Now a prominent trend in fashion, the queue outside certain shops as they release new collections – otherwise known as “the drop” – has become the most significant decider of success for a brand, with the raucous hype it generates outweighing other forms of traditional marketing.
At the London branch of Supreme, the cult skatewear firm driving this trend, its weekly Thursday collection drops have resulted in three-person-deep queues snaking around surrounding streets, while the desperation to bag an item once inside could lead to scuffles and queue jumping.
The lines became so raucous that Westminster council threatened Supreme with closure, resulting in the introduction last year of a new ticketing system, which shoppers must sign up to for a chance to enter the shop on drop day.
As a result, its highly anticipated collaboration with the Japanese streetwear label Undercover and US hip-hop group Public Enemy, featuring the artwork from the band’s 1990 album Fear of A Black Planet, went on sale on Thursday in a positively orderly fashion.
Four hundred pre-registered shoppers were allocated a time slot between 11am and 6pm to attend the Soho shop. Early arrivals were directed to a holding area out of sight down the street, to be escorted, at 11am, with passports checked and cross-referenced, in small groups to stand outside the shop, where mobile phones were not permitted. Shortly afterwards, seven people at a time were allowed inside, with up to 15 minutes to peruse and purchase.
Outside the understated black shop facade, anyone who was seen to be dawdling – inquisitive tourists included – were moved along by a coordinated team of security guards.
The aim of the strategy, a Supreme employee explained, was to give fans what they wanted without diluting the spirit of the drop which, with its top-secret meetings to get tickets, has become a sub-culture of its own among devotees of the brand.
“The level of fervour surrounding ’preme has grown exponentially of late, so the complicated method of obtaining access to a drop definitely makes it more covetable to newcomers,” said Byron Hawes, author of the forthcoming book Drop, which documents the culture around the launches.
“Supreme’s hype game is so strong that nothing can truly dampen it. The general feeling of hype, community, and camaraderie remains.”
Loyal shoppers arriving for Thursday’s drop expressed mixed views. “It’s a lot easier and a lot more difficult,” said 19-year-old Victor Chapman, a Supreme fan since he was 13 who used to camp outside the store before the new system was introduced. “If you were camping, you would just get there early and get in and get what you wanted, and now you have to get your ticket or you can’t go in.”
The system has helped curb the infamous resale market, with some people buying in store and then selling at inflated prices on the internet. “Big drops gather a lot of attention from resellers and it’s especially worse with sneakers,” said 18-year-old Jiajia Hang, who spent about £400 at Thursday’s launch. “People would come to drops and push in to try and get a pair, but with this line-up system, that sort of stuff doesn’t happen any more.”
Hawes recounted rumours that Supreme attempts to counter the resale market by tracking resellers who, when they try to get tickets to drops are “given ‘sucka numbers’, which are late in the day and won’t allow admittance to the shop at all”.
Supreme’s ticketed queuing did, however, jar with long-time fans, said Hawes. “Old heads have been hustling for ages, so it doesn’t really change their opinions, although I’ve spoken with lots of cats who’ve collected for years, and now feel that Supreme is over, what with all the suburbanite hype.”
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