If you spot a winding line of people dressed in immaculate carpenter pants, crisp knit vests, baseball caps and leather loafers or New Balance sneakers, chances are you’re looking at the queue for New York City menswear brand Aimé Leon Dore (ALD). Since opening in 2022 in London’s Soho, the flagship store has followed in the footsteps of its NYC locations, attracting crowds of Gen Z and millennial consumers as one of the most hyped brands in menswear.
Fueling the dominance of today’s preppy Ivy League trend, ALD has overt it-boy status, constantly selling out collections, and assisting New Balance in regaining popularity through consistently dropping cult sneaker collaborations since 2019.
Similar to the characteristics of hypebeasts, ALD fans are known to follow the brand religiously. Critics say that consumers buy anything that simply features the logo, indicating the extent to which founder Teddy Santis has molded a community. The retail locations have become places where consumers just want to be seen having a sweet honey coffee.
The queues are huge, the old money aesthetic reigns supreme in menswear, and collaborations this year alone have included Porsche, Technohull, Timberland, and Woolrich.
Exerting such a hold on menswear in the West spurs the question of whether there is an equivalent name in the mainland. Here, we ask experts with their finger on the pulse of Chinese youth culture whether there is an Aimé Leon Dore of China?
Chinese streetwear brands carving a niche
Editor of Hypebeast China, Gracie Chen says there is a lack of brands in the mainland creating queue-worthy or sell-out collections.
However, the journalist points to domestic streetwear leaders such as Doe, Avenue & Son, Soulgoods and Randomevent, which frequently drop collaborative collections, are building a loyal fanbase, and host impressive brick-and-mortar activations.
“While there might not be crazy sold-out drops happening everyday, these brands prioritize quality by carefully curating their clothing, engaging in collaborations, and organizing pop-up events,” she says. “By actively shaping the streetwear community and providing spaces for the street, art, music, creative, and skate communities to gather, they have created a sense of local community and gained a steady stream of loyal customers.”
Upon quizzing industry experts on brands that could potentially match the popularity of ALD in China, one major trend emerged.
“It’s worth mentioning the growing influence of celebrity-led brands, such as [rapper and singer] Jackson Wang’s Team Wang Design and [Chinese actor] Bai Jingting’s GoodBai,” says Chen.
Marketing head and stylist Ian Yen adds that Also a Few Good Kids by Chinese hip-hop singer MaSiWei is another brand that is booming. The majority of domestic independent brands that exert a similar influence to ALD in China were founded by stars who already had an existing, loyal fanbase.
Luxury critic at Chinese business publication Ladymax, Drizzie Zuo says that Team Wang is performing better than other designer-founded brands. Impressive queues formed at the brand’s 2023 Halloween flea market event, for example.
“It is creating buzz among Gen Z that is rarely seen. Most importantly, it’s giving inspiration to other peers regarding original marketing ideas and innovations,” says Zuo.
On Gen Z-beloved, “Chinese Instagram” platform Xiaohongshu, #teamwangdesign stars in 39.3 million posts. The streetwear brand is straightforward merchandise for the celebrity, with elevated basics imprinted with the logo. Due to the power of China’s fan culture, it works.
Weighing in on why these celebrity-led collections are proving popular among Chinese youth, head of buying and business development at China’s ENG Concept Store, Laura Darmon says, “In the mainland today, celebrities can play a significant role in promoting brands and driving sales growth. It’s common in China for celebrities to establish their own brands.”
“However, even with all the hype surrounding these celebrity-driven brands, it is becoming increasingly challenging for them to survive beyond a few seasons.
This is because the hype tends to focus more on the celebrity rather than the products, and sometimes, the products are either underpromoted, or priced too high for the average fan-consumer, who are more accustomed to fast fashion.”
The fanbases of these founders create communities surrounding their brands — a case study in point is Clint 419’s Corteiz, the ultra-hyped British streetwear brand that is famous for attracting monumentous crowds of Gen Zers for its in-person drops. Clint 419 has featured in ALD campaigns, too.
Over in China, that is what the likes of Team Wang and GoodBai are cultivating: community. One non-Chinese name building an if-you-know-you-know following is Thug Club from South Korea. Releasing coveted streetwear collections with a rebellious urban spirit, the brand’s thriving, and on a trajectory to ALD-style domination in Asia.
“Personally, I’ve noticed that Thug Club is gaining significant popularity in China,” says Darmon. “This is due to the way Yeong Min Cho aka Thug Min (the founder) and his team are promoting the brand. They do it in a more ‘genuine’ manner, staying closely connected with their audience.”
Thug Min being the face of the brand is what has engaged the fanbase, now stocked by top retailers around the world, including China’s ENG, H Lorenzo, GR8, and more. Fans include global superstars, too, such as singer Sza and rappers Swae Lee and 24KGoldn.
Darmon adds, “They are now focusing on monthly drops, recognizing that the current hype might last for a while, so it’s best to concentrate efforts around boosting sales.”
In the face of Chinese online shopping platform Taobao’s popularity, independent brands struggle in China. For that reason, it is difficult to identify a single name who is garnering as much attention as the likes of ALD.
“I think in the post-Covid era, customers are just becoming smarter. In China, they think more before making purchasing decisions.” Chen says, “That’s why there seem to be fewer lines in front of streetwear stores today.”
Zhuo concurs. “There seems to be an apparent fatigue of domestic streetwear brands in China from what I can see,” she says.
While a Chinese brand directly comparable to ALD might not be discernible, instead, the collective success of both celebrity-led brands, and domestic streetwear seems to be what is defining the market.
The lessons for luxury are that fan culture drives young consumers’ purchasing decisions in China, and the reputation and community surrounding the brand founder has never been so significant.