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Exploring Vintage Fandoms

Highsnobiety's Jeff Carvalho Discusses the Hidden Heat Doc Series

— November 21, 2018 — Business
In 2001, Highsnobiety's Jeff Carvalho published a trend piece spotlighting the New Balance 800 Series. 17 years later, this footwear model was revived, solidifying the powerful relationship between sentiments of the past and modern fashion. The cyclical nature of popular trends is undeniable, yet its ability to influence the future is something most consumers struggle to leverage. This, is one of the motivations behind Hidden Heat -- a documentary series that explores vintage fandoms, offering a deep dive into America’s past to better understand how these topics can be framed in a modern context. The two latest episodes focused on wrestling T-shirts and vintage rave flyers -- two seemingly niche fandoms which have had a massive impact on the fashion, music and design we see today.

In Trend Hunter’s interview with Jeff Carvalho, we discussed the importance of understanding the past, the power of nostalgia, the shopping habits of Millennials and Gen Z, and vintage serving as a gateway for brands to attract new consumers. From Wrestlemania to secret 90s warehouse raves, the return of these vibrant topics reminds us, as Jeff notes, “It’s not about looking back and simply reminiscing. We just want the past to inform the future so we can keep moving things forward.”

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I'm the Managing Director of North America at Highsnobiety. I joined the company 11 years ago as the second employee. What I’ve always tried to do is help the market understand the importance of who a consumer is -- and that consumer isn’t necessarily a Highsnobiety reader. What I look at is a wide view into what Millennials and Gen Z are today and I help the market understand why these consumer sets demand their attention.

What motivated you to start Hidden Heat?

Hidden Heat is a vehicle for us to go deep into a topic and get a sense of its importance in the landscape of what we do today. So what that allows us to do is really show our cultural literacy. The fact that we understand where all of this came from. We understand where fashion is today by looking at the past and being able to frame it in a modern context.

The second episode was around vintage wrestling T-shirts -- a kitschy thing that you’re seeing more of on the streets. What we did was a really deep dive to realize that there’s true fans out there that collect, reminisce, and trade around a topic as simple as a T-shirt. Now, rave flyers - something that’s very close to my heart - again plays into the idea that today’s design, especially graphic design, is more than ever inspired by what came out of the late 80s and 90s and club culture and rave culture are quite important to that. The forward motion of what happened with rave flyers was a canvas that allowed for re-appropriation of logos, and in many ways it was the social media of the time. Today it’s simple for any of us to go on social and post a party flyer or a party announcement but before social media, flyering was the way to do it. Flyers, like most paper items, are not meant to be kept, but there are collectors out there that understand and see the design aspect of these pieces of paper. They collect them and see that they’re actually really helpful in helping us understand moments in music and moments in culture itself. Each of these flyers have a DJ listing, a date stamp, and you can go right into it and understand that impact -- it’s a memento we use to understand that moment. With Hidden Heat, we're just piecing it all together to share the american viewpoint of what rave flyers were.

What factors have to come into play for something to be adopted by the mainstream or the fashion industry? Is it the story they tell, or the aesthetics?

If you look at rave culture it's undoubtedly influencing what’s happening on the runway today. There’s designers like Raf Simons who are emblazoning their gear with silhouettes, fits, colors of that moment. Even outside of fashion, consumers want the real thing, so they’re going out to the stores to find the fashion of rave and club culture -- and they’re looking for the authentic way. Both of our docs offer plenty of hints into what to be looking for. What we do, as we do with everything at Highsnobiety, is cover emerging trends, we cover what’s coming. In many ways we give guidance to the market of what things are interesting. For us to be able to dive into rave culture and wrestling are two items that a lot of people might not have focus on. And we’re very lucky to tell the story and to speak to that cultural fluency that we have of what’s here and what came before.

The cultural value of the trends you speak about are clear, but how are big brands or individuals profiting off of these vintage fandoms?

Now, how we look at those products is all about energy -- because these items bring energy to a campaign in hopes that consumers might buy the in-line range or the re-issued line. What the market is demanding is that this vintage gear be re-issued. So I’m not suggesting that vintage is the way for brands to profit, but it certainly is a gateway for them to bring a consumer into their world.

There’s a theme of escapism in both the wrestling and rave flyer videos. Is escapism something that helps in the revival of these trends?

This is about escapism. It’s about connecting with like-minded individuals. Being a wrestling fan is not something that most people go public about, but when you’re at Wrestlemania and you’re with 60,000 other people, it’s something that can’t be denied because you’re part of a community at that point. Rave and dance music specifically are things that connected me in my youth. That's the world that I operated in and that’s how you find like-minded people. What’s interesting about my role at Highsnobiety is that I’m able to go back into my own history and tell these stories, and they’re still relevant today. Now, I don’t believe that they’re all the same thing but they all stand in the same mantra of plura -- which is this idea of people and unity and respect. That has a massive impact today and that’s why it’s important to tell that story. Because the only document we have of that time were mixtapes with sets, but people's stories were told with rave flyers. Rave flyers are the marker for what it was.

What is it about nostalgic memorabilia that’s so marketable? Why doesn't it just stay in the past? Why do people want to hold onto it?

From the Highsnobiety side and my own work, we find that it’s able to bring context to what is happening now. So, being able to go back into a subculture and say “look, this has had a defining impact on what's happening today and here’s why” and the nostalgia of that is really interesting. I firmly believe that Gen Z is more interested in the story, and considering everything they consume -- they absorb it all and they want to understand where all of this comes from. We never want to be in a place where we look at the youth and say “oh, what you’re doing today we did 10 years ago.” What we can do is show them where it all came from, and credibly share that story with them because we know the people that were there and we were on the ground ourselves. The thing about nostalgia is that it influences what is happening today and that’s key here. It’s not about looking back and simply reminiscing. We just want the past to inform the future so we can keep moving things forward.

Are there popular items or fandoms that exist today that might be revived?

Personally, I’m a collector of everything but I think that portable music players are really interesting. There’s an opportunity to tell a story about how we got to the digital music we have today. That’s just one of the many things we're thinking about here. And we couldn't be more excited to share those stories. But again, they must connect back to what’s happening today. Were not going to tell a story just because it’s cool. we’re going to tell a story only if it can place itself relevantly in the conversation that’s happening now.