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First Look: Pop-Up Shops

by Ben Bonadies

Photo Courtesy of Twitter (@youngthug)

London’s Camden Market is a sprawling shopping metropolis largely dominated by small, independent stands selling wares ranging from bootleg Thrasher hoodies, bespoke menswear, sneakers of dubious quality and t-shirts with Smiths albums ironed on the front.

Interspersed with the knockoff and the high-end are huge outlet chains like Urban Outfitters and the now-defunct American Apparel, as well as modernly furnished office spaces.

The market is where the bohemian and the corporate co-mingle.

It is reminiscent of Young Thug’s most recent release, 2016’s JEFFERY. The mixtape is filled with an independent spirit, inventive flows and generally steers clear of any of the year’s big sonic trends.

At the same time, however, Thug is a major-label recording artist, and rap icons Gucci Mane, Wyclef Jean and Travis Scott all make appearances. He is the amalgamation of avant-garde hip-hop and the upper echelon of the music industry.

It’s fitting, then, that Thug would choose to Camden to host his “Slimeland” pop-up shop, the three-day event tucked into a hard-to-find but impossible-to-miss location by the market’s Stables entrance.

The shop itself was perched in a lofted retail space, accessible only by a single staircase and manned by two security guards. Signs with “Young Thug” in red death-metal font announced its presence.

On opening day, fans dressed in their hype-beast Sunday best—Yeezys, Supreme, Bape, Vetements—lined up outside and waited for the 11 a.m. opening.

Rapper-backed pop-up shops have never been more in vogue. Frank Ocean opened several around the world to coincide with the release of his Blonde album; Drake opened a few to promote Views; Kanye West had opened some after The Life of Pablo dropped and the demand for Pablo-themed merch exploded.

Even full blown pop stars have ventured into pop-up territory, with artists like Justin Bieber opening one in Miami for his Purpose Tour merch; The Weeknd for Starboy; most recently, Daft Punk.

These store openings, more than anything, follow the trend of increased demand for music-related clothing. GQ has extensive coverage of this movement, cataloguing every musician’s clothing line as it’s released. There is clearly desire among fans to rep their favorite artists on their bodies.

And thus we have Slimeland. The actual clothes themselves are fairly typical streetwear fodder: graphic tees featuring both religious and drug-related iconography, sweatshirts with “THUGGER” written across the front.

Thug has become something of a fashion icon due to his unconventional style choices—recently culminating in him donning a dress on the cover of JEFFERY and dissecting the gender binary in a Calvin Klein ad.

Inside, the store is dimly lit, illuminated only with purple spotlights hanging from the ceiling. Immediately upon entry I was greeted with a floor-to-ceiling banner reading “THUGGER.” On the left of the store are racks of t-shirts and hoodies related to Thug’s recent UK tour with Drake. On the right were the items relating to Young Thug’s fianceé and muse, Jerrika Karlae.

Ultimately, the obvious question remains: is the allure of the pop-up shop?

The exclusive, fleeting nature of the events surely has a lot to do with the trend’s popularity, but it is the closeness to the artist that seems to be the real draw.

Young Thug himself made an appearance at Slimeland on its second day. An employee told me that Thug was scheduled to perform at the shop but cancelled due to fatigue from the previous night’s show opener for Drake at London’s O2 arena.

This artist-fan melding, I think, is where pop-ups gain their true power. They are a tangible embodiment of the music, a physical, wearable extension of their essence.

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