Five hours before its opening, Justin Bieber fans had already begun forming a line that wrapped around the block to get into the artist’s VFiles pop-up shop in New York. Inside the Soho store, the otherwise sparse space was stocked with merchandise promoting Bieber’s Purpose tour in the form of T-shirts, sweatpants and hoodies that borrow from the sartorial world of French fashion brand Vetements and riff on the graphics of heavy-metal band Pentagram.
In staging this pop-up, Bieber joins the ranks of Drake, whose pop-up gave out free T-shirts in promotion of his album Views last month, and Kanye West, whose pop-up for The Life of Pablo allegedly brought in $1 million in sales. Bieber’s iteration features 14 different styles of clothing ranging from $30-$360 in price, with select styles — including a quickly sold-out T-shirt emblazoned with “Brooklyn” to commemorate the shows Bieber is playing this week at Barclays Center — being exclusively debuted at VFiles and not available online.
Merchandise for both Bieber and West is handled by Bravado, the merchandising arm of Universal Music. CEO of Bravado Mat Vlasic observes that, while fashion merch for musicians isn’t necessarily more important now than it has been in the past, the growing influence of fashion means there’s currently a “heightened awareness” of it. He also notes that these kinds of retail setups, while seemingly trendy at the moment, have to be a natural extension of who the artist is in order to be effective.
“I think it works well for anyone who has a really dedicated fanbase that wants to be part of the artist’s cultural movement,” Vlasic says.
It’s clear that the crowd gathered outside VFiles on day 2 of the Bieber pop-up is made up of fans who are just that. It includes longtime Beliebers hoping for a glimpse of Justin himself, like front-of-the-line fan Courtney.
“I’m a die-hard Bieber fan,” the 20-something says. “I was at his concert last night. I basically cried.” A VFiles employee comments that on Wednesday, when Justin made an appearance at the shop, fans did in fact cry.
Other shoppers, though, represent a slightly different — though no less dedicated — demographic. One young man near the front of the line says that he came to VFiles after the Supreme drop earlier in the day turned out to be “a disaster,” putting the “What Do You Mean” star’s merch on par with one of the buzziest streetwear brands in the game. Wearing Yeezys and The Life of Pablo merch, these fashion-focused “hypebeasts,” as they’re known online, seem to be as excited about Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo, who collaborated on Justin’s tour looks and merch (and also made an appearance at the store yesterday), as they are about Bieber himself.
Vlasic sees this growing, predominately male demographic as a positive thing. “That’s an unbelievable opportunity for Justin to grow his support base, which is already huge to begin with. If this is the medium to bring in more male fans, then that’s great.”
Bravado oversees merchandise of all stripes for its artists, from tea towels to keychains. Vlasic notes that getting physical objects of any kind into the hands of fans is an increasingly important part of marketing in an age where music is almost all digital. Still, he acknowledges that clothing continues to exert a particular pull on fans.
“Fashion is a natural way for people show their identity and communicate who they are,” he says. “It’s an important part of extending the lifestyle brand of the artist, and that’s why these pop-ups are having such success.”
All photos courtesy of VFiles