Heron Preston certainly chose a politically charged moment to launch a pricey T-shirt featuring Vladimir Putin looking cool behind sunglasses.
Election meddling, a poisoning attack and the firing of Rex Tillerson were among Russia-related stories making headlines in the U.S. as the American designer was feted in Moscow for his latest collaboration with specialty retailer KM20. What’s more, Russians are to go to the polls on March 18, with Putin considered a shoo-in for his fourth term as president.
“Yeah, there is a mix of emotions and feedback: Some people hate me now and some people really love the T-shirt,” Preston told WWD in an interview on Wednesday. “But I think it comes with the territory of having a point of view and I think that that is what makes a great designer or marketer — to stick with your beliefs and take risks. If I did not take risks, I think life would be a bit boring.”
Preston said he didn’t set out to make a political statement with his design, having noticed during a 2017 trip to Moscow, also for KM20, that souvenir shops often sold Putin T-shirts.
His features his trademark СТИЛЬ logo — “style” in Russian — plus “Mr. President” spelled out in crystals. It retails for $594.
“Honestly, I almost pulled out. I almost did not do it, but my partners from KM20, they’re Russian, they know the market, the landscape so they really encouraged me to go ahead with the idea,” Preston said.
Olga Karput, owner of the trendy boutique, said she was sanguine with the controversial collaboration. “I’m not afraid about the customer reaction because pleasing the audience was never a part of the strategy. KM20 was always the store to surprise and educate the customers, sometimes shocking them,” she said. “I’m quite confident we are doing the right thing.”
Karput noted that Heron Preston ranks among one of its top brands, and that Americans represent the second largest nationality among its tourist clientele after the Chinese.
Earlier in the day, the designer mused on the glut of luxury brands copping streetwear staples, such as hoodies and sneakers, and tactics like drops and logos.
“You see lot of brands popping up and this can eventually bring oversaturation, but I see this as positive,” he said. “People can have the chance to decide what they really want because you have a lot out there. For the brands and designers, it gets challenging to be noticed. I think you need to be smart and a great marketer to get noticed because there is so much s–t out there and the competition is very high. Only if you have great ideas can you penetrate through saturation.”
Karput said “exclusive collaborations with designers when done properly — are the only way a store can actually stand out worldwide. Because otherwise we all just sell the same clothes from the same brands and markup is the only sale driver.”
To be sure, Preston has a soft spot for Russia, and cites an outpouring of support from consumers there on social media. “I feel loved out here. I definitely love to come to Moscow,” he said.
The edgy retailer hosted a store event, private dinner and after party at the famous Denis Simachev bar, where Preston hit the decks.