Where Sweats Are Cinched and Air Jordans Are Art

Where Sweats Are Cinched and Air Jordans Are Art


For a street wear mega-brand, Kith is pretty niche: Either you’ve stood outside of it clamoring for a newly released sneaker, or you’ve never heard of it in your life. Until last week, I sometimes confused it with Kitson, the defunct Los Angeles department store that was an early aughts paparazzi hot zone (think Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears). My point: Kith’s lore was not designed to reach me. The label’s motto is “Just Us,” so I came to find out: Us who?

Kith’s founder, Ronnie Fieg, 32, opened two sneaker shops six years ago, and has since replicated his mastery of the sneaker drop to make clothing drops, sometimes even sock drops, that his customers believe are worth lining up for. As a teenager, he worked for the sneaker retailer David Z, founded in 1983 by David Zaken, Mr. Fieg’s second cousin. Legend has it that Mr. Fieg asked Mr. Zaken for a job as a stock boy for a bar mitzvah present. By 25, he was head buyer.

A tube installation of plaster casts of Air Jordan 1s.CreditJennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

It seems sneaker heads have a taste for entire outfits, and sometimes even candles (the ones in Kith smell like a mojito or ash). At the label’s spring 2018 runway show — its second, under the name Kith Sport — the clothes included collaborations with Champion, Adidas Football (jerseys with the Chase Bank logo), Coca-Cola, Nike, Bergdorf Goodman and Disney. LeBron James was one of the models. In this business model, every release is a once-only event; time is marked with these brand unions, and the more unexpected, the more appealing.

Not many companies could open a three-story brick-and-mortar store in the current retail climate. Kith’s new flagship on Lafayette Street is impressive and, even on a Tuesday, crowded. For young men who wear ankle-cinched sweatpants, Kith is the hive. It’s also an example.

During the last weekend of October, Barneys New York held an event called thedrop@Barneys, a super-pop-up with more than 30 exclusive capsule collections and appearances by designers including Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God. It felt like Barneys’ attempt to give itself a weekend as Kith, which carries almost all of the labels the pop-up boasted.

Off-White is among the labels carried at Kith.CreditJennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

On Oct. 3, Mr. Fieg asked Twitter what he should call his new store. “Kith World?” he wrote. “Not sure what to call the new building.”

Seth Rogen replied with options: “Kithtropolis. Kithstanbul. Kitheopia. Kithneyland.”

Kithneyland is accurate. People pick out a very particular outfit with a lot of signifiers to go and stand in a line.

The space was designed by the Snarkitecture firm, and once you’re inside (I didn’t have to wait, but my editor was confronted with a wraparound), you’ll find a tube installation that’s like a Yayoi Kusama infinity room, except here the infinite is represented by white plaster casts of Air Jordan 1s. ’Gram gold. The first things that caught my eye were snugly red checkered pieces by Fear of God. A plaid robe looks ready for a family Christmas card ($1,295). There are cinched sweats to match ($995).

“Just Us” seem to really need comforting. Everything in the store is insanely soft and enticingly droopy (except on the women’s floor, where among many things is a selection of thong leotards by Alix for $195). A rack of pieces by Greg Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s nephew, are all weathered flannels ($395), destroyed hoodies ($1,066) and distressed khaki jackets sewn together into an aesthetic that’s essentially Burning Man hygge. The bleach-splattered shirts are called “Studio Shirts.” The Kith man definitely texts anyone he can: “sorry was in the studio.”

On the second floor, shoes shelved against the store’s enormous windows look like they’re floating in the cityscape. There’s also an in-store ice cream stand, Kith Treats. You’re not allowed to carry a cone near the shoes, but the menu offers various mixes of soft serve and cereal designed by the label’s most-admired figures. They’re all men. Dudes like the Viceland TV host Action Bronson, the BMX rider Nigel Sylvester, the football player Victor Cruz and the artist Daniel Arsham have all created their own combinations of Rice Krispies, mini-marshmallows and the like.

I can’t go on without saying that for the first 30 minutes I was in the store, no one spoke to me. I was even wearing Alexander Wang x Adidas cinched sweatpants. My partner and I stood holding a pair of shoes at the shoe wall while a cluster of four salesclerks stood around and, surreally, kept greeting each other. We stood for a chorus of high-fives and several rounds of secret handshakes before we gave up. I like to think they’re still standing there, a glitch in the Matrix, forever saying hi to one another.

Women’s garments and accessories.CreditJennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

Upstairs, in the women’s section, I initiated, asking to try on a Helmut Lang by Shayne Oliver blazer ($645) and a SJYP ($926) denim coat. The blazer was brilliant; it zipped up the back and held me like a compression sock. I was tempted to buy it, but I’ve just moved, so I’ll have to wait.

On each floor are racks with magazines and art books about male artists including Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring and Basquiat. Kith also has an art gallery, Arsham/Fieg Gallery, on the second floor, which currently showcases work by a male artist who makes sculptures out of skateboard decks. I have a proposal: a Judy Chicago-style installation in the gallery, but instead of a dinner party, make it a shoe wall. The shoes? The same women represented in the Chicago piece, each with her own collaborative sneaker. Just an idea. Call me.

As we left, a woman in a red hoodie smiled at us and said, “Hi.”

Kith 337 Lafayette Street, 646-648-6285; kith.com

Space The design firm Snarkitecture (whose name comes from a Lewis Carroll poem, not mocking irreverence) chose clean, metallic details and concrete floors to make the store feel stylishly chilly. Fitting, then, that there’s an in-house ice cream shop.

Service There’s often a line out the door, so the sales staff expects you know why you’re there. If you have a nephew who is Instagram famous, bring him along for best service.

Prices Streetwear is always a surprise. It’s easy to spend a grand on sweatpants, but no one’s making you. Kith fans collect collaborative tees and sneakers as if they are artworks. The story feels more important for them than the price.

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