Been Trill, once a streetwear phenomenon fueled by major social media hype, has fallen out of favor since its peak in 2013. Still, it’s landed a new money-play partnership with Budweiser.
A capsule collection designed by Been Trill for Budweiser and sold exclusively through PacSun launched at the end of June, a three-way partnership far removed from Been Trill’s underground roots. The line includes beer koozies, T-shirts and swim shorts decorated with Budweiser’s logo, priced between $5 and $45.
In its prime, Been Trill sold obscure items at absurd prices — like $100 shoelaces and limited edition graphic tees — which were worn by celebrities like Rihanna, Drake and Big Sean, as well as Kanye West, who incorporated the brand into his first capsule collection with French brand A.P.C. in 2013. Founded by streetwear influencers Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston and Matthew Williams, Been Trill spawned a series of imitators hoping to cash in on the moment that made branded graphic tees a streetwear must-have. Its former collaborators include credible names like Hood By Air, Stussy and Diamond Supply.
While Budweiser declined to comment on its recent collaboration, the new line is an apparent grab for the cool-kid demographic which the beer brand hopes can give it a relevancy boost. The problem is the cool kids have moved on from a brand like Been Trill — and they don’t shop at PacSun, the struggling California surf brand that filed for bankruptcy in April and is being delisted from NASDAQ this month.
“Budweiser is working with outdated information,” said Tim Nolan, ecd at Huge and former contributor for Hypebeast. “How does a 50-year-old creative director get in touch with streetwear culture? His information is going to be two or three marks off target. They wouldn’t have talked to Been Trill three years ago because they would have no idea who they were. They would have been collaborating with some other irrelevant brand that lost its street cred and went mainstream.”
Corporate collaborations with the likes of a Budweiser or Coca-Cola aren’t necessarily a death sentence for streetwear credibility. Budweiser, for instance, partnered with Supreme for a line of limited edition apparel in 2009.
“That worked for Budweiser,” said Adam Wray, the editor of Fashion Redef. “It seemed like there was actual design work that went into it, it was able to play on Supreme’s history of collaborations with iconic American brands, it was sold strictly through Supreme, and that’s what made it work.”
To that end, consumers are able to sniff out when collaborations feel wrong. Supreme’s take on Budweiser apparel felt more appropriate than Been Trill’s design, which Wray said could have been “designed by an intern in under an hour.” Vetements, one of the most talked-about fashion brands of the moment, brought a team of collaborators to its premiere runway show at Paris Couture Week, like Hanes, Levi’s, Juicy Couture and Manolo Blahnik.
“We’ve seen this formula over and over again. What’s interesting is the way Vetements appropriates mass-brand aesthetic for a niche specific-model,” said Ian Schatzberg, president at the agency Wednesday. “But you have to have an interesting point of view. Some brands have become tiresome with their collaborations with brands that don’t actually stand for anything. It’s just more product.”
Today, its founders have moved onto other projects, and it’s not readily clear who’s actually designing for the brand (Been Trill did not respond to requests for comment). Abloh, for his part, is Kanye West’s creative director and founder of his own line, Off White. Heron Preston recently launched HPC Trading Co, an “art objects store” frequently sold through Instagram. Been Trill’s exclusive deal with PacSun, meanwhile, is “the nail in the coffin” and “punchline” for the brand, according to Nolan. In addition to a partnership with Budweiser, Been Trill also designed a line with Coca-Cola in March. On eBay, a hotbed for reselling rare items from streetwear brands, the price for Been Trill tees tops out around $40.
Been Trill may have lost its underground cool credibility in a few short years. But those in the streetwear scene saw it coming.
“The brand really capitalized on their influential network of ‘scene kids’ from back during the Tumblr days, and that caused the brand to explode overnight,” said Julian Thomas, an independent consultant. “The rise and fall of Been Trill tells the story of celebrity-influencer hype and social media. Once the hype dies down and you have nothing else to offer other than heavily branded tees, you can’t go far.”
When Been Trill first announced its partnership with PacSun in 2013, at the time it seemed to making a statement. The brand was still buzzed about, and in a tweet from Abloh announcing the partnership, it declared, “Versace does HnM, Been Trill does PacSun.” The first collection was called #MALLRATZ, a wink-and-nod to the suburbia distribution the brand would be seeing. Now, Been Trill is using PacSun as a platform for its next phase.
“I’m sure they’re aware of PacSun’s troubles, so I expect to see a backup plan out of them,” said Racks Hogan, a musician and streetwear influencer. “Brand collaborations could help a brand like Been Trill in this case, so I wouldn’t use the words ‘sold out.’ It’s an attempt [to explore] options.”