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Ready for take-off: Ambitions of Berlin streetwear trendsetter Highsnobiety

By Ole Spötter


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Business |Interview

Gatezero pop-up at Zurich Airport | Photo: Louise Melchior

Highsnobiety is more than a print or online magazine. Innovative retail concepts, cross-sector collaborations and its own collections have attracted international attention for the Berlin streetwear expert. In addition to its headquarters in Berlin, the platform also has locations in New York, London, Amsterdam and four other cities.

The latest addition is a pop-up store at Zurich Airport, which opened on 15th November. The retail space sits between the stores of luxury brands such as Bottega Veneta and Gucci, as well as retailer Jelmoli. The pop-up offers a range of clothing, accessories and other products such as collectibles, magazines and other lifestyle objects. Brands on offer include fashion houses such as Jil Sander and Balenciaga, local brands such as On Running and Burgundy, and Highsnobiety's own products.

At the opening of Gatezero, FashionUnited spoke with Highsnobiety founder David Fischer and chief commercial officer Max Berger. In the interview, they reveal what plans the platform is pursuing as a retailer, what role collectibles and other products play and what collaborations they have in store.

Max Berger (left) and Herbert Hofmann, head of buying at Highsnobiety (right), at the Gatezero opening | Photo: FashionUnited

Why did you choose Zurich for Gatezero?

Berger: Zurich, or Switzerland, is a bit like the Old Luxury Mecca and stands for watches and basically a lot of luxury.

It was an extremely good fit to go to the mecca of Old Luxury with a “New Luxury” concept. Moreover, Zurich Airport is a beautiful location. It is important to us that we feel comfortable with the space we display in and the brands that are in the area. That is definitely the case here.

Are you currently planning any other pop-ups?

Berger: We had a very ambitious roadmap before Covid. We took over the Selfridges Cornerstone in January 2019. At that time, we had already planned this concept [editor's note: Gatezero]. The idea was actually to go to Nordstrom, Isetan and Galleries Lafayette - to roll out Highsnobiety pop-ups in department stores. And then the pandemic hit.

We then focused completely on Gatezero. A retail space alone is not that innovative - as is the case in travel retail - so the added value that we bring as a publisher and storyteller is now the best combination. This is also reflected in the fact that we were able to inspire brands like Comme des Garçons or Loewe, who are closing doors rather than opening new ones, to embrace such a concept.

Gatezero pop-up at Zurich Airport | Photo: Louise Melchior

Online and at Gatezero, you also offer products beyond fashion. How important are collectibles like kits, decorations and other objects from brands for fashion retailers?

David Fischer: Several factors come together in this area. The bottom line is that we have all seen a million t-shirts, shirts and sneakers. We see it as our job to find new things and exciting themes for the Highsnobiety community. This also includes collectibles, because it is easier to surprise with such things than with the next sweater. The category around collectibles, gadgets and accessories works incredibly well for us and also allows us to distance ourselves from other retailers.

What about NFTs?

Fischer: It is an important topic that is on everyone's mind right now. But it fits particularly well for us because the mechanics in this NFT world match those of the streetwear and fashion world. Limited NFTs, temporary NFTs, the whole idea of collectibility and the perceived scarcity that comes with NFTs are all themes that we at Highsnobiety have been observing, describing and documenting in our world for 16 years. Accordingly, the audience and community know the area very well, which is why it will come relatively naturally to our community.

For our “Not in Paris” initiative in June, we did a test on the topic of NFTs. Together with RTFK, we designed NFTs and sold them for 80,000 US dollars. It's amazing what's possible. It's also a diversification of online power that goes hand in hand with crypto and the like.

Highsnobiety founder David Fischer | Photo: Highsnobiety

What will be the next step in this area?

Fischer: What we're seeing a lot of in this NFT space right now is ultimately like a kind of NFT art - digital objects that are all about ownership and that can eventually be resold for more money. It's going to evolve quite a bit and then there will be many digital products that we can put on our avatars and express ourselves digitally in 3D worlds. Art, culture, fashion and sneakers are all areas that will be translated into this new world.

We are in the middle of the cold season. What trends do you see in the outerwear sector?

Fischer: I always have the feeling with outerwear that everyone buys the same thing and the trend goes through certain cycles: everyone runs around in Woolrich, everyone runs around in Canada Goose, everyone runs around in The North Face, everyone runs around in Moncler. All these brands - including Stone Island - have now had their cycle. Some, however, manage to stay relevant in the longer term.

Canada Goose, The North Face and Moncler are by no means fleeting stars. However, they have to work hard at maintaining their relevance. Especially because jackets are fundamentally expensive. Most people buy one jacket in winter and not five. Accordingly, it is important to be at the top of consumers’ minds. Products like Moncler's Genius give brands a lot of energy, make them inspiring for a young clientele and extend the lifecycle.

What is selling well in your online shop right now?

Fischer: The online store consists of three buckets. There is a highly curated third-party bucket where we buy and sell external brands wholesale. In that bucket, we have high-end luxury brands like Jil Sander or Margiela, footwear and on top accessories, gadgets and collectibles. All this sells well. As long as the brand has a certain position with the audience, the price is almost irrelevant. We sell everything from 80 euro Carhartt pants to 1,300 euro Acronym pants.

The second bucket is our own brand, which also sells very well. We do a lot of basics, some of which are finished with graphics. A strong runner for us.

The third bucket is collaborations. The Highsnobiety x Nike running collection, the Braun collection and the super sunglasses. These sell best and fastest because they are topics that are extremely heavily charged by us on the content side, are highly limited and are usually only available for purchase from us. An exception to this was the Dickies collaboration, which was also available at Union LA, Selfridges and Goodhood London.

On Running Space in the Gatezero pop-up at Zurich Airport | Photo: Louise Melchior

Are e-commerce sales a compass for Gatezero or do you follow your own strategy here?

Berger: The idea of resortment is to bring in a certain local adaptation. We specifically chose brands like On Running, Burgundy, Victorinox to reflect the location in the range.

Apart from the locals, streetwear then meets high fashion?

Berger: The idea is to choose this New Luxury approach and to add our own Highsnobiety touch - a combination of high and low, of streetwear and luxury - to not only go for these hypes.

Let’s not forget that we as Highsnobiety do not only see ourselves as a streetwear blog or sneaker blog. With this concept, we want to address the culture pioneer, the tastemaker, who may not be a fan of Highsnobiety, but gets attracted by the product range.

On is also one of your current collaboration partners…

Berger: Exactly, due to the delivery bottlenecks, unfortunately the collaboration with On did not arrive in time for the opening [of Gatezero], but hopefully it will come soon.

Fischer: The capsule collection consists of an On x Highsnobiety sneaker and several other products that will probably be released early next year.

Gatezero collection: cap (45 euros), t-shirt (55 euros), longsleeve (65 euros), hoodie (105 euros) | Photo: Highsnobiety

Are you planning to expand your own collections even further?

Fischer: We will continue to expand the collection and collaborations. However, our goal is not to create a complete ready-to-wear collection as in the case of 032c. Collaborations allow us to tell more stories and activate different products through content.

How do you approach a collaboration?

Fischer: A good example is Braun. We go into the archive and curate vintage products and new products from Braun, do a collaboration with the new products and a matching capsule collection. Every detail of this capsule collection - from the colours of the labels to the prints - is inspired by the Braun design codes of the last 100 years. Translating that and telling the story of this brand to a new young audience are the themes we thrive on as a team.

Overall, Highsnobiety seems to be much more than a magazine by now. Is this still the company's core business?

Berger: We are a publisher at heart and always will be. Of course, we have also built various models around this culture pioneer audience in recent years and they are always at the centre. But we also try to get in touch with this audience through different [other] points of contact. Gatezero is one such concept. But it can also be a festival, our e-commerce store or different [other] activities.

Gatezero pop-up at Zurich Airport | Photo: Louise Melchior

Is that the strategy behind events like Berlin Berlin or Not in Paris?

Berger: Exactly! As a publisher, you can scale by generating more reach. But in the end, you lose your top positioning. We decided to go with this culture pioneer and not to scale too much in terms of our publishing product.

What do you generate most of your sales with?

Fischer: The Highsnobiety brand has been around for 16 years and the e-commerce business for two and a half, so it's still super fresh. Accordingly, the main turnover of our company still comes from our core business, which is a combination of publishing, media and publishing and marketing. Over the next few years, however, this will be divided between these two business areas [publishers and retailers].

Recently you also opened a new office in Amsterdam. Why did you choose this location and what role does it play in the international fashion industry?

Berger: With Highsnobiety's B2B division, we help brands with a wide range of services. Cultural Consulting is one of them: „How to show up in culture.”

We always try to act more locally because we mostly work with the global headquarters. But they also require us to be anchored in the local culture and scene. That was also one of the reasons why we opened an office in Amsterdam. There are very relevant brands from our cultural context and there is an interesting creative culture.

Highsnobiety invited FashionUnited to the opening event in Zurich.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.