Fashionista HQ on Broadway is located smack in the middle of what's best described as Soho's prime "drop zone." Our office is a few blocks north of Supreme's Lafayette store, so we've learned which streets to completely avoid on Thursdays (i.e., "drop day") in order to steer clear of the massive lines and crowds. We're also dangerously close to the brand new, three-story Kith brick-and-mortar, a quick walk from New York's first Palace shop and VFiles — where Justin Bieber hosted his infamous Purpose Tour pop-up last year — and could watch the madness surrounding Kanye West's Pablo pop-up in 2016 from our windows. (As an added flex, we also have a view of West's former West Houston apartment building that would make any paparazzo very jealous.)
Many designers have waxed poetic on why the energy and youthful vibe of downtown New York is so important in shaping street culture; most recently, Off-White's Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston explained that the mix of luxury labels and bootleg T-shirts, merch and niche streetwear they've observed in Soho over the years is one of the main sources of inspiration for their respective labels. But what happens when the scene's biggest names head uptown to the land of fancy department stores, luxury flagships and a conspicuous absence of graffiti for a weekend-long event of exclusive product drops?
Barneys decided to find out: On Saturday and Sunday, the Madison Avenue location hosted "The Drop @ Barneys," complete with designer appearances from Abloh, Preston, Fear of God's Jerry Lorenzo, Palm Angels's Francesco Ragazzi, County of Milan's Marcelo Burlon and more, as well as DJ sets, on-site tattoos from JonBoy and piercings by J. Colby Smith, a Fila-branded café, a curated T-shirt bar featuring buzzy, insider-favorite brands and panel discussions that touched upon topics within the world of streetwear. Over the course of the event, more than 80 brands released limited-edition goods that could only be found at Barneys, drawing a whole new demographic of hype-hungry customers into the world-famous store — even if it was just in the hope of taking a selfie with Abloh.
The idea for the final iteration The Drop came about in July, though the Barneys team had been working on a different concept for a few months prior. Highsnobiety lent a hand with curation, consultation and production, and it streamed designer interviews on Facebook to its audience of streetwear fans. According to Barneys's SVP/DMM, Men's Ready-to-Wear Jay Bell, featured designers were chosen with two key criteria in mind: First, which brands appealed most to the customers they wanted to attract? Second, of course, was based upon labels' social media followings, as Barneys wanted to parlay those into a new customer base, too. While the designers on hand at the event are stocked in Barneys and had a prior working relationship with the retailer, the T-shirt bar was meant to introduce customers to under-the-radar brands and test how they performed.
Fear of God, which has sold in Barneys for about four years, re-released the 1997 Florida Marlins capsule it debuted over MLB All-Star Weekend for The Drop after relentless feedback from customers imploring the designer to bring it back. "I think there's a responsibility to tell a story [with a collection], but there's also a responsibility to give your customer what he wants," said Lorenzo on Saturday afternoon. "We saw this event as an opportunity to do the latter." The Marlins floral shorts were on offer at The Drop, as were Fear of God best sellers like track pants and Lorenzo's signature short-sleeve overcoat.
As for why the "drop" model works so well for his brand, Lorenzo chalks it up to the energy and the excitement it creates among his fans. "With it being off calendar and the pieces being new and you not [seeing] it on Instagram for months until you're over looking at it visually before you even get a chance to touch it — I think the freshness is what make it exciting," he explained.
Preston, who dropped a curation of his favorite pieces with a different graphic story called "24 Hour Psycho" and had a DJ set on Saturday, was not at all surprised to see Barneys brimming with teens and streetwear enthusiasts despite the trek uptown. "There are a lot of really cool people involved [with this event] driving people to one location," he said. "This is their crack — this is what wakes them up in the morning and gets them going. It's like social currency for kids. This is their DNA, their security. To have us layered into it — to walk down the street and make them feel a certain way, that they're a part of something special — it's really dope."
As for whether the drop model is something that every designer could (or should) adopt for their businesses, both Lorenzo and Preston agree that brands must first and foremost listen to their customers' needs and wants. "I think the success [of a drop] depends on the relationship with your customer; you have to know what your customer wants," noted Lorenzo. "I can only speak for Fear of God, and I know this type of thing is exciting for them. When we do things like this the brand performs well. But that's our customer — I try to focus on our guy. If I try to think about the industry [as a whole] sometimes I get lost and it messes up our strategy." Preston added that the insight he gets via social media is crucial to how he runs his label: "I read a lot a comments. You're only as good as the feedback around you — your friends, your peers, the internet. I'm learning that there are a lot of smart people out there in the world who are paying attention."
Though a drop might not best suit every fashion brand out there, this method of building hype around limited releases will undoubtably help to shape the future of the struggling retail sector. "This is a moment in time for fashion, for streetwear, for luxury — we're going to look back in history books and fashion magazines 60 years from now and this will be a big turning point for the industry," said Preston. Barneys's Bell agrees, and customers can expect to see more drops from the store in the months and seasons ahead. "The premise behind a drop — offering limited, exclusive product for a limited amount of time — appeals to a certain demographic and it also translates well into our retail landscape at Barneys," he noted.