Ask three different people what ‘streetwear’ means and you’ll get five different answers. It’s what surfers wore in the seventies. It’s what skaters wear now. It’s hoodies. It’s sneakers. It’s joggers with a blazer. It’s anything you see people wearing in Brooklyn, or Shoreditch, or Kreuzberg.
Increasingly, it’s also a cash cow for luxury labels, for whom a signature sneaker is now almost as important as an ‘it’ bag. And this new commercial clout means streetwear is now everywhere. Its most high-profile acolytes have ascended to three of the biggest chairs in fashion: Kim Jones at Dior Men; Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton men’s; and Riccardo Tisci at Burberry. Together, they’ve built a dialogue with OGs like Stüssy and Carhartt, as well as second-wavers like BAPE and Supreme, that’s seen luxury draw from – and in turn inspire – pure streetwear brands.
At its best, it’s a conversation based on mutual respect and creative risk-taking. LV’s internet-breaking hook-up with Supreme in 2017, or Palace’s recent collaboration with Ralph Lauren, show how brands with authentic overlaps can create something fresh. But these are exceptions. Streetwear’s rise means everyone wants a piece, and more often it can feel like everyone’s ripping off everyone else.
Palace x Polo Ralph Lauren
‘Drop’ culture has become so common that there’s a hyped limited-edition sneaker appearing every week. Some believe that dilutes the exclusivity, not of any one release, but the market in general. It could lead to an odd situation where supply for hard-to-get streetwear outstrips demand.
“It’s become lazy,” says Chris Morency, editor-at-large at Highsnobiety. “You get these luxury companies adopting just the products – the sneakers, the anoraks – and putting their logos on it.” It’s an approach that works commercially but ignores the less tangible – and most enduring – elements of streetwear culture. “Community matters. Brands like Stüssy and BAPE and Carhartt will never go away because they’ve built a community with the people who buy their product.”
Barring some fairly drastic shifts, those founding fathers will keep carrying the torch, even when luxury eventually moves on. The athletic giants are also keen to keep people in sportswear. Which is why there are two sides to any conversation about whether the streetwear bubble’s due to burst.
“You have grandparents wearing sneakers all the time, they’re wearing hoodies,” says Morency. “It’s got so deep into culture that it’s not going to evaporate that quickly.” Though streetwear boomed on the backs of millennials, their parents have adopted it for the same reasons it originally appealed to surfers and skaters – comfort and affordability, not aesthetics.
But at the bleeding edge, looks count. And there’s only so many times you can send logo hoodies down a runway before people start questioning the emperor’s wardrobe choices. “I think that instead of seeing an ‘end of streetwear’, we’ll see it feed into other movements and them all interact with each other,” says Max Berlinger, who writes about fashion for New York, GQ and the New York Times. “If you look at Kim’s Dior collection, Virgil’s Louis Vuitton collection, even Ricardo’s Burberry collection, there’s this fusion of streetwear and tailoring.”
For now, though, expect luxury to step down quicker than the street steps up. By 2025, 43 per cent of luxury fashion will be bought by millennials and gen Z (that’s anyone born after 1981, fact fans). Streetwear is a two-pronged attack on their wallets. Firstly, it reflects how they actually dress. Second, it creates space for semi-accessible luxury – the £200 T-shirt, the £300 joggers – which act as a gateway to, they hope, four-figure coats and five-figure luggage.
If 18-year-olds are wearing sneakers and sweatshirts, luxury brands are going to keep making them. But, says Morency, you’ll see street-inflected spins on their more traditional product categories. “It’ll be suiting, good leather goods, but adopted for a younger consumer.” Think the rollercoaster-belt buckles on Dior Homme’s saddle bags (a collab with Matthew Williams, founder of hyped brand Alyx) or the puffer holdalls at Abloh’s latest Louis Vuitton show. “These are product categories that are not historically connected with street or youth culture, but they bring it into a new age so it becomes appealing.”
The tastes of millennials are also reflected in the figures who now front luxury campaigns. That streetwear’s usurpation of notoriously white luxury houses has come as hip hop has ousted rock music from the charts is no coincidence. Rappers drive the fashion conversation and they’ve done so by mixing high-fashion with streetwear. Rap created a space in which £600 sneakers could not only exist, but thrive. “If you look at Valentino, and even where Gucci has taken it, I think we can even see a lot of the eighties and nineties hip-hop influence,” says Berlinger.
So no, don’t expect the streetwear bubble to burst in 2019. The AW19 runways weren’t light on hoodies and sneakers were as prevalent as ever, even if dress shoes did enjoy a resurgence, albeit in chunkier shapes. But it’s also clear that streetwear’s growing up. At Noah, founded by ex-Supreme creative director Brendon Babenzien, skatewear sits alongside loose blazers and rugby shirts. Prada’s most recent collection blended nylon sportswear with tailoring. And at DIY brands like Cactus Plant Flea Market and Online Ceramics, streetwear’s basics feel brand new again.
“They’ve got this skater T-shirt energy that’s blowing up out in LA,” says Berlinger. “These weird things that almost feel like art projects, they feel like kids in their basements screen-printing T-shirts, tie-dyeing them themselves and not making any money. I don’t even know if it’s streetwear, but if it is then it feels like this weird, next-level, personalised version.”
“I don’t think streetwear will fade at all. Luxury houses will always follow where that young consumer goes. If they decide to only wear suiting and tailoring, that’s where luxury will head. I don’t think they’re looking at streetwear as the future of these luxury houses, they’re looking at how young people are dressing now and this is just how young people dress today. It might be different tomorrow and they’ll evolve with that.” – Chris Morency
“I think that for some core, insidery fashion people, they’re getting a little tired of the streetwear phenomenon. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the case abroad or in the mainstream. There’s still some legs there. I don’t think we’re going to see it end in the next two years, three years.” – Max Berlinger
“The juggernaut is not slowing down anytime soon. Luxury brands will continue to co-opt looks, influencers, marketing strategies and more from the world of streetwear, as they have been doing for decades. And at the same time, streetwear brands will aspire to emulate their luxury counterparts in terms of celebrity endorsements, high spec concept stores and, in some cases, ridiculous price points.” – Matt Nation, Provide Birmingham