Streetwear retail grows up

Aime Leon Dore London cafe

Something interesting is happening in the world of streetwear. It’s fixing up, shedding its scrappy roots and going all out for growth. Latest development? In the space of a few weeks, two of its most culty brands have opened retail stores that cement their influence and ambition for mass expansion.

On June 17th, Hypebeast unveiled an impressive new seven-storey HQ-slash-store-slash-event-space in NYC’s Chinatown. Two weeks earlier, Aimé Leon Dore (above and below) opened its London store in the heart of Soho, a two-storey retail destination incorporating a marble-floored café and a VIP private lounge. A sneaker’s throw from Supreme and Stussy, Aimé Leon Dore is a far more refined proposition than these rough and ready rivals. Its branding is more preppie-adjacent than skater kid, yet it speaks to the same youthful demographic.
Aime Leon Dore London store

When I passed by the London store recently, it was – frankly – poppin’. There were suitably gorgeous zillennials slurping Freddo espressos alfresco, while a doorman managed the customer flow. Coffee is an important factor in all this. Coffee culture lends itself to hype nerdery more than say, a juice bar. It’s a global language that brings people together while serving as an entry into a brand’s universe.

At Aimé Leon Dore, the coffee is accompanied by a Greek-inspired snack menu (a tribute to the Greek ancestry of founder Teddy Santis) and a chic décor reminiscent of Prada-owned Marchesi 1824. At HBX (aka the retail arm of Hypebeast), the ‘Hypebeans’ coffee bar serves its own blend of beans roasted by Japanese artisans. At both Aimé Leon Dore and HBX, the café is placed at the entrance so that you can feel part of the experience even if you’re just on the fringes of it, spending $5 instead of $500.

Of course, the coffee component is also an essential contributor to the IRL playbook of streetwear culture. All the Cs – community, culture, collaboration – collide in the see-and-be-seen nature of café society. While Aimé Leon Dore also boasts a VIP lounge, that exclusivity aspect seems a tad douchy for what’s considered to be a fairly democratic brand.
Aime Leon Dore London store - cafe
Cafe Leon Dore Broadwick Street London
Aime Leon Dore London store interior

Hypebeast also prizes itself as an open-to-all entity. Originating as a sneaker blog in 2005, its founder Kevin Ma sees it as an ‘ecosystem’ where likeminded people come together rather than a “centralized authority in streetwear”, according to the New York Times. Its New York flagship (below) is designed to host artists, musicians, designers and branded pop-ups.

This, says Andrew Lipsman, a retail analyst at Insider Intelligence, is the magic bullet of modern retail. “[Hypebeast is a] brand that thrives on cultural cachet,” he says. “It’s reasonable for the flagship to function purely as a marketing asset to drive brand value that fuels its e-commerce business. Offline engagement can drive online sales, and vice versa.” He points out that 80% of retail still happens in stores, despite assumptions the everyone prefers the ‘convenience’ of ecommerce. For Kevin Ma, the physical store is an extension of “For us it’s like really an extension of our brand. It’s like this online cultural hub integrated into an offline one.”
Hypebeast store New York Chinatown
Hypebeans New York Hypebeast store

The formula may not be brand new. Colette arguably pioneered it with its Y2K-era combo of high-low cult brands, water bar and in-store activations. Selfridges does curation and pop-ups brilliantly but maybe lacks the café culture aspect. Kith ticks many of the boxes too and Dover Street Market’s London chapter nails the cool factor with quite possibly the nicest café (shout out to Rose Bakery).

As streetwear continues to mature and influence mass tastes, might this community-culture-collaboration (+ coffee) model be the key to amping up the IRL retail experience for a new generation of customers?

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Aimé Leon Dore London x 5; Hypebeast New York; Hypebeans New York
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links* and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here

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