From Gosha Rubchinskiy and VETEMENTS to Nasir Mazhar and Off White, today’s designers are eluding traditional categorisations
When it was announced at the tail end of last year that burgeoning streetwear brand Stüssy would mark its 35th anniversary with a collaboration with Comme des Garçons’ seminal Dover Street Market, the irony would not have been lost on Shawn Stüssy. It was a partnership that seemingly reflected the merging worlds of streetwear and high fashion, with the differences between each slowly becoming indistinguishable. This shift was something Mr Stüssy himself had predicted nearly two decades prior – and, ultimately, contributed to his departure from his eponymous brand. For Stüssy, merging his street-led sensibilities with a more challenging type of design was the future – his colleagues at the time did not agree.
Today, the lines between the runway and what we know as “streetwear” are blurred beyond nearly all recognition. Increasingly, the most exciting catwalk creations feature elements that one might class as streetwear – from Gosha Rubchinskiy’s youthful post-Soviet wares and VETEMENTS’ oversized, Thrasher-influenced hoodies, to Nasir Mazhar’s tailored tracksuits and Cottweiller’s exacting sportswear vision. Increasingly, high fashion’s reference points are becoming intertwined with the raw, visceral nature of street culture. As evidenced by the skateboarding model in Gucci's SS16 campaign, the low and the high are finding new, unexpected way to coexist.
Of course, borrowing inspiration from the street and translating it onto the runway is nothing new. Yves Saint Laurent repeatedly took what he witnessed on the streets of Paris and filtered it through his own, unique vision – something Hedi Slimane would later evoke as a defence of his thrift-shop aesthetic at Saint Laurent. And, more recently, Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy has taken streetwear staples, like the humble graphic t-shirt and backpack, and made them his own by upscaling them with craftsmanship that comes of being a historic French fashion house.
The relationship goes both ways. More and more, we are seeing high fashion’s influence becoming apparent within the sphere of brands one would typically associate with skate kids and sneakerheads – even if this young consumer has little more than a fleeting interest in what appears at London Collections: Men or on the runways of Paris Fashion Week. Again, Stüssy has embodied this shift in the past year, from tongue-in-cheek appropriation to conceptual fashion design. While their much-loved double S motif – which first appeared in the mid-90s, as a cheeky homage to Chanel – channelled a certain high-fashion spirit, 2015 saw the Californian label collaborate with Central Saint Martins student Kiko Kostadinov on a capsule collection that was almost couture-like in its detailing and execution. In the process, it showed a desire for brands of that ilk to transcend their categorisation. And Kostadinov’s collection sold out almost instantly – it would seem that the average streetwear customer now demands something more conceptual, more challenging, than a simple logo-flip served up on a t-shirt.
“...it would seem that the average streetwear customer now demands something more conceptual, more challenging, than a simple logo-flip served up on a t-shirt”
Off White’s Virgil Abloh is another designer who has made the leap from printed cotton creations to spliced tailoring and oversized outerwear. Abloh, in recent seasons, has exhibited a willingness to not only develop as a designer, but to also eschew categorisation, creating captivating narratives to surround each collection, while also collaborating with New York teenager Asspizza. In turn, he has cemented his position as one of the most exciting new faces on the Paris menswear schedule. His most recent SS16 men’s collection was his most conceptual to date, but his influences were apparent – the Royal Mail patches which appeared throughout were undeniably Raf Simons-esque. His friend and frequent collaborator Kanye West showed a similar attitude in his recent Yeezy collections, riffing on the past creations of Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela (as well as some more subtle Raf references).
Indeed, Mr Simons has become somewhat of a demi-god within streetwear’s new wave of designers and aficionados. The Belgian’s blend of bold graphics and intriguing silhouettes has become a source of inspiration for several emerging brands. Labels such as 424 – the in-house offering of LA-based retailer FourTwoFour on Fairfax – Samuel Ross’s A-COLD-WALL* (who regularly collaborates with Abloh and West) and Shane Gonzales’ Midnight Studios have all exhibited Raf-like tendencies in recent seasons, whilst blending them with more familiar elements of streetwear and, quite often, a dose of unflinching nihilism. One only needs to look to the swathes of Ian Connor disciples across the internet for further evidence of these merging scenes, where Supreme and Palace can sit comfortably alongside vintage Helmut Lang and Comme des Garçons.
But what precipitated this co-dependency of these once disparate worlds? It would be easy to claim that the internet’s democratising effect is to blame – and it may be to some extent – however, it’s far more likely that this is simply a natural progression within the broad, multi-faceted world of fashion. Designers are, after all, products of their environment and culture. Today, high fashion’s most exciting new designers were not raised on a diet of runway presentations – grime, concrete Soviet tower blocks, football tracksuits, skate parks and printed t-shirts are all much likelier reference points. These cultural cues are vastly different from the generation that went before them, and it shows in what they send down the runway. It’s why Nasir Mazhar’s shows are imbued with a sense of London-centric authenticity, and it’s why Gosha Rubchinskiy can reference Tommy Hilfiger on a t-shirt.
“Today, high fashion’s most exciting new designers were not raised on a diet of runway presentations – grime, concrete Soviet tower blocks, football tracksuits, skate parks and printed t-shirts are all much likelier reference points”
The result is a world where high-fashion designers will reference streetwear brands will employ the techniques that you’d typically associate with Fuct, and where brands you’d expect to offer graphic t-shirts are releasing oversized MA-1s and transparent fishtail parkas. Increasingly, brand categorisations are being rendered benign, as conceptions about fashion design are slowly dismantled.
This paradigm was something Raf Simons alluded to in his recent interview with System magazine, just prior to leaving Dior.“Fashion became pop,” he told Cathy Horyn. “I can’t make up my mind if that’s a good or a bad thing. The only thing I know is that it used to be elitist. And I don’t know if one should be ashamed or not to admit that maybe it was nicer when it was more elitist, not for everybody. Now high fashion is for everybody." It would seem he is right. High fashion is now for everyone, from skate-rats to Central Saint Martins alumni, and there are perhaps few others that have aided this acceleration more than the Belgian himself. While his implication seems to be that this democratisation is a negative, I’m not so sure.