NAME: Christian Barker
OCCUPATION: Brand Director, Hellman Retail Group
STYLE: Primed for the Metaverse
How has working with Chuck Hellman influenced the way you dress?
I never expected my career to take a direction in fashion, but that’s the fun part about the unexpectedness of life. You can’t help but acquire a taste for formal fashion when you’re surrounded by it. Chuck is a master of menswear and has created a space unlike anywhere else in the city. Our store is a fashion playground that I get to experiment with daily. New pattern, color, or fabric combinations leave me with endless looks to try. On top of that, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to own high-end custom suits in my early 20s.
You’re the brain behind the Hellman Retail Group’s TikTok, which, at last check, had more than 4 million followers. What’s the story there?
When the pandemic hit, it challenged the way we thought as a retail store. We didn’t know if people would be back in stores shopping again so we knew we had to adopt an aggressive digital strategy to keep our business alive. TikTok was discredited by many. That’s an app for kids. You’re posting dancing videos? It was strange to see a luxury men’s store on TikTok. However, the criticism was worth it when we were able to keep our doors open post-pandemic. Chuck and I had a clear vision and we weren’t afraid to try new things. It took no convincing—Chuck was a natural in front of the camera. So we downloaded TikTok, posted our first video, and the rest is history. Once we discovered a formula that worked for us, we doubled down and challenged what being a fashion brand could mean. By combining fashion with culture, we tapped into a very special niche that allowed us to pump out hit after hit. In fact, every video we’ve posted in the past year has over 1 million views, with some as high as 37 million-plus—a rare statistic for any TikTok account, let alone one run by a small business.
You’ve debuted dozens of themed suits on TikTok, inspired by everything from Naruto to Squid Game. Do you have a favorite? Where do these ideas come from?
Our channel is based 100 percent off our community—something we’re very proud of. Fans comment their favorite ideas from movies, games, TV shows, etc. We sort through thousands of comments every video to pick something fresh and exciting. Once we have an idea, we cultivate the elements of the suit and then Chuck and I craft the final look together. My favorite suit we’ve ever created is Iron Man. It’s a beautiful Italian tuxedo with an arc reactor tie and a repulsor pin. With a little editing and special effects, you can really picture Tony Stark wearing the suit!
We have to ask…how did you pull off the collab with Oneya D’Amelio (Angry Reactions) last spring?
We have a lot of people reach out to us for collaborations. We don’t take many, but when we do, they’re special. We loved Oneya’s message of positivity and love, and when he reached out we knew it had to happen. Not to mention, he looked great in the custom suit.
The Hellman Retail Group just announced—at least from what we’ve seen on social media—a venture into the metaverse. Tell us about this plan to launch NFTs in suit form.
Just like our venture into TikTok, we challenge ourselves daily to innovate how the world thinks about fashion. Our launch into the Metaverse is our biggest project yet. [It’s called] Metaluxe. We are here to make fashion cool again. Our vision is to create digital suits you can wear in augmented and virtual reality. We’re bringing the same excitement and creativity we’ve demonstrated on TikTok into the next era of the internet. NFTs are the ownership verification tool, but the technology bringing these suits to life through AR and VR is much bigger and a real innovation in this space.
How would you describe your own personal style?
My personal style is versatile, sophisticated, and fun. I tend to keep things neutral with pops of color. I style my wardrobe around essential pieces that work year-round with easy transitions from day to night. Whether I’m dressing formally or going out with friends, I wear things that make me feel good.
What’s your go-to piece for a night out?
My go-to piece for a night out is a layered look topped with a conversation starter—usually a fun sweater or great pair of shoes.