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Some aspects of luxury fashion revolve more around “hype” than we realize.

By Marissa Lee.

In the high fashion industry, brand equity is nothing short of everything. Names on garments provide an incalculable value to otherwise unassuming objects, and can turn something like a 90 cm x 90 cm square of silk into a $500 investment. This concept is rooted deeply in capitalism, classism, and our love of consumption. 

The idea of “hype” culture is often seen through the lens of Millennial and Gen-Z consumption culture, which itself creates a relationship of instability between the shopper and their sought after possessions – entering online draws to win sneakers, lining up and down the block to enter the Supreme store, and then quickly flipping these items on resale sites to make a profit. Although the “limited quantity” aspect is what fuels hype culture, it also breeds impermanence when it comes to  our relationships with our possessions. This “get it while it’s hot, sell it before it’s not” mentality is destructive, and may cause some to long for the days when fashion was just as much an art as it was a commodity; when the money spent on a piece of clothing signified a years-long matrimony between buyer and garment.

In the same breath, it’s important to examine what price we’re willing to pay for the “holier-than-hype” alternatives: the high-fashion mainstays.

Nothing beats craftsmanship and quality. There’s no denying that high quality materials and hours of construction merit a higher cost for an item as opposed to a screen printed t-shirt or embroidered crew neck. However, there’s a threshold that calls into question an object’s price versus its real value. This threshold considers aspects such as production cost, brand equity, and the quality of the item. In the case of many of luxury fashion’s leading items, the threshold is exceeded.

Let’s take, for example, the Maison Margiela Tabi shoe. Available in a range of styles, colors and heel-heights, the Tabi features a thonged camel-style two-toe upper, separating the wearer’s big toe from the other four. Tabis retail anywhere from around $400 to $1,200 dollars and are lusted after by fashion savants across the globe. First shown in 1989 and introduced in 1992, Tabis are inspired by Japanese tabi socks, which date back to the 15th century. These socks are no hot commodity – take a visit to New York City’s Search & Destroy and you can find traditional canvas tabi shoes for $30.

So what makes the Margiela Tabi so exclusive? It’s a high-fashion feedback loop, with its high price making the shoe more exclusive, the exclusivity making the shoe more sought after, and thus the “hype” driving up the Tabi’s price further.

Similar, and probably the best example of this phenomenon, is the Hermès Birkin Bag. Notoriously off-limits to society’s nobodies, the bag maintains some of its exclusivity in the same way as many other high-fashion mainstays – its high price, leading to exclusivity and hype. Birkins cost anywhere from $40,000 to $500,000, but the price isn’t even the biggest obstacle. One does not simply pop into the Hermès store and buy a Birkin; there is a waiting list that often lasts over 6 months, with high-priority customers being placed at the top, and many hoops customers have to jump through to obtain their bag. No, not paying shipping costs or picking it up in-store, but fostering a years-long relationship with the brand, building up a sales record, becoming close and personal with a sales associate and looking “deserving” (still figuring that one out). 

Materials and production costs aside, $40,000 is a lot to pay for a purse, and the waitlist aspect bears a striking resemblance to Gen-Z hype culture. The Birkin waitlist is high fashion’s equivalent of the Supreme lineup, although the dichotomy between their goods is seen as vast.

While there is a deep chasm that separates typical luxury fashion from hype streetwear, there are certain hyperobjects that serve to bridge the gap, as well. Take, as a seemingly perfect example, the Dior x Jordan Brand sneakers unveiled in collaboration with Travis Scott this past July. This shoe, which retails at around $25,000, simultaneously permeates the divide between streetwear and high fashion while also driving home the idea of their untouchability; how a leather sneaker can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars range once a name and a logo is attached. It has become abundantly clear that, with great brand-generated value comes great hype, a concept that further permeates luxury fashion than we may realize.