The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. See the full list of this year's winners here.
In the age of “drop culture,” shopping has become an exercise in insanity. The global flagships of Supreme and Nike are where you go to see the things you already saw online, only with the super-hyped stuff almost always long gone. If the first leak of a covetable pair of sneakers didn’t entice you, perhaps the “official leak” or the first on-foot shots might change your mind.
That mentality stretches to apparel. Fashion shows let you create a mental layaway of the latest collections, noting exactly which UNDERCOVER piece or colorway of Junya Watanabe’s collaborative The North Face outerwear you'll be waiting for next season. And with everything a click away, why bother going to a physical store?
Enter the magic of Dover Street Market. It was here that I rediscovered… well, the sense of discovery. In December 2016, I'd just eaten with a friend who was a buyer at a global fashion boutique. We both bemoaned how the fun of shopping had been killed by our need to know the next drop. Then we headed over to Dover Street Market New York, where we saw the COMME des GARÇONS PLAY “Holiday Emoji” Air Force 1. They were new in-store and we didn’t even know they existed until our visit. We instantly bought a pair each.
It was a reminder of why many of us still love shopping in the physical world — that sudden rush of blood you get when you buy something that feels special on a whim. DSM is full of these astonishing impulse purchases, mastering a mix that's the opposite of SEO-optimized algorithms. The stores look more like shoppable museums than places where the transactional nature of retail is made plain.
DSM is like being in the head of a creative whose desk is an absolute mess. Everything appears disorganized and askew — but there is method in the madness.
That’s why, when DSM opened its Los Angeles outpost this year, it brought some of today’s most influential designers to fete the occasion, not to mention some very covetable in-store exclusives. We’re talking about a retailer with the power to bring together No Vacancy Inn, Cactus Plant Flea Market, Palace, Noah, and OFF-WHITE on gear for one specific location, not the entire chain.
DSM’s arrival in LA speaks to the city’s retail resurgence. What do you get when you combine ample real estate, reasonable rents, and a bustling local streetwear and fashion scene, all located in the world's fifth-largest economy? You get the stuff snobby NYC transplants dream of. A bunch of sneaker and streetwear retailers have established a presence in the city, including Commonwealth of Virginia and the Philippines, Bodega of Boston, and Hong Kong's JUICE, the CLOT-affiliated boutique that selected LA for its first US store.
On the East Coast, meanwhile, flagship stores and boutiques have been taking cues from online shoppers. Nike’s newest NYC store is dubbed the House of Innovation 000, where you can try on or pick up gear after reserving via the Nike app. Each mannequin is also outfitted to work with the app, so you don’t have to search the racks to find what they’re wearing. You can even pay on your phone to forgo waiting in line at the checkout. Meanwhile, the Expert Studio at the top level provides NikePlus members with advice on fit, as well as customization options to make some of the wildest Nike apparel you can imagine.
That Internet-to-IRL mindset is the same reason Highsnobiety partnered with Barneys New York for thedrop@barneys, a way to channel the retailer's expertise and access into a real sense of community. Following 2017’s event in New York, this year we took over Barneys’ Beverly Hills location, tapping into the energy of LA’s shopping scene. Bringing Chris Gibbs of Union, Rhuigi Villaseñor of RHUDE, Guillermo Andrade of 424, Jeremy Scott of Moschino, and even the Wu-Tang Clan to the LA branch, we mixed Fairfax Avenue’s community vibes with an upscale luxury experience.
Another way brick-and-mortar retailers are expanding their outlook is beyond sneakers and apparel and into other areas such as housewares. Goodhood in London has a section ranging from ceramics to stationery that appeals to the same crowd that salivates over Our Legacy coats, Wacko Maria cardigans, and Needles track pants. The same goes for Berlin concept store ANDREAS MURKUDIS, where I once considered dropping €50 on a pen.
In Washington DC, A Ma Maniere took the lifestyle thing a step further. The Atlanta-born boutique opened an outpost in the US capital earlier this year and recently announced a boutique hotel concept right above it. Comprising two lofts, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom, the space is adorned with 1000% Be@rbricks, basketball-shaped planters from Bodega Rose, and a closet full of collaborative Nike sneakers and clothing from brands such as Greg Lauren, 1017 ALYX 9SM, Maison Margiela, and visvim.
That’s where they get you: the closet functions as the hotel minibar; try on whatever you like for free, and any items you want to keep get added to your bill when you check out.
While these new ideas are welcome in a retail landscape where stores have to become more creative to stand out, DSM still leads the charge due to its consistency in offering truly covetable and exclusive product in a way that reflects Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe's uncompromising vision. Each DSM location feels like it has a distinct, living, breathing personality — a soul.
With an eclectically styled staff you'd want to hang out with — and happily buy clothes from — the retailer consistently lifts up designers local to its stores' locations. It’s the epitome of the aesthetic we at Highsnobiety seek out every day, caring as much about the curation of graphic tees as a high-end fashion designer's installation. Dover Street Market Los Angeles is proof that if you build it, they will indeed come — and they will most definitely spend.