Illustration: Alvaro Javier Cecchetti

Streetwear Impact Report - AA

Alexandre Arnault on Legacy Adaptation

This interview is part of the Streetwear Impact Report. The report includes data analyzed through two key research methods: a consumer-facing survey and an industry-facing survey. Full description of the methodology behind the report can be found in the Introduction.

Alexandre Arnault is the CEO of Rimowa. Read our other Streetwear Impact Report lead interviews with Hiroshi Fujiwara , Daniel Arsham and Josh Luber .

How do you define streetwear?

Alexandre Arnault: To me it’s everything that touches what happens on the streets. It is going to sound very corny, but anything that comes from really the youth culture, kids. Obviously, starting with skateboard many years ago, but now extending to many things that are not in skateboarding at all because you see a lot of people excited about streetwear. They have no idea how to skateboard.

How do you see streetwear playing out in the fashion industry?

You see a lot of people trying to embrace streetwear and making basically sneakers and hoodies, at that high price point, which to me is a danger. While I understand why many brands want to get access to the streetwear, I feel like pure customers who like streetwear feel when it doesn't feel right. So, that's why it's a bit dangerous for me. Whereas in high fashion when you're true to your brand, true to your DNA and you adapt to the trends without trying to overdo it, that's how you can really combine streetwear and luxury together.

If you look at probably the biggest collaboration of all time, which was Louis Vuitton and Supreme, that was an amazing combination where Louis Vuitton did exactly what they knew how to do, which is create a super high quality product. It was really well manufactured and so on, and took some of Supreme’s codes and adapted into it, which is way better than any other brand who just decide to release a new pair of sneakers, because sneakers are hot right now.

What are some of the risks of embracing streetwear as a luxury fashion brand?

I think you risk losing your customers completely, because if you take an established fashion brand they'll have customers who are millennials, obviously, but older customers too. To really start embracing streetwear, generally the older generations are not too attracted to it for reasons that are understandable. Then the younger generations feel that it's a trap, and it's fake. You end up basically losing your customers, and you end up doing things which are not in the line of high fashion. Our brands, we don't do what the customer wants. We have a point of view, we express our point of view and then it turns out some customers end up liking it.

How do you approach making your brands more relevant to a new generation?

We didn't start with a brief saying, “Hey, let's make Rimowa cool or let's make it young in the street.” The first thing we did was launch a 2000 euro suitcase with Fendi, which is not maybe the definition of targeting youth culture. What we really tried to do is take the existing product that we had and magnify it and make it indispensable to people, and make them understand that it was the best suitcase. I think now people understand that. On top of that, we really did some pretty nice collaborations that worked in a lot of different fields.

How important are collaborations is to the overall brand strategy?

To Rimowa, I think they're important in a way where if you look at the suitcase itself, it's a blank canvas. It's very recognizable from the outside because of the shape and because of the grooves. I think it allows us to do a lot more things with different brands, because we can take someone else's clothes and put them on our suitcase in a way and it still stays a Rimowa suitcase. For us, it's important in the sense that it allows a different interpretation of our suitcases, but we're not going to become a collaboration hit brand.

Do you think it’s possible for any company — not just Rimowa — to almost go from being a traditionally luxury brand to being welcomed by the streetwear market?

I think you can. Balenciaga for example, went down that route. Nicolas Ghesquière was the designer before he was at Louis Vuitton and he was definitely doing super high fashion stuff, very geometric, very Balenciaga. Now, it seems to me like they're selling a lot of hoodies and sneakers and you see a lot of Hypebeast’s in the streets wearing their products. So, I think they've done it well. I think we would not do it in that image because we would just be scared of the time relevance of it. The day where big sneakers and not exciting anymore, what's next?

How important is physical retail to the bottom line for Rimowa?

It's very important. Physical retail is super important, because for us our products are pretty big. It's important for people to touch them, to see them to feel them. They're also a sizable investment between. So for us it's important for our customers to see the products. Most of them also like to see them and get delivered after or shop online once they've been to the stores. How do you make the customer experience a seamless blend in online and physical?

I think that's the main challenge for a lot of people in luxury, but we were trying to make the experience as seamless as possible by integrating between iPads, iPhones and physical retail. In a few months, you'll be able to walk into Rimowa store, see everything you want and just pick up an iPad in the store and order your suitcase and have it delivered at your house in two clicks, or create an account, have everything in your basket, and when you're at home in your account, you can check out way easier and things like that.

What are your thoughts on the resale market?

The resale market is definitely part of Streetwear. I think it's it's very sad to see that when people line up in front of stores, 30 percent of everybody lining up is just a reseller so it prevents real customers from buying the products firsthand. They can always buy second hand but sometimes it's too expensive for them. It just part of the market now and I think. I guess the success of a product is now also judged by the resale premium that it gets on platforms. I'm not too excited about it to be honest.

Going on to the drops model, how has Rimowa embraced it?

We embraced it with our collaborations obviously. We make a limited quantity that we think will be able to sell and then we drop it on a day during the week and that's what we do with collaborations but that's also we do with new colors for example. The difference with us is that most of our product is a permanent product. So, it's harder to drop unless there's really something exciting like a collaboration or new color or something.

How do influencers play into Rimowa’s brand strategy?

I'm personally friends with a lot of them. So as my friends I like to see my friends traveling with our suitcases. So I don't view them as influencers yet they happen to be some. But when it comes to pure work relationship we’re not paying anyone.

We try to work as little as possible with influencers because it's the same thing as high fashion brands making sneakers to feel relevant. If we would start doing that, we would kind of be awkward already. And all these influencers were already carrying Rimowa from way before we bought the company. And everybody knows that.

Where do you see the streetwear trend currently? How do you see it growing in the next five years?

I think it's grown a lot. It's grown a lot in the past five years. So it'll be interesting to see if Supreme manages to keep their growth, because they're clearly the one way ahead. But it also might grow in terms of how many brands are out there and doing things. Which might also dilute the other ones. So I think as a whole, I don't think it'll double, but I think you'll see a lot of different players who are proposing different things come in to play.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.