Retailer of the Week
14 Dec. 2011
RSVP GALLERY, CHICAGO, USAChicago natives Virgil Abloh and Don Crawley founded RSVP Gallery in 2009 as home for pop art, streetwear and luxury goods. The two world travelers wanted to showcase brands they found in their journeys to fill a void in Chicago by juxtaposing high-end, heavily curated collection pieces with streetwear culture. For example, the store merchandises Just Don snapbacks with Tom Sachs krink sets next to Phillip Lim leather jackets. Conceptually, RSVP Gallery functions as a retail space and a gallery. Here, the two owners and buyer Travis Howard discuss RSVP Gallery’s evolution and appeal. Interview by Christopher Blomquist
Who are the store's “typical” customers?
There aren’t any “typical” customers. We carry such a wide array of items–luxury and street clothing to functional art pieces – that it can’t be narrowed down to a particular demographic. Frequently, we see a lot of Chicago customers, but our global following is huge. We get everyone from junior-high kids looking for next season's BBC, to twenty-something fashionistas searching for the next “it” bag. We have somewhat of a celebrity clientele, and all of their fans along with them.
What are the store’s key fashion brands and items for men and women?
Currently, some of our key brands include Phillip Lim, Christopher Kane and Alexander Wang, along with Ambush, Original Fake and Just Don, to name a few.
How do you find new merchandise and brands for the store? And how do you decide that certain items will be a good fit?
There’s not one specific place we find new brands or merchandise. Our goal is to offer brands and merchandise to people in Chicago that one would most likely only find in Paris or Tokyo. Some of our brands came from employee or customer recommendations; others are brands that Virgil or Don have come across in their work or travels. As far as “good fit,” one of the best parts about our RSVP Gallery is our team with our wide variety of tastes, styles and sensibilities when it comes to store inspiration. We’re all very intuitive and heavily interested in art, fashion and culture. Our opinions, in conjunction with the verbal queues we receive from those who enter the store, give us insight into what’s going to work for the space and what isn’t. Our buyers tend to overlook safe options, and try to bring in intriguing, conversational pieces as invitations for our customers to respond.
Many of the store’s brands have a definite “cool factor.” In your mind, what makes a brand cool?
In our opinion, a brand is “cool” if there is an added factor of interest. It can be small things, like design details. For instance, one of our Phillip Lim jackets is a classic shift silhouette, but the leather sleeves feature braided detailing that’s absent in other leather jackets. Often, we find accessories within brands to be “cool” when they function as both a wearable item and a piece of art. Our Jeremy Scott x Linda Farrow sunglasses serve their purpose as eye protection in the sun, but when they’re sitting in the case, they act as a casually luxe sculpture.
What would you say makes RSVP Gallery especially unique?
The juxtaposition between luxury and street is unfounded in any other space in the world. Though we’re compared to Colette and Dover Street Market, nothing beats the atmosphere and the team behind RSVP Gallery. We're not just an art gallery or a retail space, but rather, a lifestyle and a family. Each member of our team has a specific role. Travis does our buying, Austin does marketing and PR in conjunction with Mack who handles copywriting. Chaz heads the web page while Zach does photography, Kevin works with video and Easy handles all online orders and store management. Without each member playing his or her specific role, RSVP Gallery couldn't function the way it does currently.
How would you describe the overall retail scene in Chicago at the moment?
The retail scene is lacking, and Chicago can definitely offer quality over quantity. Stores alongside RSVP Gallery, like Ikram, Apartment Number 9, Saint Alfred and Blake elevate the retail scene. Our market isn’t saturated with pop-up shops but we have some unique spaces that cater to very specific market niches.
How important are special events to the store?
Special events are crucial to our growth as not only a store but a lifestyle. They’re a way to increase foot traffic in the store, gain exposure and offer a space for like-minded people with similar interests to gather. Our events have ranged from Kid Cudi’s album release party to an Ambush trunk show; both creating tons of hype and excitement. Our most recent event was the Ibn Jasper bracelet trunk show, which was very successful in bringing people to the shop.
Editor’s note: The two owners of RSVP Gallery, Virgil Abloh and Don Crawley, have their own Tumblr/blog pages which are www.virgilabloh.com and deadstockdon.tumblr.com
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