How luxury can learn from streetwear’s hype culture

Bia Bezamat and Ferdinando Verderi
Bia Bezamat and Ferdinando Verderi

Luxury has a lot to learn from the way streetwear brands trade on creating desire, says Ferdinando Verderi, co-founder and creative director of NY-based agency Johannes Leonardo, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

As the creative lead behind the adidas Originals and Alexander Wang collaboration, his experience shows that relevancy in today’s market is all about bringing the customer close, but keeping products scarce.

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Accordingly, tapping into a mentality of belonging is at the heart of what makes the streetwear industry so successful and as a result, a strategy that luxury is keen to follow, he explains. “It’s easy to forget how the streetwear phenomenon started. [It] started with the will of people to belong to a real community that has a point of view that is different from others,” he says.

His award-winning work for adidas Originals has involved unpicking what creativity stands for, and how a sportswear giant can challenge the status quo. This has meant ideas like crossing out the brand’s iconic three stripes, expressing the importance of being a work in progress (see “Original is never finished”) and even turning the brand’s logo upside down.

When the agency helped broker adidas Originals’ partnership with Alexander Wang, it consequently ended up almost laying the groundwork for what luxury-meets-street collaborations, now popularized through many other deals, entail.

The collab was built on the concept of purposively disrespecting industry rules, says Verderi. Over three seasons they have done everything from a reseller-inspired retail strategy to analog marketing activity that involved text messaging.

During this conversation with TheCurrent’s innovation strategist, Bia Bezamat, Verderi dives into what all of that has meant, all the while also talking about why brands need to think like publishers in the way they drop content over product, how another movement will come to replace streetwear now that it’s become so mass, and why distilling a point of view needs to be done in a very careful way.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

Comment Editor's pick

Comment counts: How luxury went tribal

A new luxury is emerging based on the idea of creating belonging over exclusion, says Eleni Chalmers of Leo Burnett; a world where knowledge and passion frequently trumps wealth.


Givenchy offering up 820 seats at its spring 2016 show during New York Fashion Week to whoever got there first wasn’t just a one-off publicity exercise. It was symptomatic of a major shift in the luxury sector.

Luxury has become defined by what matters to the public rather than the traditional conventions of marketers. We at Leo Burnett call this new trend “tribal luxury” because, unlike traditional luxury, which is based on what a brand can offer you to the exclusion of others, tribal luxury is rooted in belonging.

Tribal luxury isn’t just confined to new brands. Selfridges has demonstrated a real sense of democracy and inclusiveness. The 100-year-old London store has held events and activities recently showcasing its accessibility, such as its gender-neutral pop up store Agender and Bright Old Things, an initiative celebrating older innovators & influencers.

Burberry exists in both the traditional sector selling luxury high status goods, and the tribal sector with activities such as the famous Art of the Trench initiative, which crowd-sourced photos of everyday people wearing trench coats to attract a new generation of prospective customers effectively displaying their “membership” of this tribe.

Net-a-Porter’s fashion social network The Net Set shows tribal luxury at work. The site, which launched as invitation only, is now open to the public after “insatiable” demand – further proof luxury consumers love to belong.

What these brands understand is that creating inclusive communities doesn’t dilute your exclusivity – rather it fans the flames of passion for the many, which in turn, elevates the appeal of the brand to the few who can afford these high ticket items.

Inclusiveness does not reduce the aspirational appeal of luxury brands. While the skater cool of New York’s Supreme clothing brand may be available to everyone, a pair of sweat shorts will still set you back over £100. But people will still pay because getting to express your membership of the Supreme tribe is worth it.

Kanye West’s Yeezy adidas sneaker range has caused a bidding war because of limited supply, with people offering up to £8000 for a pair that would normally cost £275. Needless to say those “in the know” probably got them at the retail price.

Luxury remains exclusive, but in the new world of tribal luxury the currency is the knowledge borne out of passion, not wealth. Tribal luxury is here to stay because old-fashioned one-upmanship has morphed into something more collaborative and arguably human. Elitism has given way to the more democratic idea that knowledge and passion can enable you to experience luxury. It’s not money, but the need to belong that is making the luxury world go round.

Eleni Chalmers is luxury and lifestyle strategy director at advertising agency Leo Burnett.

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