The Cult of the Line: It’s Not About the Merch

“The line is the new community,” Mr. Carvalho said. “When 200 to 300 kids are lining up outside of a store, it’s because they want to be part of something.”

Mr. Carvalho and Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director, make it their business to monitor the weekly drops at emporiums like Supreme, Nike Lab and Palace, the London-based skate-fashion store with a new outpost in New York.

On this day, they had offered themselves as field guides to what promised be a highly engaging hybrid of tribal rite and street theater, a latter-day alterative to the once-ubiquitous bands of adolescents raucously swarming malls.

“Come get your number — hurry before they pass you over,” a gangly guy in a tank top yelled to a companion. “You only have a certain amount of grace period.”

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Like other fans of the streetwear brand, Kenta Kashiuagi shows off his reward in Tokyo: a new Supreme T-shirt.

Credit
Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

His shouts and those of companions volleying from one end of the street to the other pricked up the ears of hypervigilant store personnel ready to pounce on infractions.

Glancing at them furtively, one petitioner stammered: “I can’t talk to you. I’m going to get thrown off the line.”

But overbearing security and a building sense of pressure did not seem to ruffle the mood. For many of these strivers, the chance to swap insider intelligence and bask in camaraderie was, after all, the point.

“Those things make the kids more agreeable to doing something that on surface you think is a sort of absurd proposition,” said Noah Callahan-Bever, the editor of Complex, an online youth-culture magazine that has chronicled the evolution of the line phenomenon in a series of videos.

Absurd, for sure, when a “luxury” recliner can be reserved at the multiplex on an app like Fandango, and a puffer coat from Vetements summoned at a click at ssense.com, rendering the queue all but obsolete.

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Jay Hines, a fashion stylist, talking to shoppers outside Supreme’s London location.

Credit
Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

Yet the line persists, a global trend stretching these days from Tokyo to Tucson and Berlin to the Bronx. Its members, millennials and their younger Gen Z kin,…

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