Nike/Louis Vuitton Marry Luxury and Streetwear. Will Consumers Support the Wedding?

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Luxury and streetwear are not a new combination. But with Dior, Louis Vuitton, Vetements, and more jumping aboard the streetwear bandwagon, it is undeniably the luxury sector’s new darling. Louis Vuitton is a trailblazer in the luxury streetwear market, ringing in one of the most successful collaborations to date by partnering with Supreme for a unique product line that was sold at Louis Vuitton stores.

The Louis Vuitton and Supreme collaboration was successful for a few reasons. Supreme is the first billion-dollar streetwear brand in existence. Since Supreme was already selling apparel at a higher price point, the partnership didn’t dilute the Louis Vuitton brand. It also helped that the exclusive products were only sold at Louis Vuitton stores, not at Supreme stores or on their website. And Supreme’s limited edition product drops had already rustled up a strong brand following of loyal streetwear aficionados.

[callout]The best collaborations retain the positive qualities of both brands in terms of design, quality, pricing, and creativity. The worst collaborations, on the other hand, create cheap offshoots of beloved brands and try to peddle products based on their label alone.[/callout]

So why did Louis Vuitton allegedly offload Supreme so quickly? And will LV be able to replicate the success it had with Supreme with its new Nike footwear collaboration?

Did LVMH Sell Supreme?

The Louis Vuitton/Supreme collaboration was the stuff of streetwear dreams. So why did Louis Vuitton’s parent company, LVMH, allegedly sell Supreme to VF Corporation in 2020? Is it that the price was right? After all, rumors say that LVMH bought Supreme for $500 million and sold for $2.1 B… so maybe the profit wasn’t something they could ignore during pandemic-induced sales freezes. The truth of the matter is even more interesting.

Louis Vuitton never actually owned Supreme. It was simply an industry rumor that got out of hand. In reality, Supreme founder James Jebbia sold a 50 percent stake in the company to private equity firm The Carlyle Group around the time the rumor began. The story was that same $500 million was what Louis Vuitton paid for the streetwear giant. VF Corporation, the same company that owns mid-tier brands Vans, The North Face, and Timberland, is the only company ever to outright acquire Supreme in 2020.

China Drives the Trend

Streetwear enthusiasts in America scour the internet for deals on buzzy products. Many are in it for the resale value of the apparel, and not the product itself. If Chinese fashion is any indication, however, this won’t be the case for long. China has long been a retail trend trailblazer. And Chinese spending on streetwear was nearly four times that of non-streetwear apparel between 2015 and 2020. In fact, Chinese reality T.V. was a contributing factor to Supreme’s sudden success.

The Chinese luxury consumer views luxury spend as a form of self-expression, not as a form of status. Because of this, brands with creative collaborations that help consumers demonstrate their own personal style/preferences are best positioned to reap Chinese luxury spend. That’s where streetwear comes in.

Logomania is a driving factor when it comes to streetwear/luxury collaborations. But logos are becoming less a form of status for luxury-driven consumers, and instead used to affiliate consumers with a brand ethos with which they identify. Take the 2018 collaboration between sought after skateboarding brand, Palace x Polo Ralph Lauren, for instance. The apparel kept the signature plaids/Americana of Polo Ralph Lauren but juxtaposed the prints in a way that screamed “streetwear” and then drenched it in the Palace logo.

Is Collaboration Brand Suicide?

 Not all collaborations are destined for greatness. For streetwear collabs to work, the luxury brands they work with have to be willing to forego a certain amount of profit to create hype and demand. The best collaborations retain the positive qualities of both brands in terms of design, quality, pricing, and creativity. The worst collaborations, on the other hand, create cheap offshoots of beloved brands and try to peddle products based on their label alone.

Although I haven’t witnessed any major fails in the streetwear x luxury space, the luxury x mass market space has some great examples of epically failed collaborations. Target x Neiman Marcus will go down in history as one of the biggest, most unexpected collaboration fails of all time. After Target’s collaboration with Isaac Mizrahi, the Neiman Marcus collab was supposed to be a huge success. Target even imposed purchase limits before the goods were released and revamped its website to prepare for the influx of traffic. But the goods were too edgy for Target’s core customer base, too expensive, and made with discernably cheap materials. Neiman Marcus designers failed to consider Target customers’ lifestyles, as well as their budget and expectation of quality.

General Consensus on Nike x Louis Vuitton

 So, is Nike x Louis Vuitton destined for greatness, or will it follow in Target x Neiman Marcus’ footsteps? Footwear x luxury collabs have been around for decades. Just take a look at Crocs, which has collaborated with the likes of Barneys, Vivienne Tam, and Christopher Kane in the luxury space; Vera Bradley and Madewell in mid-market; and even celebrity designers like Ruby Rose and Justin Bieber. And it isn’t Nike’s first rodeo, either. Dior and Nike’s limited run Air Jordan Dior “Diordans” were a raging success –– even during the height of the pandemic.

The Nike x Louis Vuitton collection is comprised of 21 pairs of Nike sneakers designed in collaboration with Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh (who, you may recall, disappointed fans with his actions during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020).   So far, online sneaker enthusiasts are raving about the collab. But HighSnobiety calls the collaboration “a bootleg,” saying that customizing Air Force One’s with a designer’s logo is “nothing new.” Nor is logomania collabs a new concept in streetwear.

Customer reception will come down to how enthused individual consumers are about getting the LV logo on a pair of Nikes. The footwear sector is a whole different ballgame and logomania is real. So, if Abloh is able to behave himself for a few months during racial discussions, the collaboration very well may be fiscally successful. Whether the creativity behind the pricey designs is something worth getting excited about, however, is another discussion entirely.

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