Literature Analysis of a Socio-Economic Subculture in Fashion

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Faced with a generation of consumers who are both the most well-informed and fiscally precarious in modern society, streetwear fills the void when luxury brands searching for ways to remain relevant and therefore profitable. I would like to understand the socio-economic subculture emerging in the urban fashion market specifically through the collaboration of Supreme and Louis Vuitton in 2017. The research methods would be layered in two parts: a questionnaire and an in-depth focus group analysis. Further, supporting theories carried out by Pierre Bourdieu, Dick Hebdige and David Muggleton will also be yielded.

Background and Rationale

Supreme’s Fall/Winter 2017 collaboration with Louis Vuitton is actually not the first time they encountered with each other in industry. Back in 2000, Supreme introduced skate decks emblazoned with Louis Vuitton’s iconic monogram print, which was hit by Louis Vuitton with a cease and desist letter. Almost two decades after the incident, the global cohort of luxury goods consumers was skewing more toward the young, it is the moment when Louis Vuitton wants to tap into the wild dedication and rabid willingness to spend that is consistently displayed by Supreme fans. However, unlike prior Supreme collaborations, the collection with Louis Vuitton will bot be neither available at Supreme stores nor online. The products will be exclusively sold though Louis Vuitton stores. There might be those who find it essential to possess a piece of Supreme for Louis Vuitton, but these buyers will not be the same herd of consumers who line up outside Supreme’s Lafayette Street flagship store, waiting for the latest un-hyped products to drop. They are the ones who are not interested in critical reception of the collection, however, they are the ones who have kept Supreme’s credibility alive. For them, when underground is surfaced by market forces, the brand seems to retain the aesthetics of subversion, not the intent.

While press focus on the hope-for-imminent collapse of the distinct line between luxury and streetwear brands, few words shed light on the consumerism changes upon the wave of collaboration. The research is going to restore the discourse of the brand’s credibly back to Supreme’s fans base, understanding what socio-economic impacts the collaboration might have had on the shifting of the fanbase.

Literature Analysis

Pierre Bourdieu used the notion of field to defined ‘a structured space of positions’ and forces(1993: 72). Both Supreme and Louis Vuitton buyers are playing in its own fields, in which are two ’social microcosms’. Further, both brands function with specific rules(doxa) and unconscious though process and bodily practices(habitus). In both fields, established players and newcomers will either unite or fight for the power to define what can be acknowledged as legitimate practice, aesthetics, taste or norm. Besides doxa and habitus, capital is the resources for individuals to drawn upon. Although Supreme and Louis Vuitton previously have had two different target audiences — which means that they are two distinct fields with two groups playing two systems of games — their collaboration project exhibited two kinds of habitus merging together, in order to cater towards a new urban market.

I am observing the new socio-economic structure built between the brands’ collaboration through Bourdieu’s model of fields. The collaboration is an intervention of this luxury brand’s capital. The luxury brand also borrowed the habitus from Supreme established consumer culture. The merging of two brands manifests a new dynamic balance of two fields, thus an unstable and temporary field might be created. In this research, I am mainly looking at a new post-subcultural consumerism developed within the new field.

The Consumer Base: Through a Post-Subcultural Point of View

While Bourdieu’s “field” can evaluate the collaboration on its large scale, to specifically serve its consumers base, a post-subculture point of view is going to be yielded. It’s no longer appropriate to discuss Supreme’s fans base from classic subculture studies, since we might have to reconceptualise subculture phenomena on the shifting social terrain . Compared to 1960s and 1970s, when the Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies (CCCS) believed that British subcultures represented working-class youths’ struggles, the twenty-first century is a moment seems long gone of any intrinsically subversive quality.

Below are three conspicuous characteristics of post-subculture that help explain the shift of Supreme’s consumers base in a urban market: 

  • The Detachment from Class Division — Everyone Wears Supreme

According to The Idle Man’s analysis, besides skaters, Supreme does not have such a specific audience like it did back in mid 1990s. Lots of proofs have portrayed the mosaic kind of buyers of Supreme. It is not legitimate to attempt to explain the contemporary subcultural consumerism scene with a conception that assumes a homological unity of class-based practices.

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The simple dichotomy of ‘monolithic mainstream/ resistant subcultures’ in CCCS research should be reconstructed now. During the investigation of this research, the numerous forms of ‘osmotic’ interactions between subcultural related and other societal formations will be taken into crucial consideration. These ‘osmotic’ interactions could be a key dialectic to understand the shift of Supreme’s fanbase in an increasingly globally interconnected world where ideas, styles and people collide and circulate in complicated ways, and on a scale with a speed unimaginable previously (Morley and Robins 1995).

  • The Participation in Economic Process — “Shopping” as an Identity Approval

Fashion can bestow oneself with the sense identity approval. However, when discussing culture in the postmodern and globalisational condition, a dialectical third should be taken into consideration: commodification and consumption. (Dirlik & Zhang, 2000, p.10).

Baudrillard (1998, orig. 1970) pointed out that consumption is not simply what individuals do to find enjoyment and satisfaction, but is external to and coercive over individuals, such that consumption is a coded system of signs, through which people communicate with each other. To combine the concept with Bourdieu’s Capital Theory, buying products from the Supreme & Louis Vuitton collection have proven the buyer has the economic capital of the field, but can’t change the truth that two groups of consumers(the original Supreme buyers and the collection buyer) are owning different social capital indicating distinctive strength of contacts and network, which can’t be transformed and merged in a short term of time.

  • The Intervention of Media — More Than an Exhibiting Place

When the streetwear brand got launched in mid-1990s, James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme was anxious to get press exposure and now he can’t escape from overexposure after Supreme decided to hold hands with Louis Vuitton. The new bonding with media is not merely an exhibition place, contrarily, it is integral to the formation of Supreme’s new consumers base.

“As subjects of discussion and sources of information, media are deliberate and accidental determinants of cultural hierarchy.” (Thorton 1996: 164) The website or any other kinds of social platforms set up by a dominant streetwear brand like Supreme would be called ‘subculture capital’, which functions as a central for the movement and distribution in the field it resides. It vertically has strong influence among their consumers. What’s Thorton has neglected is that, this ‘subcultural capital’ might also have horizontal influences on people who are not their consumers, for example, consumers who only shop from luxury brands like Louis Vuitton. In the research, I will try to find out when media becomes the gatekeeper, letting ’outsiders’ break into the field of the cult audiences, whether will these audiences leave or stay. 


First Stage (Quantitive): Questionnaire

This would be a primary questionnaire to obtain both the majority’s tendency and relatively unusual opinions within the large number of people. The questionnaire is meant to be done for the following in-depth focus group analysis. Since the research is aimed to discover a hidden population, snowball sampling is going to be the technique of recruiting study subjects on this stage. In order to avoid the biases within this approach, I am going to combine the sampling with respondent-driven sampling(RDS) in order to overcome the “subjective evaluation.” All of the questionnaires will be administered in person in case there’s a low response rate.

The questionnaire will contain attitude scales, closed questions and. Besides questions of personal information, the main questions will be categorised into three aspects corresponding with the aforementioned literature analysis — the motivations of purchasing products of Supreme, the socio-economic background of the individual and their opinions and preferences of using social media as a filter getting to know the brand. The questions will mainly for exploring for any possible connections between the socio-economic background of an individual and its opinions of the collaboration. The responses will be analysed by Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) after being collected.

Second Stage (Qualitative): In-Depth Focus Group

The snowball sampling and RDS, which used to recruit the study subjects in the aforementioned questionnaire, has an additional benefit to recognise particular samples that worth a further investigation. Rather than a one-to-one interview, the focus group is more suitable for the topic. The in-depth focus group will be help by

The focus group also provide a way for members in this niche group to express openly and freely, discovering any kinds of “taboo” discussions which rarely brought about in their daily conversations. Since the controversies and the possible disputes might pose a threat to their close bonding, it is a ideal chance to reveal the hidden conflicts, which have already existed yet never been revealed.

“Fandom” culture is full of emotion-oriented thoughts, a focus group analysis is better for researchers to capture the nuance of Supreme fanbase beyond verbal information. Possible tensions are expected during the focus group, which can be considered as an ideal situation to observe non-verbal informations, such as their body languages and face expressions in order to find out hidden messages.


In an urban fashion market, rather than digging for marketing strategies of collaborative brands, research — which aims to return the discourse of power back to a brand’s fanbase, — is expected to be a more accurate methodology to discover a new socio-economic group.

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