Step Inside the Curated World of Idol Brooklyn and Shop Their Archive
Step Inside the Curated World of Idol Brooklyn and Shop Their Archive
- Words Lawrence Schlossman
- Date June 28, 2017
No shopping trip to the Five Boroughs is complete without swinging by Williamsburg's Idol Brooklyn. The tightly curated shop—where Human Made and Cav Empt seamlessly sit next to Rick Owens and Raf Simons—is a true destination for menswear fans of all types thanks to the fan's first perspective of the store's triumvirate of co-founders: Alex Kasavin, Daniel Franco, and Wei Du. We sat down with Idol crew for a roundtable of sorts to discuss everything from the store's evolution to the current state of retail in 2017. Read our conversation below and then shop arguably the most impressive collection to hit Grailed yet.
Photos by Chris Fenimore.
So you guys are all co-owners and partners in Idol?
Alex Kasavin: Yes
Okay, so how does that work? How do you differentiate the responsibilities?
Daniel Franco: It kind of depends—everyone does a little bit of everything, and then some of us kind of focus on one thing, so like Alex has kind of handled the creative direction, and did all the e-commerce/Instagram. I manage the physical store, and then Wei Du handles all the numbers, he’s like the finances guy. Everyone has a hand in buying, everyone has a hand in merchandising. Am I missing anything?
A: The only thing I would add, because the store’s kind of a multi-brand thing, what makes it interesting is that all of us have our own specialties.
Everyone has their own specialized taste as well I would imagine.
A: Yeah, each of us, in one way or another, is associated with some aspect of it. So Danny would be the most associated with a brand like ACRONYM that we have, and Wei would be like Maurizio. I’m more into Raf and Visvim. That’s what keeps it interesting.
Wei Du: Our brand list also came together that way, where it’s like different angles, different sets of brands. I feel like our strength is to hybridize different parts of fashion.
So you guys relish that opportunity to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other?
A: Yes. Yes, very much so. Well, that’s the process that kind of the whole store was inspired by and what it is now.
And when did you guys open up?
W: It was three years ago.
How did you guys meet? I’m sure there’s a long backstory. How did that come about?
D: We can make it short [laughs]. I worked in fashion print publishing and these two guys had a store called GRAYMARKET, which was a block away.
A: It was an archive. I call it “the pop-up before pop-ups.” It was a permanent space. It was documented on like WWD and The New York Times. That’s what opened the door to do this.
D: I moved to the neighborhood—I already had relationships with Alex and Wei—and we just started to kind of shoot the shit.
Did you shop at GRAYMARKET?
D: I did. We kind of all wanted to do a full retail concept. We all had different ideas about how that retail concept would play out, what it would look like, what brands we would carry, and you know it goes right back to that, cause everyone kind of had a different thing they were passionate about, but we all had kind of the same general interest in opening a full retail store, and this neighborhood was still like the wild west, there was nothing out here.
What happened with GRAYMARKET?
A: We ran out of inventory. We literally sold everything, And by design, we didn’t think about it, but it was impossible to replenish and bring it back to its initial glory.
It was a trial by fire?
A: It was that, but we learned retail from it and realized that our perspective was much more than what we could do with that specific concept. So we felt that were ready, between the three of us, we had tons of ideas, no one was doing it, the neighborhood was there, and we just felt like we had to do it, so we retired GRAYMARKET.
W: We closed it. GRAYMARKET was also more niche, more specific, so I mean, in terms of our understanding of fashion, that also changed and evolved into Idol, which again is more of a bigger conversation.
A: There was some crossover with Idol, but GRAYMARKET was limited, it was niche, it was very much like a project. We set out to do it for fun. There was nothing like it at the time. Or since, for that matter.
It was a unique moment in time.
A: It was a moment in time, but it was very specific. It was the store where you could buy the Givenchy Jesus shirt and Rick Owens Dunks. And all of it was brand new. There was no way to repeat that kind of splendor.
When you guys opened GRAYMARKET and you were going into that project did you know that there was going to be a finite end to it?
A: No, but we also didn’t know that anyone would even show up.
W: It was a truly underground store. It was archival, specific—if you knew about it, you knew about it.
A: But we did it for ourselves, and our kind of circle of friends who were around back then.
What are some of the things, the tenets, that you have made sure to bring from GRAYMARKET? Idol is obviously a different thing. This is a more traditional retail shop. What are some lessons from back then that you make sure to bring to this endeavor?
W: I think because that store was so specific and driven by our interest and our knowledge of the pieces and of the designers that we carried, we’re bringing that to an even bigger conversation about fashion, in terms of our brand knowledge and how we approach every brand in terms of buying, merchandising and presenting them.
A: I would say that what GRAYMARKET and Idol have in common is that they were, to put it bluntly, stores predicated on people knowing their shit a little.
With that said, what’s the teaching element like when people walk into Idol? Do you often you find yourselves explaining more about the brands to the average consumer?
A: Yeah, but the store—while we obviously welcome anyone—but the store still, just by its landscape and the proximity of these things next to each other as you can see, it’s kind of made for people who know their shit.
W: It works best for somebody who already understands the nature of the brands.
D: That’s not to say people haven’t come in here completely blind.
A: Everyone learns somehow. And I think, frankly, the best way to learn is in a retail store. That’s harder now with so much online. We all learned the old fashioned way. We love when someone comes in and they find something they didn’t even know existed.
Geographically speaking, GRAYMARKET was around the corner and now you guys are here. What’s appealing about this neighborhood? Is it simply, like, the rent’s cheaper? Is it something a bit more meaningful? Does it play a part in the story?
A: I can say that in a very literal way, it’s here because we all live here. When we did GRAYMARKET, we were like let’s do some shit where we live. GRAYMARKET was supposed to be in a different location that fell out last minute, so it ended up being over here. But the point is, we always want to do things in our own backyard because we live here. That’s probably as good of an explanation as anyone can have.
Do you consider Idol a destination shop? There’s not much other retail around here…
D: It’s definitely a destination spot.
A: I think we could be anywhere, but, to be honest, yeah.
W: I think it’s worked out that way where we were always inspired by the neighborhood and what’s happening here. There was a lot of change in a very short amount of time. Now it’s very different than when we started the store. It’s become a destination store thanks to our brand mix and the way we curate the store. It becomes very specific by nature, so it’s actually kind of nice for our clients that are loyal to the store to take the time to come out and see us.
Speaking to that curation, how has the brand list here changed? Do you guys think about trends a lot or is it more organic in that as your personal tastes change, the store changes?
D: I think C.E. is the best example of our process. We had never heard of the brand. There was no premeditated goal to get C.E. for the store. We were going to actually see something else that shared the same showroom at the time and we walked past C.E and we were just stopped dead in our tracks. And we bought it just like that. On the spot. Totally unknown. Like, “What is this? We have to get it.” So our process often is that way. It can take different forms. One of us might campaign for a brand, you know? It’s always happening that way. I mean, it’s very organic. And we do have this constantly evolving thing because of our varied tastes. I would say we tend to avoid, just by dint of us, trends.
A: If anything, we might flirt with trends. Women have been doing this forever. Now men are beginning to do it as well in this contemporary way. Even in the beginning, when we started the shop, we had this idea that the same man could be bit more dialed up, wearing a full Rick outfit, but if it’s summer and it’s 90 degrees, maybe he’s going to wear this streetwear piece instead. I think all of us assume that men, now more so than ever, can inhabit different parts of themselves through fashion. New York is very seasonal—and I can only speak for myself—but when it gets to a certain temperature, there are only about two brands that I know of that work for me. I wear certain stuff seasonally. When it’s summer, I wear this, but when it’s winter, I wear that. If I go to an event, it’s something else. I think that all of that plays. I think we all feel that way. As a store, we try to inhabit that and just think that way. That’s the store.
Does today’s hyper trendiness scare you a little bit? What are your feelings with that world changing?
A: I grew up in the 90s and it’s funny because I feel like my generation was the complete opposite of today’s. Meaning, if some celebrity, or whatever, pitched us something, we would be sure not to buy it. When our icons, who were like Biggie and Tupac, started wearing Versace we all stopped.
Now, it’s the complete reverse.
A: Well, you have people, like A$AP and Kanye, who are style icons. So it has changed a little, but guys like that inhabit this world authentically. But, for the most part, I still feel that fashion is its own thing, and yet everyone can be a part of it. But the idea that kids are being sold to because “X” wore it, if it’s not authentic, I think people will see through it pretty fast. I think it’s happening now.
D: Everyone is exposed to everything all the time. There’s just so much noise that a lot of great things get missed and a lot of terrible things become popular.
Is it your responsibility as retailers then to help customers focus? Is the burden on you guys to then be like, these are the brands we love and we’re going to show you how to put it all together?
A: I don’t think so. All we can do is just propose that and say this is the shit we like. We would never argue that in this space we can encompass everything. We do what we can, but we can’t be everything to everyone. And we don't try to be. If you look at trends too much, you get lost in the sauce. I would be much more nervous as a department store. At our scale, we can actually have fun. Like anything, it has its pros and cons.
W: And we value the in-store experience for our clients. It’s fun for us to do what we do in our own space.
Do you guys feel the pressure to do novelty shit, like have events or pop-ups? Everything is a fucking pop-up now.
W: Right, it’s experiential.
D: That’s what’s being pitched now to the younger generation, that everything is an experience.
A: It’s not that we’re against that, it’s just more about the shit we sell in here. Like, if you take that Yohji coat, or something like that, at the end of the day, an informed person who just wants to buy something dope, it doesn’t matter what they’re going to use it for—they may just archive it, they may wear it to an event, or whatever just mow the lawn in it. The point is that on some level, in this store, we sell the kinds of things that someone has to come in here for—they’re going to have to handle it, they’re going to have to feel it. With a designer like Raf, you’re never going to connect with it except for in person and the nature of a pop-up is that it's limited. With stuff like this, you want to come back to it.
D: Yeah, man it’s kind of like the permanence versus the disposable aspect for sure.
Is there anyone in the retail space, traditional or otherwise, that you look too, and think they’re doing a great job and maybe influences you guys directly or indirectly? Or does Idol truly exist in this vacuum of exactly what you guys want to do?
A: There was earlier on, I would say. But I would say at this point we’re kind of in our own world. But we like a lot of stuff, we respect a ton of stores. At this point, we’ve dialed in our own thing. If you look at our website, it’s its own vibe. We kind of look more to ourselves and the clothing we have in the store for influence at this point. It’s pretty insular but in a good way. We’re aware of what’s going on, and there are so many people that are doing their thing, but I think our thing is designed to sort of be original if nothing else.
D: Yeah, for sure. I mean going back to what you said, I—I’m sure we all do—respect any independent retailer. Anyone doing or existing in the sphere that we do, in this day and age, and still just going for it, by hook or by crook, gets my full respect.
Let’s talk about this sale you guys are doing on Grailed. What’re some of the motivations behind it? How was it curated? I know it’s some stuff from the shop, some stuff from your personal collections…
A: Loosely put, the sale is kind of an archive and is comprised of pieces that we’ve used for photo shoots or an editorial. So we have pieces that are associated with the store visually and then some stuff where maybe we took too much risk, but can finally find a home now. That’s one of the fun things about being a buyer and owning your own store, we get to try shit out even if the price is fucking ridiculous. Like, let’s see if we can sell it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You guys get to see the hits and the misses, but, again, this is how anything becomes great. Later on, certain things become very revered or important again. You could obviously say this for Raf Simons.
D: Or Rick Dunks.
W: In hindsight, it gains a different life.
Do you consider yourself collectors/archivists personally?
A: I mean, for myself, loosely, but I definitely do tuck away stuff, especially Raf x Sterling stuff. I have that stuff on ice. I have a Yohji suit, visvim stuff from across the seasons. But it’s not my main focus.
What do you think of this recent trendiness that comes with archiving and collecting? Obviously, Grailed has directly or indirectly perpetuated this idea…
A: To your credit, I think Grailed smartly made it relevant. We’re talking to you because I feel like what you guys are doing is relevant. But of course, it’s like that saying, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” It’s definitely a real thing that’s there. Grailed created a great platform where this could happen in a contemporary, 2017 way.
The fact that this whole world is being democratized more and more every day, from an educational standpoint, you have to appreciate and respect that maybe even two years ago, if you were trying to find out some information about an old Raf piece maybe there’s a picture on Tumblr that someone scanned from a book that costs like $500, but now you go on Grailed and some random person has all that info in a listing.
A: There’s just something about this platform when it comes to unfiltered, honest information.
D: Because they’re trying to sell it, right? You can see old Dior pieces that you would have only ever seen in a blurry runway shot.
What’s the future of Idol look like?
W: I don’t think we necessarily think in terms of like a timeline. I think in the three years we have been open, we have tried to organically develop our tastes and our interests and push that as far as we can. That’s still the plan. And, you know, we continue to be excited. Ever season is actually a new game for us.
D: As a store owner, when the new season kicks off, and new boxes start to come in you that you’ve bought six months ago there’s still that level of excitement. Sometimes you forgot about a piece you were really into and then you open it up. That’s always the most exciting time of the year for us. When that new stuff is coming in, you get to try it on. At our core, where we came from, we were shoppers, which also sets us apart from businesses that exist now. We were fans first. We didn’t necessarily get into this as a business to make money. We got into it because we were fans of the clothes. We were buying them ourselves.
That’s why you guys are valuable. This is why a place like Idol is valuable in this industry.
W: We’re still learning. We try to balance the business with what we like…
D: To varying degrees of success.
W: We’re still trying to do it in the way we know how to do it, which is through what we like.