There’s been a lot of hype building ahead of the launch of Stranger Things 3, the third installment of what was in 2016 something of a surprise hit for Netflix. Before the first season landed on the streaming platform, nobody could have predicted the love the show would elicit, turning it into a major brand in itself and hastening Netflix’s transformation into the veritable powerhouse it is today.
Almost immediately after Stranger Things appeared, marketplaces such as Etsy started listing product homages to the show and its characters, whose faces adorned tees, hoodies, tote bags, jewelry, and everything in between. Three years on, what began as fan-made fare has morphed into huge collaborations with some of the biggest players in the game. Nike has just unveiled a sneaker and apparel collection dedicated to the show. Coca-Cola is bringing back a failed ’80s beverage in honor of it. Levi’s has revealed an affiliated capsule. And Highsnobiety is readying the launch its own official Stranger Things 3 collection.
When the new season lands on Netflix tomorrow, July 4, the Highsnobiety x Stranger Things 3 collection will land with it. Our store will be selling eight new limited-edition garms that focus on key locations from the third season, such as Scoops Ahoy, the ice cream parlor where Steve now works, Starcourt Mall, where much of season three takes place, and other vital spots in Hawkins, Indiana.
The garments in our collaboration all feature a distinctly streetwear aesthetic, with graphics designed by Highsnobiety’s in-house team adorning the front, reverse, and sleeves on tees, hoodies, crewnecks, and long-sleeves. The pieces are contemporary but also serve as an emblem of nostalgia, as one cannot think of Stranger Things without acknowledging the myriad of ’80s references peppered throughout the show.
Last year, Vogue told us “Nostalgia Is Officially the Biggest Trend of 2018,” and in streetwear, that has been a fact for a while — and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.
In terms of TV-based hat-tips (or any other kind of garm-tip, for that matter), the last few years have seen Supreme pay homage to Pink Panther, a franchise that’s been going since the ’60s. Off-White™ was one of many brands to champion The Simpsons. fragment design incorporated Pokémon. Nike created Friends and Entourage kicks. adidas developed silhouettes in collaboration with HBO for Game of Thrones. Streetwear brand Dumbgood boasts an entire business model dedicated to repping TV shows, movies, and books — the more nostalgic, niche, and pop-culturally relevant, the better.
It’s crucial to note that these aren’t brands that will slap any old graphic on a T-shirt and call it a day. They are serious labels with meticulously curated collections. Brands’ decisions to incorporate nods to a particular show in their seasonal selections aren’t made in haste, and that says a lot about how the appreciation for quality TV has grown in recent years.
The increase in coveted merch is, in part, a tangible side-effect of TV’s growth as an auteurist medium, one the brands mentioned above have sought to align themselves with, shifting fandom from the watercooler to the streets. But it hasn’t always been this way.
To fully appreciate the shift, you only have to cast your mind back to the era many of us channel in our daily aesthetic, the ’90s, and to a little show called Friends. To say Friends was successful is, of course, a ridiculous understatement; it changed TV comedy forever. When it premiered in 1994, it flipped the sitcom format upside down. It didn’t revolve around a family or a workplace. It wasn’t wholesome. It gave the audience something that felt real, something they could relate to.
But when Nike made a Friends sneaker in the mid ’90s, it didn’t even make it onto shelves. The silhouette was a sample for cast and crew only. Nobody really knew the shoe existed until Sean Wotherspoon featured it on his Instagram account early last year. The same goes for the super-rare shoes Nike created in celebration of Seinfeld and Home Improvement. These sneakers were simple, branded kicks that paid homage to the biggest TV comedies of the era, yet they never made it into circulation.
However, as Nike’s Friends version of Kyrie Irving’s signature Kyrie 5 basketball sneaker showed when it dropped in May this year, people are now ready to listen. The Kyrie 5 “Friends” debuted 15 years after the show’s finale and landed straight on our round-up of standout TV and movie-inspired kicks. When Wotherspoon put his ’90s Friends sample on Instagram, the post clocked almost 35,000 likes. Clearly the sneaker industry and its customer base have changed a lot between the two releases.
This thought is reinforced by Jeff Peters, HBO’s VP of licensing and retail, who was directly involved in the Game of Thrones x adidas collaboration released ahead of the fantasy show’s final season. “There was a time when television shows couldn’t really get a whole lot of attention in that type of business. As an art form, as a medium, [it] has certainly grown in both prestige and in audience. That really has shifted,” he says.
Peters also highlights how pop culture has embraced genre shows such as Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and other fantasy, sci-fi, or horror series. “The public out there is really interested in those type of stories,” he says. “Game of Thrones has proven that a fantasy story can be a massive blockbuster, and that is a shift and a change.”
As a consequence, merch in general, including music merch, is changing, becoming more than an item of clothing and instead representing a lifestyle. Warner Music Group senior director Felix Carrasco told Fashionista in December last year that “[merch] has been taken to a new level for the next generation at the moment. Everything is much more on point.”
In a world where media assets, whether albums, TV shows, or movies, are all available digitally, with streaming services eradicating the need to buy a physical product, customers are looking for new ways to connect themselves to culture in a meaningful and authentic way. They’re seeking a way to reflect their interests when the shelves in our homes are becoming increasingly unrepresentative of our cultural tastes.
Naturally, this not only changes the approach to how merch is made but also how it’s marketed. In the Fashionista article linked above, Mat Vlasic, CEO of Universal Music Group’s Bravado merch division, added, “We’re working with our artists to think differently about merchandise. It has evolved from keepsake beginnings to powerful extensions of their personality and brand.”
When asked how the increasing alignment between pop culture and the fashion industry is affecting TV marketing, Peters adds, “I think it really depends on the show and the content of [it. Collaborations] work best when there is something worth celebrating. You have to think about it that way and not just do one for every single show, as it would eventually dilute itself.”
And not only are the contents of a show “something worth celebrating,” but also those involved in making it. Stranger Things is a perfect example, with its gang of teen stars carrying enormous clout.
For example, in 2017, Millie Bobby Brown, who stars as Eleven, signed with IMG Models, fronted a Calvin Klein campaign, and sat beside A$AP Rocky at Raf Simons’ Calvin Klein FW17 show in New York. She also, alongside co-stars Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), met with Louis Vuitton womenswear creative director Nicolas Ghesquière at the brand’s Paris HQ in 2016.
Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike, is also making waves. He is currently fronting Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent FW19 campaign, channeling major ’70s Bob Dylan vibes. He has also designed his own capsule collection for Pull&Bear, complete with tie-dye tops, tube socks, and dark wash denim. A quick scroll through his Instagram feed reveals a bunch of fire fits, too.
Ditto McLaughlin, who regularly posts shots of his personal style, whether that involves being decked out in new Nike silhouettes, Louis Vuitton boots, MSFTSrep hoodies, or his own merch line Be Your Biggest Fan.
These three factors — TV’s increased validity as an art form, the lifestyle-ification of merch, and the clout of affiliated stars — have merged with streetwear’s new position as an influencer of high fashion, uniting to give us merchandise with a new kind of appeal. And that’s something Highsnobiety is excited to be part of.