"The way that you found out about product was reading magazines, especially Japanese magazines where a lot of fashion breaks," says Jeff Carvalho, Managing Director of Highsnobiety. "Or, short of that, it was going to visit the specialty retailers all over the world that were carrying these products because they became your hub for knowing what was up in a specific city." He's recalling a time just before 2005, when an advertising student named David Fischer, who was living in Geneva, Switzerland, launched a blog called Highsnobiety that showcased specific and unique products that caught his eye. "Coming out of forums, blogs at that point were really starting to take off. It was a prime platform for him to, essentially, just show the things that he was into," says Carvalho.
Fast forward 12 years, and Highsnobiety has organically grown into just that — a full-fledged media brand, with offshoot channels that cover the streetwear and sneaker industries and everything in between, like tech, music, lifestyle and art. Carvalho also notes that Highsnobiety's content has expanded from quick-and-short posts on product launches and lookbooks to commentary and reporting on worldwide news and trends. Stories like "The Best Air Jordans of 2017 (So Far)" and a street style recap from Vlone's pop-up shop in New York City are published alongside a deep-dive feature on workwear and a lengthy guide on shopping in Tokyo, for example.
"We're doing our best to be the voice of what this culture is because it's not just about the product anymore," he says. "There are people and creators behind all of this stuff, and that story is really interesting. More importantly — and this is really something that we hold really true to ourselves — is we want to help tell the stories of the next new emerging creators."
Across all channels, and including social media, Highsnobiety garners around 500 million monthly impressions. Its main website alone receives eight million unique visits a month. "We're certainly not a blog today," says Carvalho, who's been with Highsnobiety since the beginning as its second full-time employee. Currently, his role as managing director is to oversee the content coming out of the North America branch, which has been based in New York City since 2011. (In 2009, Fischer moved from Geneva to Berlin to open Highsnobiety's first official office in Europe.)
Under the Highsnobiety umbrella is the flagship site, along with a print magazine that's been published biannually since 2010. To Carvalho, it's the most premium expression of what the brand does. The 13th and most recent issue includes a roundup of four cover stars that encompass Highsnobiety's range: designer Haider Ackermann, singer Zayn Malik, rapper Young Thug and Chinese triple threat (singer, actor and creative director) Edison Chen. Inside, there are brand-focused photo shoots, from Off-White to A Cold Wall, along with interviews from creatives in the streetwear space, like Erik Brunetti of Fuct.
There's also What Drops Now, a shopping discovery tool that's manually curated by the Highsnobiety team. "If we look back to the roots of what Highsnobiety was as a blog in the beginning, we were very focused on product," says Carvalho. "At the end of the day, there's a reader who comes to us only to shop and this is the solution for them." And although Fischer doesn't consider Highsnobiety specifically in the retail business, he sees rapid growth through e-commerce. In fact, 43 percent of readers make a purchase online, says Fischer, while 16 percent make an in-store purchase after reading about a product on the site.
With that said, it's clear that the Highsnobiety readers hold great influence and huge buying power. "They are young, highly educated, affluent creatives," says Fischer. "And their behaviors are steering the fashion industry in new directions. The industry, including brands and marketers, can learn valuable lessons from this demographic." In response, Fischer launched the production agency Highsnobiety+ last year. The independent creative team, primarily based in New York City but also operates from Berlin, works with brands and influencers on original content. "We build campaign ideas that resonate with the next generation of tastemakers," says Fischer, meaning millennials and Gen Z. So far, Highsnobiety+ boasts a diverse portfolio of clientele, from luxury (Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Mercedes-Benz) to sportswear (Nike, Adidas and Converse), as well as tech and lifestyle, including Samsung, Red Bull and Ebay.
While Highsnobiety has been covering streetwear for more than a decade, Fischer and Carvalho, have noticed its merge with luxury fashion as early as 2011, when Riccardo Tisci debuted a Rottweiler print with his men's Fall 2011 collection. Over the years, the streetwear market, which, by 2015, was valued at about $75 billion, according to a market study by WeConnect, and its impact on high-end brands will only continue to grow.
"High fashion started getting closer to the streetwear market, also adapting all of streetwear's most popular silhouettes into their collections," says Fischer. Gucci's bootleg-inspired T-shirt is a good example, and possibly the brand's hottest commodity at the moment.
The fusion has only gotten stronger: Virgil Abloh's Off-White line is what the designer describes as a "case study" on modernizing the traditional fashion house while following streetwear codes. (Plus, his latest runway show attracted a front row of LVMH execs.) In January, Louis Vuitton debuted its highly anticipated collaboration with Supreme; Jil Sander announced its new creative director duo, which includes Lucie Meier and her husband Luke, the founder of menswear line OAMC and a former designer for Supreme. Earlier this month, Justin O'Shea, formerly of Brioni, revealed that he will be launching a luxury streetwear brand called SSS World Corp.
"I think what we saw, and what David certainly saw, was that you could mix high luxury with what was happening on the streets. If you look at the last 12 years of what we've done, our content has always covered the very best in luxury along with the very best sneakers from Nike and Adidas, as an example," says Carvalho. "What's quite cool to us, today, is that now we've really come full circle."