Streetwear is Dead; Long Live Streetwear
For the first time in my life, during this past fashion week, I’ve felt old. Really, truly old. “Who-is-this-Elvis-Presley-character/in-my-time-we-listened-to-real-music” old. I guess it’s because, for the first time in the decade or so I’ve been working in this industry, I don’t really understand the dominating trend.
Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019 menswear show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
Streetwear. If you work in fashion, chances are you hear that word an average of 638 times per day. The term originated with California’s 1970s surf and skate culture, later evolving towards hip hop. References old enough to not make me feel out of touch, thank god. Shawn Stüssy, Hiroshi Fujiwara: those are names I’ve known and admired most of my life. Slam Jam Socialism. Hood By Air. Y3. The Soloist. I’m still following. But when it comes to what we’ve been seeing in the last few seasons – on the runway as well as in the streets – and, especially, these past three weeks, I’m completely lost.
It’s not just the fact that streetwear today has very little in common with what it used to be. Vans were affordable and practical for skateboarding. T-shirts were every surfer’s post-surf uniform. Baseball caps and hoodies were ubiquitous since the early days of hip hop. But something doesn’t quite add up in 2018: some of my closest friends make a living out of surfing and skating, and – except for one very streetwear-obsessed dude – none of them would touch Thrasher hoodies, Supreme or Palace, let alone Vetements, with a ten-foot pole. This is true for a number of reasons (yes, they do feel their culture has been appropriated, and yes, they do think influencers posing with those brands on Instagram are kooks, but mainly because the 750€ that a pair of logo-ed Gucci Rhytons cost will buy you a serious surfboard). But I think we can all agree that streetwear-oriented brands today don’t give a flying toss about the very people who made streetwear cool in the first place.
Backstage at the Off-White Spring/Summer 2019 menswear show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
Which brings me to my feeling positively ancient in the past week. I just don’t get where streetwear is going right now. The people I see wearing it are either urban teenagers (it must be hard being a teen nowadays. We used to beg our parents for 60 bucks to buy a Von Dutch tee; those kids need to cough up almost 900 for a pair of Triple S. But enough with the old woman rant) or fashion victim-y insiders who probably can’t name five Kanye songs. They both look very “now,” reaffirming the dominating opinion that streetwear is the one and only trend synonym with youth… and making my obsession with babouches and oversized silk shirts feel tragically passé. At least in keeping with the current narratives of many a fashion brand and media. The craze around Supreme, Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, and other purposefully ugly sneakers has been in full bloom for at least three seasons, trickling down the fashion system to the point that you can step into a Zara store now and pick your choice of “Gucci” and “Balenciaga” best-sellers. According to the Cerulean Blue premise made infamous by Miranda Priestly, that’s the definitive sign that the fashion industry is ready to change its course.
Except not this time, it would seem. Since the beginning of fashion month, all I have seen in the press are pieces asseverating that “the people doing streetwear are the ones dominating fashion,” that “the dandy is dead,” and “it’s all about fugly” today and that “the upscaling of sneaker brands threatens luxury fashion” (incidentally, some of Balenciaga’s made-in-China sneakers now cost more than a pair of John Lobb shoes handcrafted in England). London Fashion week, except for E. Tautz and Kent & Curwen, could have changed its name to Streetwear Fashion Week. I first figured I was not on trend anymore when guests left the venue of the much-anticipated A-Cold-Wall show absolutely elated while I had just found the whole thing – naked man crawling in “primary red liquid” and all – an over-intellectualization of streetwear to the point of pompousness. Each London show added a grey hair to my aging head. And the feeling did not stop in Paris, which was essentially Virgil Abloh Fashion Week: there was the Off-White show, of course, plus a Nike collaboration and his inaugural collection for Louis Vuitton. Not that I didn’t find his first effort for the Parisian house genuinely intriguing (the fantastic casting and the Wizard of Oz pieces won me over, but then again, I’m a sucker for anything campy, especially if it’s almost 80 years old). Elsewhere, I just saw a lot of lazy millennial-oriented design, a few tailoring-focused brands almost apologizing for not including hoodies in their collections, and, thankfully, a couple of stubbornly individualistic fixtures in the Paris schedule (praise Jesus for Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Glenn Martens). The verdict was clear: it’s streetwear’s way or the highway.
Yohji Yamamoto Spring/Summer 2019 menswear show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
Luckily, just as I was debating whether to retire from fashion to start a stamp collection or swap my entire wardrobe for the latest MISBHV collection, I started noticing I was not as alone as I thought. A couple of established designers confided in me, telling me they hated the way fashion today made men look like clowns. While discussing Balenciaga and Vetements, an editor turned to me and earnestly stated: “Yeah, well… that’s pretty much over, no?” A lifelong sneakerhead mentioned how the current sneaker market made him long for pointy leather-soled shoes. An ex-Hedi Slimane fanatic simply stated, towards the end of the week, “I can’t stand it anymore.”
It could well be that we are all old farts drifting steadily towards middle age. But would it be ridiculous to think that maybe streetwear is not the wave of the future anymore? Brands and magazines assume that it is based, more and more, on the sole fact that it’s everywhere on Instagram, not realizing that the Facebook-owned social media may have disrupted (how I hate that word) the entire fashion cycle. It used to be that a particular aspect of youth culture would be appropriated by the industry, progressively marketed and watered down until sold to the masses – including those kids’ parents –, thus inspiring the birth of a new (usually totally opposed) youth culture. But, with Instagram, we are all caught in an endless, tunnel-vision, rabbit hole of overpriced, hyper exclusive Vuitton merch, influencers wearing Off-White and Kim Kardashian in Yeezy spandex shorts. Which is basically poles apart from what the essence of streetwear was supposed to be. So, is it time for fashion to look for something more creative, exciting, and authentic? Or is this a case of “streetwear is dead; long live streetwear”? I’m really hoping it’s the former; otherwise, it means I really am becoming an old fart.