The era of cease and desists is dead: the brands unite and break down the remaining walls between high fashion and the street
With a red Supreme bumbag strapped confrontationally across a model’s chest, yesterday Louis Vuitton unveiled a collaboration set to become fashion legend. Sound like an overstatement? Think about it. Back in 2000, Vuitton issued the New York streetwear stalwart with a cease and desist over some designs which, true to form, put a twist on the French house’s famous monogram. Today, as the lines between high fashion and street culture continue to disappear, as the world rediscovers logomania and as hoodies become a common sight on the runway, the former warring parties have signed a peace treaty and joined forces. It’s 2017, and all bets are off. The rules don’t apply anymore. And that’s kind of a big deal.
While Supreme has previously partnered with the likes of Comme des Garçons and Aquascutum, historically, the relationship between the industry-driven side of fashion and (for want of a better word) the world of streetwear has been one based on taking from rather than working with. Both have borrowed from each other, but while brands like Supreme, Palace, Stüssy have been paramount in a legacy of appropriating and subverting the symbols of high fashion (remember Palace’s Chanel tees?), when it comes to the runways, it’s more of a one-way dialogue. Under big brands, sub-, club-, or street culture can often feel defanged – throwaway references that, beyond the mood board, bear little relevance to the ateliers of whichever designer is producing the stuff. Between both high fashion and streetwear, there’s a sense of mutual dismissal. Fashion is written off as the domain of the privileged and wealthy, while the latter gets put down as nothing more than hoodies and graphic t-shirts.
“James (Jebbia) is a hero of mine” – Kim Jones
Kim Jones, whose familiarity with Supreme dates back decades (and who has his own ties to street and t-shirt culture having previously worked at cult brand slash wholesale agency Gimme 5), certainly doesn’t take this snobbish point of view. “James is a hero of mine,” he said backstage of Supreme founder James Jebbia, revealing that the collaboration had been underway for a year. Taking its main inspiration from New York, the collection blended the best of Vuitton menswear with the city’s silhouettes and icons – baseball caps and shirts, Basquiat-inspired tailoring. Then there was the denim, woven through with both brands’ logos and looking like something you might find on Canal Street rather than Bond Street. “Marc did that years ago for Vuitton,” Jones credited, “but I just thought it was really nice to do. It’s tongue-in-cheek, a bit Dapper Dan, you know? That’s what things are now.”
Of course, there’s an irony in Louis Vuitton doing a collection which openly references infamous bootlegger Dapper Dan, the Harlem icon who found cult fame in the 80s thanks to his DIY designs, crafted from fabric covered in brand logos. He was making Vuitton ready-to-wear before they were – but his repeated thwarting of Intellectual Property rights saw the companies he copied shut down his shop. With the legitimising of his fakes, his inclusion in the official Vuitton canon added a sense of circularity to the story, a seal of approval for the creativity of those appropriators, and the dimensions they’ve added to the famous monogram, for instance.
“I don’t call it streetwear… James wouldn’t call it streetwear either. It’s just menswear now. It’s just modern menswear” – Kim Jones
Despite their differing heritages (1854 Paris versus 1994 downtown New York) Vuitton and Supreme have a lot in common. Both are at the top of their respective fields, ardent perfectionists, experts when it comes to brand image, and with logos so iconic that they have transcended simple communication to become symbolic of aspiration, prestige, and authenticity. No-one serious about their fashion would buy a fake Vuitton bag, and no-one big on their streetwear would be caught dead in knock-off Supreme. And while the budget needed to keep up an LV habit is more than what’s required to shop Supreme’s Thursday drops, they both produce die-hard fans, for whom owning and collecting products is a hobby.
So what does it all mean for fashion? Well, LVMH aren’t rumoured to be taking Supreme off Jebbia’s hands just yet, but the collaboration is seismic. The joining together the world’s most valuable luxury brand with the world’s most iconic streetwear outpost is an act which throws out old ideas of hierarchy, which opens up new possibilities for collaborations in fashion. Thanks to the likes of Vetements, Gosha Rubchinskiy, and even Gucci, the last 18 months have seen a steady erosion of the wall between high fashion and streetwear. This show just tore what was left of it down. What remains? Something new. Menswear for today. “I don’t call it streetwear… James wouldn’t call it streetwear either,” Jones remarked. “It’s just menswear now. It’s just modern menswear and I think that if you look at every collection, you'll see that it's everywhere. It's just what people wear, you know?”