On Columbus Day weekend, some ten thousand streetwear enthusiasts, known as “hypebeasts,” descended on the Brooklyn Navy Yard for Hypefest, a two-day convention of waiting in line, staring at phones, and showing off their steeziest outfits.
Deep in the Navy Yard, music blared from a stage erected between a trio of cavernous structures that vaguely smelled of chum. Inside were vender booths, art installations, “brand activations,” and a lecture series called “Hypetalks.” As guests stepped off the bus, they photographed themselves in their finest Palace sweatpants, Supreme fanny packs, and Yeezy sneakers—mostly young men, but also some “hypebaes.” They streamed into a building marked “Brooklyn Fish Transfer,” and queued up for a chance to cop limited-edition Pikachu swag and customized display-only sneakers from Adidas—all purchases made through the Hypefest app.
Across from a Lamborghini covered in fake hundred-dollar bills and catercorner from a booth papered in eighties porn was a play area with crayons, coloring books, and low plastic furniture (for hypekids). Kevin Ma, the founder and C.E.O. of the online platform Hypebeast and the organizer of the event, crouched nearby on a neon-blue chair. He wore round glasses and a white long-sleeved shirt with “Readymade” on the front. The simplicity of Ma’s outfit belied his influence; since 2005, he has grown Hypebeast from a bedroom blog into a publicly traded media empire worth more than a hundred and thirty-five million dollars.
When Ma first fell down the streetwear rabbit hole, “Some people were talking about it online,” he explained, “but it was very sporadic updates.” So he decided “to make this kind of content more accessible to everybody.”
The vast majority of Hypefest attendees were young men, but Ma aims to reach a wider audience. “Males, eighteen to thirty, that’s not how we really approach it,” he said. “More so, people who love this kind of stuff or culture. It doesn’t have to be guys or girls, it could be anybody. It could be all ages. As long as you are inspired and want to be a part of it.”
Though Ma didn’t invent the word “hypebeast” to describe a person who camps overnight for new sneakers or compulsively checks eBay listings for rare gear, his site has certainly popularized the idea. “People were using that term to mean, ‘Hey, you’re buying without really thinking about what you’re buying! You’re just buying because of the hype.’ So it was kind of to make fun of people,” he explained.
Like the hipster of a decade ago, the concept of the hypebeast began as a way of mocking a certain kind of overzealous consumer, a new variety of fashion victim for the Internet age. But, unlike hipsters, who valued a kitschy thrift-store eclecticism, hypebeasts are obsessed with chasing whatever is newest, and they are happy to spend enormous sums to get it. What began as an insult has evolved into a self-declared identity, a community of hypebeasts.
A young man wearing a navy Louis Vuitton pajama set and semi-transparent pink sunglasses swaggered by, followed by a camera crew.
Ma continued, “So I went on some domain-registry site, saw that it was available, and that was history.”
Ma checked his phone: it was time to make the rounds. Buses were dropping off more ravenous hypebeasts, and he needed to “fight the fires.”
On the opposite side of the building, a restive crowd was hoping to catch a glimpse of the rapper Gucci Mane, who was announcing a collaboration with the Italian denim brand Diesel. Called Hate Couture (“The more you wear, the less you care”), the celebrity-designed apparel is emblazoned with insults—and with empty boxes on the clothes for wearers to add their own.
A bank of video monitors showed Gucci Mane surrounded by Gucci look-alikes modelling his T-shirt (which read “FUCK YOU IMPOSTER”) interspersed with clips of Diesel employees bearing offensive epithets: “THOT,” “FATTY.”
Dressed in a black Diesel bomber jacket and baggy black jeans, Mane was ushered past the crowd to stand behind a table and sign posters and T-shirts for raffle winners.
“He’s one of my favorite rappers,” a hypebeast named Steve, who waited in line for a shirt and was dressed in his own brand, Antiques Worldwide, said. “It’s a pretty-good-quality T-shirt, too, and a good price, so why not?” he added. “I fuck with him.”
A hypebae with green hair requested that Mane write “MOODY BITCH” on her shirt, but most of the other winners didn’t seem to understand the collection’s concept.
“FERRARI BOYZ,” a young blond hypebeast said.
“$WAVY √,” another said.
Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel, shared the stage with Mane. Wearing an unmarked Hate Couture jacket and a black hat over his silver mop of hair, he bent over the table to have Mane sign the back: “Happy 40th anniversary Diesel.”
When the meet-and-greet was finished, Diesel staff brought out a red cake to celebrate. Rosso punched the center of the cake and brandished his bloodied fist for the assembled photographers.
In the greenroom, Rosso and Mane basked in the afterglow of their success. A table had been spread with fruit and snacks, and a bottle of red wine opened, Rosso by Rosso.
“I feel like geniuses always gravitate towards each other,” Mane said. “I feel like Renzo is the fashion god, and I’m definitely the trap god, so it was meant for us to meet.”
“We have the same attitude, the same spirit,” Rosso said, “and we say, ‘Hey, why don’t we do something together?’ ”
Like many hip-hop artists of his generation, Gucci Mane has been personally affected by some of society’s most intractable problems—prison, gun violence, drug abuse—but, for his collaboration with Diesel, he wanted to discuss another issue he’s faced: online bullying.
“Me being an artist and always being online and always being on my stuff socially . . . you get all these harsh criticisms about, you know, the body shaming, or what you wearing. ‘It’s not good, it’s not dope,’ ” Mane said as he shook his head, his diamond cross necklace glittering in the light.
“I just feel like it was so fun to just . . . instead of reacting in a negative way, and getting mad—kind of laughing it off and wearing it. . . . You’re insulting me, but you’re insulting yourself, because I’m still fresh!”
“Diesel love provocation. Diesel love to see from the bad things create movement, create a positive energy,” Rosso added.
During his two-year stint in prison, which ended in May of 2016, Mane had watched other rappers take credit for his vocal style—but he was unable to respond. Mane wanted to address that feeling in his collaboration with Diesel.
“It’s like with the ‘Fuck You Imposters,’ I feel like I’m the most cloned person in rap; everybody’s taking my style, taking my flow,” he said. “But they call me a clone?
“Soon as I got out, I was like, ‘Gucci’s home, it’s over for you Gucci clones.’ ”
Mane was adamant that he wasn’t a rap clone; however, when it came to his taste in fashion, he wondered if he qualified as a hypebeast.
“I think I might be a hypebeast fan,” Mane said. “I watch what’s coming out, what’s dropping, and who fresh and this, but I don’t know.” He paused. “I think I’m a little bit late on everything. . . . I’m old in spirit.”