Curation is the New Status Symbol

by Corey Malley

Your mom probably knows what a flex is at this point.

Many anthropologists have spent centuries of study identifying the primal and societal needs we as humans go through to prove we have risen above scarcity, thus making us desirable partners. I'll leave that stuff to them.

My domain lands solely within hip hop and street culture, where flashing, flexing, and stunting were how you proved you were that guy - the one everyone wanted to be - and thus worthy of attention, admiration, and status amongst your peers.

Lil Wayne did it like his (metaphorical) Daddy, G-Unit taught me how to do it, Rae Sremmurd told me where not to.

I entered the fashion industry at the time designer fashion became the flex du jour, working within luxury sneakers, that were actually pretty uncomfortable. The shoe was designed to immediately command attention while referencing the ultimate women's status symbol, the Hermes Birkin Bag. This era kicked of the "High Fashion" movement in hip hop that we're still living through. One where status symbols were defined by COST. I can spend $1500 on shoes, you can't, etc. etc.

It broke the containment of rap and spilled into sport, actors, social media personalities, video gamers, tween dancers, and even Celine Dion.

But despite the rapid growth, this isn't totally new. As the genius W. David Marx notes in his book Status & Culture, this is simply the behavior of the new money class. Get some cash and flash it on expensive things, attempting the recreate the implied goodwill that being born to a generationally wealthy family would normally provide. "Logomania" as this industry now calls it became massive for the flexing class. A huge Balenciaga logo on a fleece jersey hoodie suddenly did the work of a couture dress for the masses - immediately conveyed wealth and status.  But it was starting to feel different - Old Money™ was jumping in too. 

This all hit a supernova during the pandemic, where our lives were immediately flattened into algorithmic feeds and stunting required immediate brand recognition. Brands like Gallery Department exploded - an easily recognizable logo coupled with tight distribution made it both covetable and recognizable seemingly overnight, despite being around for 5 years beforehand. 

No brand saw the effect more than Chrome Hearts. The ultimate American luxury brand, the company went from nascent biker luxury for those in the know to a household name for anyone with more than 6hrs of screen time per day. They were selling $5,000 jeans and making your feel grateful for the privilege. The unmistakable leather cross started filling feeds with implied excess - not just for having the cash, but for getting selected to buy them. Entire Instagram accounts were created to celebrate collectors new and old. Rappers were naming songs after them. We were all bearing witness to The Chrome Wars.

But like all wars, the participants were escalating to a point of mutually assured destruction. Lil Uzi Vert went Oppenheimer at Coachella 2024, hitting the stage with a Chrome Hearts-customized Hermes Birkin Himalaya. Getting the rarest Birkin ever made customized by a notoriously selective brand at the height of its awareness is the pinnacle. Where do you go from here?

Uzi's bag serves as my catalyst to put to words what I've been thinking for a long time: Curation is the New Flex.

The Flex Economy™ brought more people than ever into the designer fashion world. Paris Fashion Week is now a clout festival, a milestone on a wishlist for countless influencers-in-development. My extended family member - an eigth grader in Amarillo, Texas - asked for Balenciagas for Christmas. There's a server farm somewhere in Oklahoma just to hold the hours of content created sharing links to convincing DH Gate Knockoffs.

Not only does everyone know what every luxury brand is, we can't even trust that what we see people wear is real. 

Won't someone think of the NBA players? Where are they to turn?

Answer: Curation.

This has been bubbling in tandem with flexing. Accounts like Hidden.NY kicked off the IG moodboard wave, emerging as a source of well-curated content - a simultaneous implication of taste and archive of cultural importance. It launched thousands of others, each mimicking the format for ever-specifying niches; hiking gear, Nigo-era BAPE, cars with green paint. 

But they're media platforms now, not arbiters of Taste. Hidden posts Kanye PR flack and sells t-shirts. Hiking Patrol collaborates on hiking shoes. Mood board curator is now a step in a business plan. Everyone has the same "taste", so no one really has it.

That's where my proposition comes in. The true flex will be the proper curation of these "tastes" and "references" - demonstrating not just awareness, but intention for each selection. It's not about curating the "right" things, it's about curating YOUR things, and with such conviction that it's attractive to others.

You can't just wear a vintage band tee anymore, you need to have a distinct memory of what that album meant to you. The lime green Virgil Coffee Table Book isn't doing the heavy lifting any more.

So how can brands use this? Glad you asked.

You have to authentically care. Show us why you do this. Build a world of personal meaning. Don't worry about the reception or if it's the "right" album, just stick to it being YOUR album. In an era where everything is already algorithmically suggested to us with the Power of AI!! (not real), a human collection of things breaks the ice.

This is where a brand like Bode - though not for me - has excelled and differentiated to commercial success. Emily has crafted worlds and garments that don't seem to reference a moment or a logo or an unjustified price point. A Cord jacket represents what's important to the wearer. I've yet to see a bespoke one that looks like it could've been the product of a data-informed design team. They were not checking for the Jollibee logo.

I'm hoping the Post-Flex Society™ leads to more real representation from brands and the people behind them. Otherwise, you can take a look at the market to see where flexing will get you. 

 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published