“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
This legendary quote from Andy Warhol is becoming even more self-evident in the age of Instagram influencers, memes, and short-lived internet fame (anyone else still talking about “30-50 feral hogs”?). But in the case of what has been for nearly a decade labelled the streetwear “trend,” the clock seems to be running much longer. Yesterday’s news that Farfetch is acquiring New Guards Group in an astonishing $675 million cash-and-stock deal only served to reinforce something we’ve known for a long time: Streetwear is the new normal. And according to Business of Fashion, the streetwear holding company whose portfolio includes Off-White™, Palm Angels, and Heron Preston, and Marcelo Burlon County of Milan has been putting serious numbers on the board, generating revenues of $345 million in the year ending April 30 (up 59% year-over-year).
But before New Guards became worth a little over half-a-billion dollars, its roots had much in common with streetwear’s old guard. Just earlier this year, its co-founder Davide de Giglio admitted to Business of Fashion that he “started from scratch; no money, no knowledge.'” And some of the company’s highest profile “directors” (not designers, per New Guards parlance) are more than willing to pay homage to the Shawn Stüssys and James Jebbias of the world who laid down the foundational legacy of streetwear.
“It’s sort of our duty to pick up after all the streetwear legends,” Off-White™ founder and New Guards Group’s most high-profile designer Virgil Abloh told me in 2014. Titled “Streetwear’s New Guard,” I wrote the piece in an attempt to synthesize what was happening in the fashion industry—the lines between what constituted “streetwear” and what constituted “fashion” were in the process of disappearing. The people highlighted in that story—Virgil Abloh, Marcelo Burlon, Shayne Oliver, and Chris Gibbs—all had a hand in shaking the foundations of that ivory tower.
A year later, the DJ-turned-designer Burlon announced he was forming a group called New Guards — wonder where they got the name from? — alongside De Giglio and Claudio Antonioli. The holding company currently owns a majority stake in labels like Heron Preston and Palm Angels as well as operating upscale cashmere knitwear company Alanui and Off-White™, which has a multi-year license agreement with New Guards. Keep in mind: Virgil Abloh owns the trademark.
So, what? People are more than eager to cop gear from Off-White™, Heron Preston, and Palm Angels. And yet, after the market closed yesterday, Farfetch’s share price nosedived 30%. The 12-year old platform, founded by José Neves in 2007, despite being one of the largest players in the online luxury marketplace, has been reported to not expect to break even until 2021. With the dire straits facing retailers as a whole, Farfetch’s recent acquisitions of Stadium Goods and New Guards Group, show that Neves is betting on something else entirely to take Farfetch out of this slump: that the e-commerce site can become an incubator for tomorrow’s hottest brands.
With NGG, Farfetch is tapping into something De Giglio has referred to as “luxury fast fashion.” In 2018, he boasted that the company produced 200 collections. They work with manufacturers and employ 24/7 teams to have each label working around the clock, around the globe. As a result, De Giglio claims that NGG is able to go “from design to delivery within three weeks,” for not just T-shirts, but with items like leather goods and sneakers. Theoretically, this model could be combined with Farfetch’s impressive e-comm platform as well as other companies in its portfolio (like British retailer Browns) to cultivate, launch, and sustain the business of new clothing labels at an unprecedented clip—creating fashion and streetwear at the speed of memes.
It’s a very Warholian way of thinking: “In the future, everyone will have their own brand for 15 minutes.” Neophyte labels benefit from an infrastructure that allows them to go much bigger than just making a Shopify to sell a few T-shirts. Celebrities and clout juggernauts can theoretically break into the market even faster, and leverage their following to boost brand awareness. This is already happening: Both Rob Kardashian and Scott Disick have recently made forays into the streetwear space with their labels, Halfway Dead and Talentless, respectively.
Streetwear, once a space that traded exclusively in the currency of cultural relevance and niche credibility, is now becoming an adaptable formula for New Guards and Farfetch. The Off-White™ licensee’s killer app is clout—and its ability to cultivate brands and create product at a breakneck pace has found the consumer-facing commerce platform it needs. Welcome to streetwear’s new paradigm.