Ronnie Fieg has been at the forefront of streetwear and sneaker culture since he launched KITH in 2011. Beyond its reputation for excellent curation, what sets Fieg’s KITH empire apart from the rest is its penchant for collaborations. In this piece, we take a look at Fieg’s most ambitious partnership to date and break down why it’s a masterclass in collaborations at a time when they’re a dime a dozen.
I first met Ronnie Fieg in 2015 at Milanese retailer Slam Jam where he had flown in from New York to present his “Home Field Advantage” collection. It was his first time in the Italian fashion capital and revisiting that conversation now is like watching a Marvel superhero origin story for the first time. While Fieg has always been immersed in the footwear universe—he worked as a stock boy and salesman for New York retailer David Z, his uncle’s footwear chain, eventually becoming a manager and head buyer—it wasn’t until he struck out on his own that his name became inseparable from sneakerhead culture.
Fieg’s early collaborations with ASICS and PUMA helped spark their current role in sneaker culture, putting the heritage brands in the same conversation as Nike and adidas for the first time in years. More importantly, Fieg had the foresight to attach his name to each of these projects, building his own personal brand in the process. Since then, Fieg and KITH have become inseparable, each supporting one another in a dance that’s become familiar over the last decade: the continual blurring between influencer, creator, and retailer.
The Cost of Collaboration
Although 2020 has been an unprecedented year for the retail industry across the board, one thing that’s seemingly remained a constant is the amount of collaborations. Like in previous years, some partnerships make perfect sense, each brand bringing a singular perspective to the table to create something utterly unique, while others read like no more than a cynical cash grab.
Among these, a peculiar trend that’s arisen over the last year and extended well into the era of the pandemic is the amount of high-end streetwear collaborations. Although streetwear has been heading this direction for a while—Supreme x Louis Vuitton could be pinpointed as the moment the floodgates opened in 2017—it’s reached uncharted territory in just the last few months.
As recently as two weeks ago Supreme once again proved its place at the top of the food chain, selling out of $14,000 co-branded Jacob & Co. watches in seconds. While everyday fans expressed astonishment at Supreme’s ability to move five-figure bling in the time it takes you to read this sentence, someone like Fieg who’s been at the center of this culture for years would have seen this coming from a mile away. It’s why his latest collaboration with BMW goes further than anything we’ve yet seen from a streetwear label, demonstrating the strength of his own brands and the culture’s broader infiltration into the furthest reaches of high-end luxury.
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When Doc takes Marty and Jennifer out of 1985 and brings them to the future, how can Old Marty and Old Jennifer (and their family) even be in the future? Wouldn't their disappearance from 1985 instantaneously erase their future? The answer Bob Gale gave is lengthy. But to sum up, he admitted that, yes, they should not exist in the future because of their disappearance in 1985. However, Doc Brown, at the end of Part I says to Marty and Jennifer “Something’s gotta be done about your kids!” Because of this statement that Doc makes, Part II had to show that Marty, Jennifer and their family exist in the future. Gale explains that in the trilogy, time travel to the future “takes you to the most likely future of the moment you left.” This means that based on what the present world contains at the exact moment the DeLorean leaves 1985 (and the “science” of time travel in the trilogy) the most likely future they would travel to is one based on the assumption that Marty, Jennifer and Doc never traveled to the future. It's as if the space-time continuum ignores that they no longer exist — at least from Marty, Jennifer and Doc's perspective in the future.
Hype Grows Up
But how did we get here? Before diving into the specifics of Fieg’s collaboration, let’s take a look at some recent examples of streetwear players adding their personal touch to iconic automobiles.
In February, New York mainstay Aimé Leon Dore introduced a 964 Porsche Carrera 4, outfitting it in it a fully custom interior, featuring Schott sunflower leather and Loro Piana houndstooth, the same materials highlighted in the brand’s Fall/Winter 2020 collection. Longtime Fieg collaborator Daniel Arsham unveiled his own creative twist on a Porsche last Christmas, “eroding” a 2020 Porsche 911. Arsham followed it up with a sculpture edition of a 1986 911 Turbo (930).
Virgil Abloh, the multihyphenate designer whose work has touched everything from Vitra to Evian, got together with Mercedes-Benz to reveal a wild G-Wagen concept. Just last week, legendary Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto unveiled his take on Lamborghini’s blindingly fast Aventador S. Arthur Kar, your favorite celebrity’s personal car dealer, not satisfied with selling just museum-worthy vehicles launched an entire streetwear brand dedicated to the beauty and thrill of the automotive world.
While it’s true fashion and car collaborations are nothing new—Eddie Bauer’s on and off relationship with Ford is something of legend while Fiat’s collaboration with Gucci brought luxury appeal at accessible prices years ago—it’s the speed and suddenness at which the streetwear world has merged with automobiles that’s potentially game-changing.
On paper it all makes sense. Streetwear might have been the medium all of these creatives entered the business world with but that doesn’t mean their interests are limited to what fits in a closet. They’re each now at an age where they’re looking towards the finer things in life and have the disposable income to afford them. More importantly, they’re in a position to lend their creative input to brands that are household names but that have had trouble differentiating themselves in a world that is increasingly about cultural credibility and less about performance or specs. That’s where Fieg has outdone everyone.
Started From Sneakers Now We Here
As Fieg’s retail and brand empire grew, so did his network, spanning both corporations and cultural influencers over the last 10 years. The former includes collaborations with everyone from Coca-Cola and Captain Crunch to Mickey Mouse and the Rugrats, each an authentic expression of Fieg’s personality and interests.
The latter is where Fieg’s brand has become almost inescapable. Tabloid favorites like Justin Bieber and Bella Hadid are regularly spotted wearing KITH products, while athletic superstars like LeBron James and Victor Cruz have personally modeled Fieg’s garms.
It’s the combination of the two, alongside his mastery of social media and the emerging overlap of streetwear and cars that set Fieg up for easily the most impressive collaboration of 2020. Fieg’s personal Instagram provides the best recap.
The Play By Play
On October 6, Fieg posted a photo of his aunt standing in front of his grandfather’s 1979 E21 320i. As intended, that post got the rumor mill churning, although paling in comparison to what would come.
The next day Fieg posted a photo of BMW’s iconic emblem with the word “KITH” in place of “BMW.” It was clear something big was on the way. Comments from Fieg’s inner circle poured in, from Daniel Arsham and Sean Wotherspoon to Bobby Hundreds and Victor Cruz. The photo soon made its way around the streetwear world, appearing on the biggest magazines in anticipation of something major.
The following day Fieg kept at it, posting a 1:18 scale die-cast replica of a 1989 E30 M3. By now it was clear to just about everyone paying attention what was about to be shown. Three days later, on October 11, Fieg quite literally lifted the veil on the real-life version of the replica he had shown just days before. Luxury jeweler Ben Baller captured the sentiment best: “This is a different kind of FLEX 💪🏽”
Over the next three days, Fieg would continue to detail the collaborative car on his personal account. At the same time, the KITH Instagram finally broke its silence, laying the groundwork for its part in the rollout while placing Fieg at the center of the partnership.
On the last day of the three-day onslaught another surprise awaited: a 2021 BMW M4 “Design Study” by KITH. Fieg’s post showed the car against a backdrop of the New York skyline, while KITH’s post went into the details of the car in image and copy, notably writing: “Both of these models are one-of-one and will not be for sale. There is more to come from KITH for BMW 2020. Stay tuned.”
From October 18-22, KITH did what it does best, trickling new product and release information surrounding the collaboration daily. Fieg shared one more video during this period, on October 21, a behind-the-scenes of the fabrics used in the 2021 M4.
The following day, October 23, is the date that will live on in streetwear history. Showing the 2021 M4 in full on his personal Instagram account and KITH’s (different assets and copy appearing on either channel), Fieg went deeper into the story than he had previously, explaining the entire collaborative process and the major changes made to the car. What set these posts over the edge was the second to last sentence in both iterations, revealing for the first time that 150 units of the car would actually be produced and made available for sale on BMW’s website and kith.com.
The Collab Heard—and Sold Out—Around the World
Up until this point, the boundaries of streetwear’s influence had felt relatively defined. It was common knowledge that Supreme could slap its logo on just about any product, including, memorably, a literal brick, and sell out of it within minutes.
If Fieg’s collaboration with BMW proved successful, however, selling even just a handful of cars, it would mark a considerable inflection point in streetwear’s trajectory. So when the 2021 BMW M4 “Design Study” by KITH went up for sale on October 23 11am EST at a starting price of $110,245, all eyes were on the two brands to see what might happen.
Stunning to some and entirely predictable to others, all 150 cars were sold in under an hour, likely the most expensive products ever sold on a webshop built on Shopify. It was the final flourish to a masterful campaign that lasted 18 days and that emboldened Fieg’s network every step of the way.
It’s the crowning achievement of a person who understood the importance of culture and authenticity from day one, grinding away week after week and leveraging every resource available to demonstrate that streetwear is far more than just clothing—it’s a set of values.
Something Greater This Way Comes
Back in 2015 when I first met Ronnie, I asked him about opening a hotel one day, something I’d heard he’d wanted to do through the grapevine. He didn’t hesitate to say there was truth to the rumor but wouldn’t divulge much more.
Although Fieg’s hotel dreams remain just that, dreams, his collaboration with BMW and the flawless execution from concept through to release have shown that he’s among the most ambitious and innovative voices working in the industry today.
A sense of one-upsmanship has been pervasive throughout streetwear history, largely mirroring a similar trend in hip-hop and other facets of street culture such as breakdancing and graffiti. In the case of Fieg, the only person left to one-up is himself.
All images courtesy of KITH and BMW.