The boundaries between luxury labels and street fashion are getting blurred as millennials emerge as the most influential consumer group, S&P Global Market Intelligence heard during a panel discussion at the Macquarie Greater China Conference 2018 in Hong Kong on May 11.
Streetwear, with its skater and hip-hop influences, has become a key focus for the high-end fashion industry as top names like Chanel and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE's Louis Vuitton target young consumers, according to Fed Tan, co-founder of Social/Capital, a marketing and communications agency that specializes in creating socially engaging brand experiences.
"Every single meeting that we go to, every time they are going to bring up: 'How do we attract millennials? How do we become cooler?'" said Tan, whose clients include Hermès International Société en commandite par actions and Moncler SpA. "By default, everybody thinks that to attract millennials, you have to associate yourself with something more streetwear [oriented], or collaborate with the street fashion brands."
The industry has seen a flurry of such collaborations, including between Louis Vuitton and Supreme, Burberry Group PLC and Gosha Rubchinskiy, Tommy Hilfiger and Vetements, and Stella McCartney and Adidas AG. Skater-linked brand Supreme has also worked with Rimowa, Levi's, Nike Inc., Lacoste and The North Face.
Kevin Poon, co-founder of Hong Kong-based streetwear brand CLOT, told the audience at the panel discussion that street fashion speaks to the younger generation's lifestyle. "Streetwear has been a growing trend since the 1980s, with sports and music in its DNA. People born today are digital natives — they don't know anything pre-internet."
He added: "Sneakers [are] a big part of the culture. Music, sports and art are all in the lifestyle right now."
In addition, teenagers are looking for items they can associate with and which give them a sense of belonging, according to Poon. "The most important thing is that the middle class in China is growing, and people are getting tired of traditional brands that their moms used to buy," he said.
But fashion brands should not blindly embrace streetwear, said Sean Wong, vice president of retail at Hypebeast Ltd., a Hong Kong-listed social media and e-commerce platform that counts brands such as Nike, Burberry and Apple Inc. as partners.
"Fashion brands should only collaborate with streetwear brands if it makes sense," said Wong, who explained that the origins of Louis Vuitton's tie-up with Supreme date back more than a decade ago, when the streetwear brand was hit with a cease-and-desist letter after using a print that resembled the luxury house's iconic monogram.
"But LV's artistic director came back and said it might be cool to make it really official ... so people who are consuming it or into streetwear know [the products are] authentic," he added.
Fundamentally, the convergence of premium brands and street fashion labels reflects a growing demand for freshness and excitement, according to Wong.
"People's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter," he said. "The fashion cycle is changing. Consumers now no longer accept spring/summer and fall/winter, the two major releases a year — now they expect things monthly, or even weekly. So these opportunities like doing special projects [with other brands] do generate a lot of interest."
Poon also points to Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s "See Now, Buy Now" fashion show as an example. The show, which is broadcast across China on TV and online ahead of the company's annual Singles' Day shopping event, allows viewers to purchase items seen on the runway with just a few clicks on their screens.
"Kids nowadays don't want to see a fashion show and wait six months to get the merchandise, they want to get it simultaneously," Poon said. "I think this has to do with Instagram and how people are brought up nowadays — they just want everything to happen right now. With that, it also changes the way people create dimensions for fashion."