On a recent Sunday afternoon on the ground floor of the Bergdorf Goodman men’s store in Manhattan, a woman and her adult son browsed a display of Brunello Cucinelli cashmere sweaters, each priced at over $1,000. Up one set of stairs, a man asked a sales clerk for help selecting a formal, white tuxedo shirt. And on the third level, two male shoppers flicked through a rack of nylon Kith windbreakers and discussed which to wear to an upcoming Drake concert.
If Drizzy’s two fanboys seem out of place at Bergdorf Goodman—the Fifth Avenue institution that has served Upper East Side housewives without credit limits, Russian one percenters, and anyone who can be counted among “the most discerning clientele in the world” since it was founded in 1899—a glance around the store will tell you that times are changing. On that same Sunday, there were noticeably fewer shoppers in Chanel tweed than Off-White stripes. But can a store known for lavish private shopping suites also serve young consumers snatching up $45 limited edition T-shirts? Can the hypebeasts coexist alongside the ladies who lunch?
“Bergdorf is doing what all of the other department stores are doing right now, which is making a bid to stay relevant,” says Tiffany Yannetta, shopping director at Racked.com. “There is that reputation of being stuffy, a little old, a little grandiose. They’re trying to grab that younger consumer to show that they’re with it. It could be as simple as buyers saying, ‘We gotta get our hands on Kith, because the kids want Kith!’”
“Kith at Bergdorf is an acknowledgement of our appreciation for [Kith founder] Ronnie Fieg's vision and the product he creates,” says Melissa Lowenkron, SVP and men’s general merchandise manager at Bergdorf. To prove the depth of their commitment to Fieg’s downtown sneaker-shop-turned-streetwear-brand, Bergdorf installed a specially-built, Snarkitecture-designed environment on the store’s third floor to house Kith exclusively, nestled somewhat awkwardly between the season’s offering from luxury labels Dries Van Noten and Etro. Nearby, though, some familiar names for streetwear-savvy shoppers are also for sale: Fear of God, Off-White, John Elliott, and Public School.
Of those designers, Elliott’s fall collection is closest to Kith’s in terms of price point and aesthetic, although his designs are both more expensive and more subtle than Kith’s current, logo-heavy, ‘90s-infused collection. Off-White and Public School have dominated the streetwear-goes-high-end conversation in recent years and received the kind of industry accolades that typically elude brands like Kith—CFDA Awards and LVMH prize nominations—making their inclusion in Bergdorf’s brand assortment more of a foregone conclusion and less of a rule-breaking departure, as WWD’s coverage of Kith at Bergdorf characterized it.
Across the street at the Bergdorf Goodman women’s store, shoppers can also pick up Rihanna’s collection for Puma, placing the singer's designs among a group of venerated names like Tom Ford, Oscar de la Renta, and Ralph Lauren.
Elizabeth von der Goltz, SVP and general merchandise manager of Bergdorf’s fifth floor women’s contemporary space (where Fenty Puma is displayed), says carrying the collection isn’t an outright endorsement of streetwear or a sign that the existing luxury-minded Bergdorf shopper has shifted. “We believe that our customers are looking for great product and an experience,” she says. “That hasn't changed.” Von der Goltz explains that Rihanna’s line is a natural fit for the retailer. “It is fresh, young, new, and exciting,” she says. “Our customer always wants the newest and latest in fashion.”
So far, that appears to be true. Lowenkron reports that Kith’s items co-branded with the Bergdorf logo sold out in days—thanks, at least in part, to their current clientele. “We have had an overwhelming response from all customers, ranging from our first floor luxury customer to the active fashion followers on the third floor,” she says, adding that other product released since Kith’s Bergdorf debut last month has also “experienced huge demand.”
Still, both Lowenkron and von der Goltz acknowledge that part of the appeal of Kith and Fenty Puma is the promise of attracting new customers. Enter the hypebeasts? Maybe. Or maybe not.
“There’s definitely a Kith shopper who is like, ‘I’m just going to go to the [Kith] store,’” Yannetta says. Still, she notes, “there will always be a prestige about Bergdorf.” For an Instagram-obsessed streetwear culture, having the newest Kith item is one thing; bragging that you got it at Bergdorf, where millionaires drop six figures on Goyard luggage, is another.
If Bergdorf isn’t diving into streetwear headfirst, they’re at least testing the waters in a splashy way. “Fenty Puma is a huge one. Kith is so buzzy,” Yannetta says. “They’re easy entry points for Bergdorf and the Bergdorf customer to get into this world.” If it helps pull some new, young shoppers away from Barneys, which bought into the streetwear space years ago, and concept shops like Opening Ceremony, Dover Street Market, and Fivestory, that’s a bonus.
Bergdorf’s sustained interest in streetwear remains to be seen. “We are exploring some other partners, but nothing we want to disclose as of yet,” von der Goltz says. For now, though, downtown cool kids rubbing shoulders with old moneyed uptowners maintains a novelty appeal (and a streetwear shopping experience free of Supreme-style lineups.)
“I feel like Bergdorf is ready for anything,” Yannetta says. “They are just as prepared for the hypebeasts as they are for the international tourists who come and drop bank.” But, she adds, “It would be really wonderful to watch a hypebeast in Bergdorf. That is a Facebook Live video that I would for sure tune in to.”