We shine a light on some of the lesser-known figures in the Highsnobiety universe, with a breakdown of some of the personalities behind 10 of the best stores in our world.
While social media has given everyone a voice – from bloggers to sneakerheads and general “what do they actually do?” personalities, it’s important to remember that retailers still hold massive sway on the way we dress in this day and age. Expertly curated stores – ones who search far and wide for the finest, oddest and most unique products under the sun – serve as a stepping stone for many people to discover new things, whether it’s Italy’s finest cashmere or Korea’s most adventurous oddball designer.
With that in mind, we’re shining a light on some of the unsung heroes in the business – the people that work tirelessly to create eclectic, discerning and compelling edits of product from the thousands upon thousands of brands out there, and who push their respective stores to become tastemakers and world leaders in the truest sense of the word.
Meet the buyers, creative directors and founders behind 10 of the best retailers in the Highsnobiety universe below.
Image via Fashion Post
Why: Genre-bending social media platform and e-commerce site VFILES was launched in 2012 by former V Magazine Executive Editor Julie Anne Quay. Originally conceived as a digital archive that allowed users to submit their own inspiring visual content, the platform has since evolved into a social e-commerce destination stocking a dizzying array of quirky, esoteric and forward-thinking underground designers and labels – championing the likes of Hood By Air, Nasir Mazhar and Wil Fry from the beginning. Since then, Quay’s platform has cemented itself as one of the the most democratic destinations in fashion today, relentlessly championing fresh talent and incubating new talent – selling designer’s collections both directly to the store’s cult following and to wholesale accounts, too. Budding designers are invited to compete for the chance to show in the VFILES MADE FASHION show in New York Fashion Week – whose models are all cast from the web platform, too.
“We’re fashion people and we want to talk amongst ourselves, build our community and do great things together. We’re not being elitist or exclusive, but if you love fashion, you want to talk about fashion, or be apart of fashion, come here,” Quay puts it. There’s no doubting that the internet has completely revolutionized fashion, and the Australian native’s vision has cemented VFILES as one of the most forward-thinking fashion outlets in the world right now.
Image via Only Dope Fashion
Why: Sarah Andelman, a former intern at Purple magazine, opened colette in 1997 with her mother (whom the store was named after) on Rue Saint Honoré in Paris – in the same building they once lived in, no less. Andelman’s expertly curated viewpoint includes everything from cult labels like Supreme (back when it was available for wholesale) and visvim, to art books and magazines, alongside an in-house café and gallery space featuring works from an ever-changing selection of artists. Infused with a charmingly quirky spirit, Andelman’s store even contains a dedicated water bar selling specialist mineral waters from all over the globe. The store-cum-brand has collaborated on everything from luxury macaroons to Hermes scarves – imbued with the same royal blue (Pantone 293C, FYI) that features in all the store’s visuals, of course.
While luxury department stores have been offering broad ranges of high-end labels for decades, Andelman’s vision was the first of a new kind of retailer – one that took niche goods from all over the globe and placed them together in an unorthodox environment that at times feels more like a museum than a traditional shop. “It’s never about commerce, but just coups de foudre [instant feelings]. The edit is done very spontaneously, following our instincts,” as Andelman puts it herself.
Why: Formerly graphic designers for Levi’s and Nike, Kyle Stewart and Jo Sindle founded GOODHOOD in 2007 . The multi-faceted boutique has since gone on to carve a niche as one of the most fiercely independent-minded retailers in London (or the rest of the world, for that matter), with a menswear curation that spans everything from cult Japanese designers to contemporary Scandinavian brands and forgotten throwback gems.
There’s not many stores in the world that can merchandise Junya Watanabe and Gosha Rubchinskiy next to Dickies and The North Face, but Stewart and Sindle’s discerning eye for curation ensures that the store remains popular with those who want something a little out of the ordinary and accessible staples alike. Or as Kyle puts it himself, “We just look for something that’s cool as fuck.”
Image via Achtung Mode
Why: Heading up Dover Street Market and COMME des GARCONS’ epicentre in Paris, Joffe – who was born in South Africa, educated in London and studied Japanese and zen practices in Tokyo – makes sure the multi-directional madhouse that is DSM keeps ticking over and stays profitable. As president of the $230 million company (and husband of its creative mastermind Rei Kawakubo), Joffe has the unenviable job of balancing creativity with business sense – no easy task given the wildly avant-garde vision the label is so known for. “It all comes from the same source: the desire to create something different,” he told Business of Fashion. “Our kachikan, or sense of values, goes into everything the company does. Not just clothes but everything. It has to be new. It has to be creative.”
Image via SlamxHype
Why: Nowhere has perfected the high/low aesthetic better than Tres Bien. Simon and Hannes Hogeman, who had previously cut their teeth at global sporting goods retailer InterSport, founded the store in 2006 with a mere €35,000, and have since become global tastemakers thanks to their refined menswear edit that sees avant-garde high fashion sitting side-by-side with limited edition sneakers and accessible streetwear. They’ve also branched out into in-house products, producing contemporary, minimalist menswear under their own name alongside their Sun Buddies range of fashionable eyewear.
“We have a customer buying everything from Nike to Margiela” Hannes told Business of Fashion. “The styling has always been a big, big thing — how we mix and match different types of brands and try to present it the Très Bien way, instead of, like, how the brands want you to portray it.” Despite being located in the relatively sleepy Swedish city of Malmö, the Hogemans – dressed in their de facto uniform of topcoats, sweaters and sneakers – have influenced contemporary men’s dress enormously by demonstrating how easy one can pair high with low, and the abstract with the accessible.
Image via HK Atelier
Why: Opening Ceremony’s founders met as undergrad students at the University of California, Berkeley, working white-collar jobs – Leon as a design director at GAP and Burberry, Lim as management consultant – before starting their own store in 2002. A trip to Hong Kong opened the duo’s eyes to a rainbow of fascinating product, prompting the Californian natives to open their own store that spotlighted fresh talent from a new country each year (hence the Olympics-inspired name). Their creation has since gone on to cement itself as one of the leading fashion-forward boutiques in the world, doggedly championing underground designers and featuring them alongside high fashion labels at their locations in New York, LA and Tokyo.
Leon and Lim have a knack for not only pushing boundaries and influencing fashionistas all over the globe, but for reinvigorating labels from their youth; collaborating with Timberland, Birkenstock and Pendleton, as well instilling their unique vision as Creative Directors of Parisian fashion house KENZO. The high/low cliché continues to define the way people dress in this day and age, and no doubt Leon and Lim have gone a long way to prove it so “The truth is, we love the off-the-beaten-path stuff just as much as we love classics. I’ve worn Vans since I was in first grade,” Leon states.
Image via Parsnip UK
Why: John Skelton started his buying career early at Newcastle boutique The Strand; by the age of 20, he had been recruited by legendary London retailer Selfridges – the youngest buyer in the department store’s history. Skelton then moved on to Harrods and was made Creative Director at online fashion retailer oki-ni before venturing into his own store LN-CC (short for Late Night Chameleon Cafe) in 2010. Known for its progressive, fashion-forward buying, LN-CC stocks a broad range of high-end designers in a highly experiential, appointment-only store housed in a former boxing gym in London’s Dalston neighborhood.
Powered by Skelton’s brave, instinctive buying, LN-CC has cemented itself as on of the most prestigious high fashion retailers; one that favors left-field, experimental labels. “Everyone seems to be so scared of doing something that isn’t ‘cool’ and we wanted to change that mentality” as he puts it simply.
Image via HAVEN
Why: HAVEN was founded in 2006 by brothers Arthur and Daniel Chmielewski in the relatively low-key city of Edmonton. Much like Opening Ceremony, a trip to Asia and its thriving retail ecosystem prompted the brothers – who previously worked white-collar office jobs – to open their own store specializing in obscure labels from around the globe. What started as a small, mainly online-driven business has since bloomed into three full stores in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, with the brand’s website remaining one of the world’s premier destinations for obscure Japanese streetwear.
Japan’s fashion scene is constantly inspiring industry insiders far and wide – although notoriously difficult to access. HAVEN’s curated selection of the very best – not to mention very strangest – products from Japan gives many aficionados access to cult brands that would otherwise lie out of reach.
Image via Complex
Why: Poggy, the relentlessly-debonair street style star, has been with Tokyo’s leading fashion and streetwear retailer since 1997 when he joined as a sales associate, before progressing through the UNITED ARROWS family to become the Creative Director of their fashion and streetwear wing UNITED ARROWS & SONS. While the stylish Tokyo native may be more known for his outlandish outfits, his direction has seen what was once a very traditional tailored offering expand into a fearsome range of contemporary streetwear and fashion, seamlessly blended into the suited offerings of the main store.
Mixing formal and casual gear may seem the norm now, but by merging UNITED ARROWS’ traditional, conservative tailoring with contemporary high fashion flair, the man with the bucket hat has gone on to inspire a great many men’s wardrobes worldwide – while proving how Tokyo is always one step ahead of the rest of the world.
Image via Watch Pro
Why: As Buying Director for luxury menswear mega-retailer MR PORTER, Toby Bateman oversees the curation of a whopping 345 brands and designers, who span everything from opulent tailoring to cutting-edge high fashion and premium lifestyle products – no small task. Bateman started his career at British department store House of Fraser, before heading up the menswear team at Harvey Nichols and later Selfridges, joining MR PORTER prior to its launch in 2011.
He may personally opt for classic tailoring rather than fashion and streetwear, but no doubt Bateman’s direction influences the tastes of a great many well-dressed (and well-moneyed) men worldwide.
For more in-depth content, check out The 15 Most Important Cities in Fashion Right Now.