When two fashion titans team up, expect more than your average collaboration. At the Fall 2017 men’s show in Paris, Louis Vuitton unveiled a collection with cult-favorite brand Supreme, marrying French craftsmanship and New York skate style in what would become one of the most iconic tie-ups of all time.
The lineup was extensive to say the least. Everything from baseball jerseys and leather bags to silk pajamas, skateboard trunks, and other accessories were splashed with the LV monogram and Supreme’s red box logo and sold at the French Maison’s price points. Consumer reactions ranged from surprise and delight to concern over lost street cred, with some critics even calling the partnership “the fashion version of murder-suicide.”
But the only thing the two killed were doubts — and maybe budgets. In Beijing, items flew off the shelves in just three days, causing the pop-up event to temporarily close. In Taiwan, some hypebeasts reportedly waited 12 days in line to nab the coveted pieces. Thanks to this reception in China and around the world, Louis Vuitton reported that its fashion and leather goods revenue increased by 21 percent to 15.4 billion euros in 2017.
While brand collaborations have become common today, Louis Vuitton x Supreme was groundbreaking for its time and helped push the boundaries of luxury. Now, the products are seen as modern collectibles, whose values are defined not by time but rather sheer demand and creativity. Below, Jing Daily highlights six reasons why Louis Vuitton’s crossover with the streetwear king reigned supreme in China and beyond.
Individually, Louis Vuitton and Supreme both possess strong brand awareness in China. Before entering the country nearly 30 years ago, Louis Vuitton was already one of the most recognizable luxury houses in the world, renowned for its LV monogram and checkered leather goods. It further strengthened its reputation in China by becoming one of the first global luxury players to enter the market, where it introduced its travel heritage through exhibitions, established stores across major cities, and eventually launched its online business in mid-2017.
Although Supreme does not boast the 167 year-long history that Louis Vuitton does, it has quickly established its credibility in the last two decades. Through its “drop” strategy and sparse marketing, the New York label cultivated a culture of cool that has attracted a loyal following in China as well as countless Chinese imitators hoping to profit from its popularity. According to Arnold Ma, CEO of Qumin and Dao Insights, “it is the rebellion and individuality that the brand showcases that wins over these young consumers.”
Element of surprise
Yet even with their respective popularity, Louis Vuitton x Supreme caught people off guard. Although streetwear permeates the luxury sphere today, such mashups were not as recognized in 2017 as they are now, “especially for Supreme who, until that time, had collaborated with the likes of Jordan Brand, Nike or North Face, thus making a collaboration with Louis Vuitton — a French, heritage brand, unheard of,” explained Kim Leitzes, Managing Director APAC, at Launchmetrics, the leading brand performance cloud for luxury. In other words, their demographics seemed diametrically opposed, with Supreme serving hip hop heads, punks and skaters and Louis Vuitton catering to a traditional luxury clientele.
The pairing was more surprising considering Louis Vuitton had largely avoided alterations to its image up to that point. In fact, the luxury giant had issued a cease and desist letter to Supreme in 2000 for plastering its monogram on the bottom of its skate decks. So naturally, when Louis Vuitton tapped Supreme years later to combine their two logos, it “probably freaked a lot of people out, but in a positive way,” said Kim Jones, Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director at the time, to SCMP.
With its heavy branding, the collection also played into China’s logo addiction. Although maximalist styles come and go depending on the economic climate — or the government’s latest regulations on wealth flaunting — the desire for brand monograms never really disappears. As Doris Wu, Senior Consultant at Cherry Blossoms Intercultural Branding, points out: “The way [Chinese fashion consumers] see logomania has switched from claiming social status and flaunting ostentatious lifestyles to a way to express individual aesthetic sensitivity,” with logos being symbolic of a brand’s values.
From the brands’ perspective, recreating their iconic designs allowed for more product diversity, Ma said. “Because of the free style embedded in Supreme, the tie-up also creates space for LV to experiment the ‘decadent’ style,” he stated. “As a result of such adaptation, consumers are provided with products that are different to the traditional offers from both brands.”
The timing here was perfect. Wu goes on to say that the Louis Vuitton x Supreme drop came just as street culture was moving “from underground to under the sun… pushed[ed] through entertainment programs and online videos such as The Rap of China and Street Dance of China.”
“The way [Chinese fashion consumers] see logomania has switched from claiming social status and flaunting ostentatious lifestyles to a way to express individual aesthetic sensitivity.”
In particular, The Rap of China, a music competition show launched in the summer of 2017, not only brought hip hop music to China’s mainstream audience for the first time — attracting 1.3 billion views in a little over a month — but also helped Supreme become a household name. With celebrities like the now disgraced Kris Wu often seen sporting the red box logo on TV, the growth of streetwear in China surged 3.7 times that of non-streetwear in 2017.
That said, young Chinese consumers are not blindly following trends. As Leitzes points out, individualism and personalization are two key drivers on the Chinese consumer’s path to purchase. This is why cross-brand collaborations continue to pique interest as “they’re constantly seeking niche, limited products to satisfy their need to be unique.”
Another distinct characteristic of China’s Gen-Z and Millennial consumers is that they are more than consumers; they are collectors, be it investment for future resale or establishment of a personal legacy. And when it comes to collecting, it’s all about the scarcity, said Vanessa Wu, Business Director, Europe at Gusto Luxe. “The collaboration covers an all around lifestyle offering, from clothes to suitcases, which enriches the variety for the collection, while all in limited edition.”
And finally, minimal sales channels only served to enhance the collection’s value. As Supreme has no official presence in China, Louis Vuitton took care of the physical retail and customer service experience, launching the products in select boutiques in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Nanjing as well as at a pop-up store in Beijing 798. With demand through the roof, the brand used an online lottery for admission, and limited each admission to 30 minutes and each purchase to two items.
“It’s the scarcity and exclusivity that the young generation of luxury consumers are all about,” Wu replied when asked about this tactic. “The limited offline experience can ensure customers go through a curated journey by both brands and store staff on the ground, which is more multi-layered than pure online shopping, and offers an opportunity to explore the collaboration and beyond into the brand universe.”
By leveraging scarcity, streetwear trends, and their loyal fanbases, Louis Vuitton and Supreme ultimately created modern collectibles that fetch more than double, sometimes triple, their retail values. Now, these pieces are available on Sotheby’s to buy now.