Thirst is a uniquely modern affliction. I’m not speaking of Merriam-Webster’s definition but of Urban Dictionary’s: “1. Too eager to get something 2. Desperate.” Thirst drives much of men’s fashion in 2019. Consider a few examples: the droves of people logging onto the SNKRS app to buy the latest-and-greatest? Thirsty. The dedicated individuals leaving comments, following accounts, haplessly tagging three friends, all to win a raffle? Thirsty! Those buoying their clout with sneakers and box-logo tees bought for way above retail on secondary sites? So thirsty. In that way, it makes sense that in 2019, water—plain old H20—would become the dominion of streetwear brands and designers. All of a sudden, Water for Fuccbois is a viable market. The big question is: when did everybody get quite so thirsty?
Water should be a difficult thing to market. It’s clear and it’s tasteless, and every brand’s product is basically the same as those of all its competitors. “Clear bathtub juice,” Tracy Morgan’s character Tracy Jordan once called it on 30 Rock. That’s a reality Patricia Oliva, global brand VP for Evian, has come to grips with. “At the end, bottled water can be perceived as something that is boring,” she says. So she went about changing that. Naturally, she went to Virgil Abloh.
In December of last year, Evian announced Virgil Abloh as its Creative Advisor for Sustainable Design. A couple of months later, it released a series of limited-edition Soma bottles that came wrapped in silicone printed with the words “Rainbow Inside.” After selling out the first...drop, the brand tweaked the design slightly for a new release. Now the bottle—dropping soon!—reads “Make a Rainbow.” This is in addition to the mini water cooler (named the Renew Dispenser) that was seeded to influential water drinkers, and a “Drip Drop” event in New York where “hydration obsessed fans and fashionistas alike began lining the block early to make sure to get a spot in line,” according to a press release. The Abloh partnership and resulting products rolled out around the same time as an Evian campaign starring downtown cool kid (and Abloh pal) Luka Sabbat.
Evian wasn’t alone. Nalgene, the OG purveyors of reusable water receptacles, was rolling out collaborative bottles with Bape, Travis Scott, and nü-hippie brand Online Ceramics. Jaden Smith launched a boxed water brand that recently partnered with the Soylent of shoes, Allbirds, to release a pair of sneakers. As customers incorporate sustainability into their personal brands, water-bottle companies are finding new things to sell them.
But why streetwear, of all things? Evian’s Oliva tells me that fashion has long been of interest for the brand, starting with a 2008 collaboration with Christian Lacroix. In 2015, Evian worked with Alexander Wang on a slender glass bottle striped with the designer’s logo. The point, Oliva says, is to create the same thing fashion always has, ever since a courtier put a powdered wig on Napoleon: desirability. “We want to be the most desirable and sustainable water brand in the market,” Oliva says. “Desirability is really big with fashion.”
There’s a noble hope baked in here, which is that people will so badly want to carry around their Abloh-designed Soma that they’ll cease buying single-use plastic bottles. (Abloh’s Off-White brand even makes a bottle-carrying chest rig: a CamelBak for people who stand in line for Supreme instead of hike.)
The subtext here might be even more important, though. In a little more than a decade, Evian went from working with French luxury designers to the WhatsApp-ing Abloh—who is also, to be sure, a luxury designer, though of a decidedly different cast. The change speaks to a massive culture shift wherein streetwear has become a dominant force—the collection of brands that, say, enormous global water corporations turn to when they want to give their water some flavor. Think about it: Is there anything less countercultural than water? Probably not. And the fact that streetwear is now so thoroughly sanitized it can stand in as Evian’s branding muscle speaks volumes about how strongly it has been adopted by the mainstream. “In fashion now, the most desirable brands are the streetwear brands,” Oliva says. “That is something that is changing with the new generation and we need to also adapt ourselves to the new language to the new people.”
The result has been a series of collaborations that have sold out just as quickly as anything else touched by Abloh—meaning immediately. The irony, of course, is that now Evian, and companies like it, are left in the uncomfortable position of not being able to satiate the feeling they were built to handle: thirst.