We examine the social media-driven streetwear phenomenon that was Been Trill, and analyze what can be learned from the brand-cum-collective’s sharp fall from grace.
Remember Been Trill? It’s been a few years since Virgil Abloh, Matthew Williams and Heron Preston’s self-styled art and DJ collective wreaked havoc on the fashion world with their lo-fi, Tumblr-inspired streetwear. The crew courted controversy wherever they went; mainly because their gear was of dubious quality and lavishly overpriced ($100 shoelaces anyone?) and they mercilessly leveraged their celebrity connections to create huge amounts of hype.
A few years and an A$AP Rocky diss later and Been Trill isn’t the viral phenomenon it once was. While the brand still release seasonal collections and boast over 60,000 Instagram followers, in 2015 they are at best minimally-relevant, at worst an embarrassing footnote in streetwear history. Even at the hype’s pinnacle Been Trill seemed like one big publicity stunt – the crew’s co-founder Matthew Williams admitted “it has always been about having fun with your friends…because of our social media presence we can amplify a small, spontaneous idea so it seems much bigger than it actually is.” What’s really interesting about Been Trill, however, is what the brand taught us about hype and social media.
While brands like Supreme and Palace Skateboards have carefully created a buzz around their names by releasing product in limited quantities, avoiding obvious marketing and creating substantial collections that feature plenty of un-branded pieces, Been Trill held no such reservations. Countless high profile names – including Kanye West, Drake, Big Sean and Rihanna – were spotted wearing the label’s pieces, which were always gratuitously branded with Rocky Horror-esque logos and hashtag graphics.
Just one year after they gatecrashed the streetwear party, Been Trill had collaborated with luxury department stores, had Nick Knight directing their videos and even opened a flagship store in New York. However, what goes up must come down, and when Been Trill mania died down, overpriced T-shirts and timid ventures into high fashion wasn’t enough to keep the fire going. There was nothing to stop the repeated accusation that this was just a group of well-connected influencers cashing in on the hype generated by their celebrity friends; which is pretty hard to do when you’re charging $100 for a pair of shoelaces.
It wasn’t that they were short of ideas; in their short lifetime Been Trill have made an app, a custom T-shirt program, appeared in Kanye West’s debut A.P.C. collection and (almost) did a sneaker with adidas. But the brand’s sharp fall from grace should serve as a warning to labels who play the hype game too heavily; if you’re relying on social media reach, celebrity connections and a few gimmicky logos, don’t expect to be much more than a flash in the pan.