Real and fake, take a 10-block, 10-year walk through the luxury and hype capital of New York City (2013-Current). View Map.
“I see what ya’ll are doing!”
The corner of Prince and Broadway is an entryway into SoHo, and a gathering space, but not one where people stay long.
Except the guy who yells at me when he sees me, even though I always smile and try to avoid him. He is there a decent amount.
There are plenty of busy corners in the city, however this one is built different. Here everyone has their heads up, looking at each other, and the windows.
Each season you watch fashions spread like a virus. At first it’s a few, until everyone is suddenly wearing the same thing. There was the summer where everyone wore t-shirts with animals that looked like them. There was the great Beats headphone takeover, where everyone started wearing chunky headphones instead of the small white Apple ones, and soon after Apple bought Beats.
As I’m writing this, chunky cardigans recently gave way to denim, which gave way to military olive green cargo pants and attire. It’s strange watching viral videos on Twitter from the war in the Ukraine, and then seeing skinny people in military inspired outfits with sunglasses and unforgiving stares.
For the last ten years, about three times a week, I’ve taken photographers and tourists from around the world down a specific stretch of SoHo, a ten block walk, the same exact ten blocks each time. The neighborhood is often quiet on weekdays, getting busier as the days go on and on the weekends. But even the quiet days, if you look enough, will have constant surprises.
Greene Street and Canal Street, the two intersecting streets that primarily make up this story, connect in a symbiotic struggle.
Near the northern end of Greene Street and Prince, is the Louis Vuitton store, a prime destination in itself, basically a museum of Bernard Arnault’s ascent to the becoming the richest person in the world. On the southernmost end of Greene, four blocks down at Canal Street, fake Louis Vuittons line the streets, almost like a gateway to the brand. A first hit.
The buildings themselves are the finest collection of cast-iron buildings in the world, once premiere factory showroom buildings built in the mid-to-late 1800s. Above the storefronts, immigrants originally worked there in sweatshop conditions, then the factories left and artists moved in to massive but derelict spaces beginning in the 50s and into the heyday of the ‘70s. Then the galleries moved in. In the mid 90s the values skyrocketed, and now a majority of the above floors have converted into million dollar gilded spaces.
Yet despite its varied history, fashion and hype have always been at the heart of the neighborhood.
While the idea of hype and exclusivity aren’t new, these photos were taken during the rise of virality and influencer culture, as the idea of luxury and streetwear intertwined, a cultural shift that has been placed on steroids with the speed of social media.
The neighborhood has become a physical manifestation of the consumption and hype culture spreading throughout the web. The buildings Disney clean, with people recording themselves strutting diagonally across the street. Haring and Basquiat collaborations dominate, and a massive gallery called Eden sells equally massive $30,000 tacky Warhol-inspired sculptures. Recently, I saw a pair of Purple Jordans encased in glass on a marble pedestal over a marble warehouse crate.
Last week, at 11am on a random Friday morning, in the rain, were 10 people waiting outside the Bathing Ape store for $95 limited edition shorts. BAPE has lines out front the most often, and sometimes they stretch around the block. The Amiri store a block away sells $350 black t-shirts. I often notice celebrities in the front row of Knicks games wearing Amiri clothing, and see people around Canal Street wearing the knockoffs.
When I see these lines, I usually think of those old depression-era photographs of people waiting on bread lines. Something feels eerily dependent in both.
I’ve started to notice the sneakers people wear, as the lines are often for limited edition shoes. Recently, dad-wear has come in style (coinciding with the rise of the cardigans), and New Balance has made a stunning comeback. For my entire 41 year old life, it was a sneaker only worn by the 40 and up crowd. And now, in a year, the same exact sneaker in exponential varieties, makes up nearly a third of the sneakers in the lines. Recently, Stone Island had a New Balance release, and there was a line of about 30 people outside.
The deeper you look here, the more you search, the more surreal it feels, remnants of rich lives or people trying to feel rich, or feel something.
Once you get to Canal Street, this veneer quickly peels into reality. But the spirit doesn’t. A red neon sign that saysSilencegreets you high up in an apartment window, although the building has just started renovations, so I’m not hopeful for it’s return. I once saw a bare male ass pressed up next to the sign, but I was too far away for a photo.
Under the building and scaffolding, you can buy handbags, watches, sneakers and from jars of weed. A few months ago, police raided the street and filled three truck loads of goods. They said they netted $10 million worth of product, but that ridiculous number would only be true at luxury prices.
Here there is an Origin sneaker store with red ropes creating the feeling of exclusivity. Inside are sneakers wrapped in plastic and selling for multi-hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Directly outside, fake Jordans which would clearly destroy your feet with any relative basketball activity, are spread out on blankets.
On this stretch of Canal sits a Drake’s store, a very hip and popular high-end East London clothing brand that sells $400 scarves and lots of corduroy by a well-dressed young mustached man. Next to it is an old rubber store, an empty storefront that sold expensive streetwear for six months and just went out of business, a few galleries that clearly have short leases, old lighting supply stores, tourist and trinket shops, a few more empty storefronts, a few weed stores, and the sneaker museum.
There is also a sneaker purchaser called Champion Goods, often with lines of people and garbage bags of boxes from their collections. I noticed over the winter, it seems to be a reliable predictor of the economy, as the lines of people selling their pandemic collections reached down the block.
In the old Pearl Paint building, now renovated, is a high-end furniture store with apartments above renting between $8,000-$12,000 a month (2023 prices). Below are fake handbags and a weed shop.
Broadway and Canal, just four blocks south of where we began and much more diverse, is another people watching Mecca, with a wider variety of just as stylish fashion. Everything moves so fast here that people are afraid to stop, unless they are buying bags.
On warm evenings and weekends, spread out on the corner are hundreds of pieces of fake goods with many excited people exploring. In the background, the Woolworth Building overlooks like a familiar friend. Once the tallest building in the world from 1913 till 1930, it now hosts a $79 million penthouse apartment in the spire, which has sat on the market for nearly seven years since its conversion.
Look up the apartment by typing ‘Woolworth Building Penthouse’ into Google. Ironically, the only thing that is probably worth its price in this neighborhood sits unsold.
A final right turn down Cordlandt Alley and you feel like you have come full circle and entered an old world. At 72 Walker Street, a block away from million dollar apartments, is one of the last remaining sweatshop buildings. The entrance teems with activity, as they unload fabric or load up dresses heading uptown for Macy’s. A fascinating mix of dress and dressmakers walk by.
For 10 years, I’ve watching this walk change. Buildings renovated, luxury stores jumping storefronts, fast fashion pushing us all into an unsustainable mess.
Nearly every week, I think to myself, how long can this last? And yet it keeps pulsating, day after day, drop after drop. Just with new shoes on.