Opinion: can COVID-19 kill consumerism and hype culture as we know it?

    31 Jul 2021

    According to a Highsnobiety poll, yesterday’s hypebeasts who were queuing up for the new Supreme drop have reconsidered their priorities and believe that the pandemic will “kill” the hype and force people to buy more thoughtfully.

    This opinion is shared by some experts and analysts interviewed by The Business of Fashion and former Highsnobiety editor Alec Leach in his column for i-D. They believe COVID-19 will make shoppers more conscious.

    (A hypebeast is lang for someone who is a beast (obsessed) about the hype (in fashion) and will do whatever it takes to obtain that desired hype.

    A drop is a limited release of merchandise, often as a marketing technique by streetwear fashion brands. Drop culture is the thinking, behavior, and community surrounding it. A “drop” is a term that comes from the fashion world, perfected by the New York-based skater brand Supreme, which releases limited-edition runs of 5-15 new products every Thursday at 11 am, using a strategy borrowed from Japanese streetwear culture. No advance previews of the items; it’s all about surprise. Scenesters in search of the hippest new T-shirts, sneakers, and hats (plus quirky accessories like hair clippers and boxing gloves) flock to these weekly events to buy, then spread the news via social media – leading to skyrocketing demand.)

    Fashion critic and editor-in-chief of StyleZeitgeist Evgeny Rabkin is skeptical about such positions. For him, the words about “the death of the hype” are comparable to the meme about the return of dolphins to the canals of Venice. Let’s present you his remarkable column for Highsnobiety written in April 2020. Rabkin told there whether the coronavirus could bury the hype, and DTF Magazine made a summary of the most exciting moments.

    “Everyone in fashion seems to be operating in crisis mode right now now (spring 2020 – Ecolife); supply chains are disrupted, customers are not shopping. Stores (via their websites) are putting merchandise on sale way before the usual deadline and have canceled or delayed roughly $3 billion worth of orders. June men’s and couture fashion weeks are canceled or postponed. The bonds for the parent companies of Versace, Michael Kors, and Coach were downgraded to junk, because of the incredible financial hit these brands were taking due to coronavirus,” – summarizes the current state of fashion Rabkin.

    Other companies have also felt the impact of COVID-19. For example, fashion conglomerate LVMH reported a 15% drop in sales in the first quarter of 2020. (it includes Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, and other brands. – Ecolife). Givenchy, Celine, and Fendi felt it more than other brands of the conglomerate, which are selling well in the Asian market. And its main competitor, Kering, released a report that showed cumulative sales of its brands fell 15.4%. (Conglomerate includes Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta – Ecolife). Gucci, which usually brings in more than half of the conglomerate’s income, suffered the most: due to a total lockdown in China and store closings in Europe, its figures fell by 23.2%.

    Analyzing the behavior of shoppers since the beginning of the pandemic, Rabkin is surprised not by the fact that people stopped buying luxury items but instead by how quickly they abandoned them: “And not being able to go to brick-and-mortar stores isn’t the culprit. It’s as if we took a collective hard look at our closets overnight and saw just how unnecessary it all is. Nothing like a crisis to make one prioritize canned beans over the twentieth pair of sneakers. Vanessa Friedman, the New York Times fashion critic, reasoned that “shopping during a pandemic seems just the other side of wrong.” (She shopped online anyway.).”

    However, according to his observations, “hype” brands like Supreme and Palace are “alive”: “Hype culture, however, seems to be alive and kicking. In the height of Covid-spurred social distancing, both Supreme and Palace are still doing drops, which increasingly look out of touch with reality. Granted, they were probably conceived before the pandemic hit, and yet these collabs now feel as tone-deaf as the Gal Gadot celebrity sing-along.”

    In March 2020, both brands had to close their stores and move all processes online, which does not prevent them from releasing new collections. Just this week, the Supreme capsule dedicated to the My Bloody Valentine group and an exclusive Takashi Murakami T-shirt with a boxy logo went on sale, the proceeds from which will go to the COVID-19 fund. Palace, in turn, has released a fresh release featuring streetwear pioneer UK brand Anarchic Adjustment.

    “Will people lining up in the wee hours of the morning for a Supreme drop or salivating over another meaningless collab realize just how daft it all is? The short answer is: probably not,” says Rabkin. Although consumers have given up on mass consumption under the current conditions, this effect will not last long, according to the journalist.

    For example, he drew a parallel with the 2008 global economic crisis: “In 2008, the subprime mortgage crisis led to a broad financial crisis — with countless people losing homes and savings. Americans saw $9.8 trillion of wealth erased, consumer confidence crashed, and luxury shopping nosedived. But it wasn’t just your average middle-class woman who could no longer buy her first Louis Vuitton speedy bag because she lost her job who stopped shopping, but also the very rich. Not because they didn’t have the money – the rich always have money – but because they thought that buying a new fancy shirt while the middle class were losing theirs was in poor taste. No millionaire’s wife gave up her spot in the line for the new Birkin bag; it was just stashed away in her closet for a while. Then, as now, prognosticators spelled the demise of luxury shopping, which seemed distasteful in its indulgence. That sentiment lasted all of two years.”

    Rabkin calls the 2010s that followed the crisis “a decade of unbridled consumerism”: it was during this period that the share price of the LVMH conglomerate increased “approximately tenfold,” the value of Supreme was estimated at a  billion dollars, ” The Western rich came back in force, followed by the rise of the newly minted aspirational consumer from China.” “It’s also the period when hype culture truly kicked in, fueled by the Instagram-hip-hop industrial complex,” he adds.

    In the 2010s, hip-hop became one of the leading genres of music and spawned a new school, whose representatives stood out not only in music but also in style (for example,  A$AP Rocky, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Migos and others) … Virgil Abloh founded BEENTRILL, PYREX and Off-White, Kanye West – Yeezy, BEENTRILL natives (Matthew Williams and Heron Preston) – 1017 ALYX 9SM and Heron Preston, Demna Gvasalia – Vetements, and with them dozens of other new wave brands emergedб recognized thanks to rappers largely. And social networks, in turn, have become a tool capable of influencing the course of modern fashion.

    Rabkin disagrees with the arguments that this crisis will affect buyers differently, because humanity has not previously faced such a threat to health and the closure of factories for two reasons. He believes that people are “resistant” and “their concentration is short-lived.”

    “Each and every time humanity gets from under a crisis, and the question of satisfying basic needs becomes less immediate, the question of satisfying emotional needs grows in importance. And that’s where fashion, along with hype culture, comes in — it speaks to human emotion, mostly that of satisfying desire or quenching aspirational thirst, says Rabkin. “In my quest to understand why people consume hype, I have yet to see a better theory than one of conspicuous consumption the sociologist Thorstein Veblen offered over 120 years ago. His basic postulate was that people consume in order to signal their status to the rest of society.”

    Rabkin reinforces his words with a April 2020 poll by The Business of Fashion. According to him, two-thirds of the fashion industry surveyed said they were not worried about the long-term effects of the virus. Another example: during a pandemic, StockX continues to sell and buy sneakers in the resale market. Even despite the partial price reduction for limited models.

    When asked about meeting demand in the global crisis, disrupted supply chains, and frozen factories, Rabkin also has an answer: “Fashion executives may be wondering whether to produce anything for next season at all, but there is no shortage of luxury goods out there — according to The Economist, even in a good season, most luxury brands move just over half of their stock at regular price. After a season ends, the unsold stuff gets offloaded to outlets or discount retailers, or it’s burned.”

    Perhaps it is the crisis that will force brands to reconsider their approach to production scale and stop recycling unsold items. This was already mentioned by the founder of the 1017 ALYX 9SM. “When we stage shows, we create clothes that convey the full picture of our ideas, so we repeat ourselves in some way. For example, we can show ten pairs of the same pants. Now, when there are no shows, we can only produce what is needed, ”said Matthew Williams in an interview. And Kering CFO Jean-Marc Duplet said that conglomerate brands are likely to rely on their bestselling items in the current environment.“If all of this is making you sick right now, as you watch humanity’s existential struggle and are wondering at the utter pointlessness of your overflowing, futile closet, don’t worry – this feeling will pass, and you may find yourself salivating at the next Sacai x Nike sneaker sooner than you think,” says Rabkin. ” We’ve been here before.”

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *