places + Faces transcends conventional brand status to become a community of believers. Believers with deep pockets who have one eye on their personal image and another on the resale market.

Learning from the best

Of course Places + Faces is not the first brand to craft a red hot social currency through its elusive appeal.

Established in 1994, New York streetwear label Supreme has built a cult following of die-hard fans who are more than happy to line the streets outside its nine worldwide stores in search of limited edition exclusives.

The brand is well known for its high profile, much-hyped brand collaborations with the likes of Commes des Garcons, Nike and skate mag Thrasher.

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Rumours are already swirling on social media of a potential autumn/winter 2017 tie-up with rapper Nas after a picture emerged on Instagram of a Supreme T-shirt printed with an image of Nas, wearing a Supreme T-shirt. How very meta.

Brand fans are also clamouring to find out more about the release date for Supreme’s impending super-hyped collaboration with luxury fashion heavyweight Louis Vuitton.

Tweets from devotees suggest Supreme will launch the collection of clothes, scarves, bags, shoes and accessories through three pop-up shops in New York, LA and Miami in June, with Louis Vuitton also stocking the capsule across its US stores.

A collaboration between these two brands did not always look as likely as it does today. In 2000 the luxury fashion house served Supreme with a cease-and-desist order to destroy all skateboards decorated with a version of the LV monogram.

Fast forward 17 years and Louis Vuitton is teasing the tie-up with Instagram snaps of rapper Travis Scott wearing a Supreme x LV t-shirt, such is the power the streetwear brand now wields.

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A section of Supreme’s hardcore fanbase have, however, accused the brand of selling out on its street sensibilities by getting into bed with a corporate heavyweight like Louis Vuitton.

The criticism forced the label to break cover, issuing a rare statement to WWD in February, explaining that despite some customers having “apprehensions whenever we do something unexpected”, Supreme has always “stayed true to the culture from which we came.”

And that was that. Supreme knows that its decision to neither confirm nor deny speculation surrounding the date of the LV drop only feeds into the brand’s mystique and ratchets up the anticipation, already at fever pitch amongst a healthy contingent of its fans. Pursuing a strategy of limited edition collections, combined with exclusive high profile tie-ups is helping Supreme maintain its edge 23 years in.

Going up a gear

Known for its signature graphic “tri-ferg” triangular logo, Palace is the British skatewear pretender to Supreme’s crown.

Created by Lev Tanju and a gang of skater friends, the label is rooted in skate culture and operates on a “little, but often” strategy of limited edition drops which sell out in a matter of hours.

Palace’s fondness for 90s nostalgia, characterised by a penchant for shell jackets, retro video game visuals and oversized t-shirts, perfectly chimes into the current vogue for all things 1990s.

Having found famous fans Stateside amongst the likes of Rihanna and Jay-Z, Palace is embarking on US expansion, supported by the kudos of a summer 2017 tie-up with sportswear giant Adidas Originals.

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The latest instalment of the Palace x Adidas Originals collaboration was announced in early June via a poster plastered in Tottenham Court Underground Station showing 19-year skater, artist and model Blondey McCoy holding a trainer from the collection. McCoy himself is rider for Palace and founder of emerging skatewear label Thames.

Promoted under the audacious tag line “Other sportswear is a myth”, the Palace x Adidas Originals collaboration sold out within hours of its release at 11am on June 16. Images of the collaboration’s black and white bathrobe, aqua tracksuit and bright blue trainers sit tantalising out of reach on the Palace website. Ranging from £42 for a t-shirt to £188 for the bathrobe, the Adidas Originals collaboration proves buying into Palace is not cheap.

Consumer demand for achingly cool brands regardless of price will be something Palace is banking on as it muscles its way into the New York fashion scene. The brand announced the location of its first Manhattan store on Instagram, using a graphic showing Palace taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

The store opening in May was supported by the release of a campaign trailer staring Hollywood actor Jonah Hill, shot by studio MPC Creative. The film is a confident statement of intent made by a brand in the ascendancy.

Confidence is key. For a brand to drop product without warning, stage pop-up shops off the back of secretive marketing campaigns and have the biggest names in fashion knocking down their door takes a hefty dose of self-confidence.

This self-confidence is something that reflects the scene in general. The cool kid consumers are streetwear magpies who belong to a special club of devoted collectors willing to line the streets to get their hands on the latest rare drop. Crucially they are entrepreneurs themselves with the commercial savvy to know that whatever items they don’t want will make a killing on the resale market amongst their fellow devotees.

But brands beware. In a subculture where cool kids call the shots, you’re only as good as your last collaboration.

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