Despite the significant age difference, new collaborators Louis Vuitton and Supreme were both founded on innovation. The former was founded in 1854, after it designed stackable trunk luggage with a flat top instead the traditional rounded one. And the latter in 1994, with a store designed so its skateboarding customers could ride straight inside to shop. Now the odd bedfellows are teaming up for a co-branded collection that is be hitting stores on July 17th.
The menswear line, debuted as part of the brand’s Autumn/Winter 2017 menswear show on January 19th at Paris Fashion Week. Despite the rumors, the collaboration’s debut caught even fashion insiders by surprise.
— Louis Vuitton US (@LouisVuitton_US) January 19, 2017
The marriage between the New York skater-punk/streetwear brand and the French luxury heritage brand is, on its face, a curious one. But the collaboration makes sense when one looks at how younger luxury consumers are yearning for something more fun and fresh than offered by their mothers’ high-end brands—a fact that Louis Vuitton creative director Kim Jones is keenly aware of.
As Louis Vuitton explains the collaboration on its website,
For the Autumn-Winter 2017, Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaborate for the first time, creating a capsule collection. Established on Lafayette Street in 1994—140 years exactly after Louis Vuitton founded his Malletier in Paris, Supreme has become a New York City staple. It epitomises the cross-cultural mood of both the city, and this collection. For the Autumn-Winter 2017, Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaborate for the first time, creating a capsule collection of clothing, accessories and jewelery, showcased alongside Vuitton’s own.
A new Monogram variation is here interrupted with Supreme’s iconic Box Logo. This new emblem appears as a motif in the fabrics of a range of garments, including classic pale washed Japanese denim, camouflage jacquard and fil coupé, sometimes appearing in a cognac and chocolate colorway that recalls the original 1896 Monogram canvas.
It’s certainly some crow to eat for Louis Vuitton, a brand that sued Supreme in 2000 for using the LV logo on a skateboard deck. And LV wasn’t the only one: In 1994, Calvin Klein sued Supreme for its guerrilla advertising. Ironically, these days it’s Supreme suing to protect its brand—and LV’s Jones is keeping a sense of humor.
But Louis Vuitton is not the first brand to tussle with Supreme only to come back to it. In 2001 in Japan, Supreme released a sample t-shirt that read “F**k Nike”; in 2016, Supreme and Nike collaborated on a collection of skate gear.
It’s no wonder Supreme would attract a suitor as high placed as the LVMH brand. Supreme has masterfully managed its brand, leveraging limited product releases to create a frothing demand for exclusivity. So while Louis Vuitton is expensive, Supreme products end up nearly as dear as on the resale market.
How popular is Supreme with kids? Put it this way: Apple would love to have Supreme’s product release queues—which attract devotees for its regular Thursday “drop day”—for its releases. So it comes as no surprise that an iPhone case is lurking in the co-branded Louis Vuitton x Supreme items.
But more important than price tag is street cred—something luxury brands desperate need in an age of branded identity politics. And what better way to gain acceptability than to partner with a youth brand that once released a branded crowbar as an accessory?
Louis Vuitton is hardly Supreme’s first roll in the hay with another brand. In fact, the streetwear brand is about as promiscuous as they come when it comes to brand collaborations, from the expected partnerships with the likes of Nike, Levi’s, The North Face, Commes des Garcons and Vans, to the unexpected—like The Muppets and White Castle. And yes, that White Castle.
As Jones told WWD about the collaboration: “Youth is key now, especially in China. I was in Beijing a week ago. We had a launch of a store and from the time I went last time three years ago, the customer’s completely changed. They used to be old men, now it’s young twentysomethings, so it’s important to make them excited.”
The attempt by old Louis Vuitton for some new street creed—the most valuable brand characteristic among today’s young—follows in the footsteps of competitor Gucci. One year ago, Gucci launched its collaboration with Brooklyn-based musician and street artist GucciGhost and clad Beyoncé for her Formation short film. The collection was heavy on custom pieces and lent the luxury Gucci brand some youthful respect and ‘tude.
The Louis Vuitton collaboration with Supreme makes sense because it’s unexpected—and that’s Supreme’s speciality. And while it’s clear LV wants some of that sweet, sweet street cred, it remains a question at what cost.
Is it really worth a few sales and an image bump for a heritage brand that’s survived world wars to partner with a brand that is just as likely to criticize it tomorrow? Punk at heart, Supreme is ultimately an anti-brand brand—and LV would be wise to keep that in mind. Then again, is Supreme about to bite the hand that’s feeding it, quite handsomely, for the right to borrow its catchet and cool?
For more, check out some videos on the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration below: