For the past few seasons - in an attempt to constantly get close to the "normal guy or gal" - the luxury and fashion industries have been mimicking, re-appropriating and exoticizing popular lower middle class aesthetics, subcultures, and socio-political statements.
As a result, a generation of millennials and fashion's trend focused customers have essentially been tapping into luxury branded variations of the same urban subculture, and sportswear flavored look. Over time, this trend has translated into a streetwear flavored normality that is paired with an an apparent refusal of elitism, becoming distinctive by being indistinctive and thereby erasing any obvious belonging to high society.
But why is an industry that is really only accessible to a select few – the ones with a considerable budget – so obsessed with and inspired by the "ordinary people"? Is it a sign of a new, less discriminatory, luxury era for the fashion customer or simply the industry's desperate attempt to be authentic? It's a bit of both, if you ask me, but it also goes far beyond these two aspects.
Balenciaga Menswear SS18 Collection Image by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION
Karl Lagerfeld once famously said that wearing casual sportswear was a clear sign that you'd lost your mind. "Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants," the iconic designer told his many fans and followers. As of today, we can say that this statement is far from being echoed by his industry peers and fashion's increasingly urban and subculture obsessed audience.
As a result of this, fashion aficionados wouldn't just dismiss this statement as being a tad snobbish, they’ve rendered it obsolete with sportswear flavored runway shows and by buying into all those expensive versions of popular, urban athleisure – like the many leather tracksuit variations we saw at VLONE's debut show in Paris.
Dries Van Noten Menswear SS18 Collection Image by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION
In the same vein, Balenciaga's new Spring/Summer 2018 collection, showcased in Paris' Bois de Boulogne earlier this week, was the epitome of what I'd like to call the "new normcore". "Young dads in the park with their kids at the weekend. These are those same men, out of office, relaxed and often observed at their happiest," read the press release. And it was true: the young men sporting Balenciaga's many outdoor inspired easy-to-wear pieces and accessories – think rugby and polo shirts; slouchy granddad jackets and parkas; shorts, work pants and jeans; as well as supermarket shoppers that resembled flat leather bags – perfectly embodied this newly enhanced and luxury-flavored everyday normcore look.
In fact, Gvasalia is so inspired by day-to-day routine and what one would call the simple life (no references to Paris Hilton intended) that his normcore aesthetics firmly entrench themselves in our collective mindset. Not because they are actually brand-new, but because we can relate to them on an unconsciously intimate level, being surrounded by "ordinary" clothing and objects every day (unless you are the oh-so-extravagant Philipp Plein).
Funnily enough, a model agent and friend who saw the show bluntly commented "J'adior Barbesiaga!" after watching the runway images on our site, killing two birds with one stone. Right now, luxury's most notable and respected heritage brands – Dior and Balenciaga, amongst others – are really trying hard when it comes to attracting a younger and hipper generation of customers. I couldn't help but smirk at the fact that Gvasalia's new Balenciaga aesthetics are indeed references into Paris' very popular Barbès district, also known as the Northern multi-ethnic, lower/middle class melting pot of the city, where counterfeit reigns, groceries are cheap – and hipsters consequently unite.
This season, other designers tapped into these "new normcore" aesthetics as well, including Sean Suen, Junya Watanabe and – more surprisingly – Dries Van Noten who showcased his new Spring/Summer 2018 men's offering at the former offices of the French daily newspaper Libération. The Belgian designer offered one of his most "sober" collections so far, one that went beyond his signature style which consists of opulent colorings, patterns and embellishments. In fact, his latest men's collection came with decisively realist aesthetics and featured a range of both functional and desirable men's ready-to-wear, combining matt and glossy treatments with fluid and structured cuts and a certain nostalgic appeal.
The Chinese born designer Sean Suen, for his part, impressed his audience with a so-called "tender" and grown-up menswear collection. In contrast to our chaotic political climate, the designer offered us his very own take on everyday tailoring with clean cuts and lines in tonal colors. Y/Project's Glenn Martens was equally mature and somewhat glamorous about daily street and office wear. His latest men's offering was somehow more wearable than ever before. His statement looks – linen suits and tracksuits, as well as voluminous high-waisted jeans and slouchy knitwear – were all designed through the prism of Martens' deconstructive take on tailoring with a sophisticated twist.
Sean Suen Menswear SS18 Collection Image by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION
Real clothes made for "normal men", was also a big topic at Junya Watanabe's show. Watanabe took his collaboration with Levi's and Carhartt to the next level and offered a new spin on urban flavored outerwear and workwear. These men's staple pieces – think regular T-Shirts and collared shirts, wide-cut pants and functional jackets, vests and coats, as well as sporty accessories and footwear – were not only precisely and beautifully designed, but also appealed to the everyday wardrobe.
Junya Watanabe Menswear SS18 Collection Image by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION
Chitose Abe, Sacai's dynamic creative director, also referenced everyday staple pieces with a new Spring/Summer 2018 collection for men and women who love their functional, cool clothes in eye-popping hues and prints. Playing with the notion of "uniform" – and what is more normcore than the consistency of a uniform? Abe focused on re-contextualizing so-called "familiar clothing codes". This came through in a range of nicely crafted, functional and tech flavored ready-to-wear, inspired by both military details and traditional tailoring techniques.
But your daily dose of popular and sporty ready-to-wear with a twist is not the only obsession fashion has been playing with in the past few seasons. We will skip the Supreme X Louis Vuitton collaboration talk, because we've heard and read way too much about it already. Instead, let's take a look at another style that has caused much ink to flow and tongues to wag - and perfectly blends into this "new normcore" trend – the infamous communist-flavored aesthetics that have turned designer Demna Gvasalia, stylist Lotta Volkova and their fellow designer Gosha Rubchinskiy into the fashion superstars they are today.
In 2016, the term "post-Soviet" invaded the runways and established itself in our fashion jargon through a new generation of young fashion designers. Though born under the Perestroika, these young creatives honed their skills in the Western European fashion cities of London, Paris, and Antwerp before moving on to re-appropriate the codes of Soviet aesthetics and those of Western subcultures. Iconoclasts who mix luxurious references with a refreshing take on political history and socio-cultural statements.
While industry peers are still arguing whether this trend is truly authentic or not, facts and numbers speak for themselves. VETEMENTS has been selling like hot cakes and Gvasalia's appointment at the creative helm of Balenciaga – and the constant press coverage dedicated to him, including this article – are proof that the "new normcore" aesthetic are far from just being a seasonal trend. It’s turned into an actual style evolution that aims for a new, rejuvenated and less elitist fashion industry.
A positive side effect of all of this is that the introverted and very Western European-centric luxury scene has started to look to new designers from Eastern Europe. A fact that is clearly proven by the increasing importance of the many fashion weeks in the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia and Russia.
Another positive evolution, that is much more than a side effect of fashion's new willingness to seek "normality", can be seen on the fashion week calendar in Paris. Both the menswear and womenswear weeks have recently welcomed a range of new independent brands and designers over the past few seasons, both on and off schedule.
Serhat Isik and Benjamin Alexander Huseby, the Berlin-based design-duo of GmbH, originally from Turkey and Pakistan respectively, are a prime example of this new change. The duo's highly political "Europe Endless" spring/summer 2018 collection, which gave a nod to the controversial topic of immigration politics through the show location, was a true eye-catcher.
GmbH Menswear SS18 Collection by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION
The sophomore collection referenced both the tech-flavored normcore aesthetics of Kraftwerk – the iconic German techno forefathers – and what the designers like to call "a Middle Eastern idiosyncratic sense of dressing". "Europa is …endless?…or at its end? What's it all about?," the designers asked in their official press release. Well, what is more certain than ever is that designers are not only redefining "normal" clothing in their very own eclectic ways, they are also reacting to what has become the norm, namely the chaotic state of international politics, in a most controversial and normcore flavored way. Or at least that's what we've been served so far – and it is all very promising.