You know Hermes, but how could an urban skate brand compare?
Though it’s been a slow process, most of the luxury fashion world has finally adopted the internet, be it for sales, social media, or just because they feel like they have to. By contrast, Parisian house Hermès has almost aggressively resisted the urge to give into the digital age. That’s on purpose, of course. Hermès’s exclusivity is what makes it so coveted. So as the world continues to shop online, Hermès is seeing its prehistoric internet presence pay off: According to the Washington Post, the brand’s sales rose 19 percent in 2014. Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt, maybe it’s that social media marketing and online shopping are all some kind of farce anyway, or maybe it’s simply that we’re all sad sacks who can’t help but want what we can’t have.
Though they might seem at first to be literally cut from different cloths, this indifference to trend-chasing or “customer engagement” is exactly the same way New York City skate label Supreme has remained one of the most popular and well-regarded labels on the planet since it first opened in 1994. Through limited-release apparel and spotty retail locations (just nine total—five of which are in Japan), Supreme has built a community of insatiable customers who buy products season after season, not to mention week after week.
This ability to be aloof, marketing wise, is of course a privileged place to be in as a brand. After all, most labels just want to be noticed, let alone have the agency to control, and limit, their own exposure. But when it’s done right, it makes every other label in the space—whether we’re talking purveyors of $20,000 handbags or $40 T-shirts—look silly for trying so hard. Here, we break down all of the ways these two marketing marvels have achieved nonchalant greatness in similar ways.
1. Both have purposefully displeasurable shopping experiences—Hermès doesn’t just have a rickety old website, but they hardly sell any of their best products—most notably, their newest read-to-wear clothing—online. It’s almost entirely timeless basics, not altered by season or fresh designs. That means that in a world where seemingly everything and every product is just a click away, customers have to get up off their behinds and actually go to an Hermès retailer to buy them (which, predictably, are few and far between). As for Supreme, it isn’t just about their few retail locations and hard-to-navigate online store. It’s that once you’re in one, their employees never seem to want to actually sell you anything. They’ll grab you a size from the back if you ask, but you’ll never hear them tell you how “amazing” those pants look on you or if you want to “start a fitting room.” It’s a calculated, though not contrived aloofness from dudes who legitimately would rather be skating than selling you clothes. And walk into any Hermès store and you’ll instantly feel like you’re at a casting call for The Bachelor: Billionaire edition. Employees aren’t rude, but they definitely know if you’re serious about buying that $600 ceramic tray or if you’re just trying to sneak an Instagram. In both cases, being in the store is an uncomfortable experience. In an inversion of the balance of power in typical customer-employee relationships, you end up feeling like you have to impress them.
2. Both have a signature, almost impossible to get product—The aforementioned Birkin is an elusive leather beast even for those with women who have the financial means to get one, but Supreme, too, has a product that season after season leaves hopeful customers disappointed. The box logo hoodie, a Canadian fleece hooded sweatshirt that features a stitched-on Supreme logo across the chest, is almost impossible to get your hands on unless you’re a) willing to wait in line for hours on a Thursday (when all Supreme products are released) b) have The Flash-like speed when they’re released on the brand’s website (or, more likely, pay for a bot to buy it for you) or c) be willing to pay $300+ on the aftermarket for one (retail is $148). As brand consultant Amy Shea said in the Washington Post, talking about how Hermès has confounded the marketplace, “Expensive doesn’t equal luxury. Luxury equals rarity.” In both cases, customers are getting satisfaction from not just owning products, but the mere act of chasing them down.
3. Both have outdated websites—In Hermès’s case, their site looks like something you would have seen ten years ago, like some Twilight Zone web 1.0 flashback. In fact, when I clicked the “buy online” button on their site while writing this story, I was lead to a “504 Gateway Timeout” error page, which, if you’re trying to remain exclusive, is a subtle power move. Supreme’s site is simple and what you could generously call clean, though navigation is a nightmare. Perhaps both brands think their customers are smart enough to navigate their web inadequacies, though it is somewhat ironic that though they pay such careful attention to detail on their products, they’re rather careless with the design of their websites.
4. Both shirk social media—Most fashion labels these days, luxury brands included, are obsessed with hashtags and social promotions on Twitter, but neither Hermès or Supreme is interested in joining the timeline banter. There’s a reason for that—Twitter allows people to interact with brands as individuals and to basically send direct signals to those within the company. Other brands love this one-to-one dialogue, but it’s not what Hermès and Supreme do. They don’t want these conversations. Both are on Facebook and Instagram, but in subtle, tasteful ways, with ad campaign photography and in Supreme’s case, the most straight-to-the-point Facebook status updates you’ll ever see. (“Our website has been updated with new products.”)
5. Neither has a designer that overshadows the brand—We recently profiled Noah, the new brand from former Supreme creative director Brendon Babenzien, but while Babenzien was at the label, he was rarely in the spotlight. Never once did he share his creative process with the press, or discuss his inspirations for current and upcoming seasons. His boss, Supreme founder James Jebbia, is notoriously elusive, and has given about one interview a year for the past twenty. In 2014, Hermès hired a new creative director, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski. Her pedigree is impressive (she held previous positions at Margiela and Cèline), but her imprint on the label’s clothes has been subtle, keeping Hermès’s offerings, above all else, stylishly timeless. Meanwhile, the brand’s head of menswear, Véronique Nichanian, has quietly been serving up some of the best tailored and casual garments in the business, though she rarely gets the credit she deserves. That’s unlike, say, the way in just one season John Galliano has reimagined Margiela couture or Givenchy has essentially become the singular vision of Riccardo Tisci, house history be damned. Both Hermès and Supreme are monoliths that put product before people. Or they simply just don’t think it’s important, so long as the end result is up to their extremely high standards.
6. Both declined to comment for this piece—Figures.
Editorial Content: GQ