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Will High Fashion’s Love Affair with Streetwear Last?

Streetwear-fashion hybrids are on the rise. Fleeting trend or symbol of a more enduring shift?
Astrid Andersen; Hood by Air; Nasir Mazhar Autumn/Winter 2015 | Source: Courtesy
  • Rebecca May Johnson

LONDON, United Kingdom — As streetwear-inflected details appear on the catwalk with increasing frequency, the high fashion flock has embraced the ascendance of luxury streetwear hybrids like Pigalle, which staged a show at the gilded Palais Garnier in Paris last month, and Shayne Oliver's Hood By Air, which brought its ghetto gothic aesthetic to traditional Florentine tradeshow Pitti Uomo. But as streetwear sheds its underground status, tapped by major luxury department stores and splashed across tabloids on the backs of celebrities, will fashion soon tire of the love affair? Is the crossover a fleeting trend? Or does luxury streetwear's ascendance signal a more enduring shift in the way people are dressing?

“Streetwear — understood as a cultural phenomenon and not a trend — is certainly destined to last,” said Antonio Cristaudo, marketing development manager of Pitti Immagine. “Streetwear stands out from other passing trends.” For fashion consultant Mandi Lennard, the ascent of streetwear mirrors the long-term decline of formal dressing. “Streetwear is real wear; no-one wants to wear a suit to work unless it's a strictly formal environment.”

They are not streetwear brands. Its a new genre. Its luxury sportswear and deserves to be labelled as such.

Similarly, Matthew Henson, fashion editor of Complex, who has also styled popular rapper A$AP Rocky, says: "the current popularity of luxury sportswear is reflective of an overall shift in the way men approach the way they dress and how they shop. It's more than just a passing trend."

Ella Dror and Ashley Smith of Ella Dror PR, an agency that represents several streetwear-inflected designers, including Nasir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen, wrote via email: “The influence this has had can be felt across the industry as a whole…. The seemingly unstoppable rise of brands, media and retailers with direct associations to streetwear will undoubtedly bring about a broader shift in dress across a whole demographic and generation.”

But influence flows both ways. While traditional luxury brands like Chanel, Givenchy and Balenciaga have incorporated streetwear elements into their offering, Hood by Air blends 1990s-style graphics with high-fashion elements borrowed from the playbooks of Raf Simons and Helmut Lang.

However, for some, the label “streetwear” can be limiting. “The attention this focus has placed on them has been invaluable, but has also masked the variety and differences in their points of reference, history, vision and aesthetic,” wrote Dror and Smith.

Charlie Porter, men's fashion critic for The Financial Times, went so far as to say the term "streetwear" was inaccurate with regard to brands like Nasir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen. "The industry needs to stop calling these clothes 'streetwear.' It's not: it's fashion. It's demeaning to the designers who make it, and the customers who buy it. In London, designers like Nasir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen are among the best we have to offer, making some of the most exciting, energising fashion. Many traditionalists are scared of it and don't have the capacity to understand it. But this fashion is as valid and relevant as a dress worn by a lady who lunches, or a suit for a CEO, if not more so."

Furthermore, Dror and Smith think overuse of the term “streetwear” has the effect of lumping distinct style trends together. “We think there’s an important distinction to make between the high-end brands developing and popularising a new visual language within contemporary menswear and the very of-the-moment trend towards, for example, the must-have t-shirt,” they wrote. “These two different areas that are sometimes lazily grouped together jointly under the label of ‘streetwear’ within fashion media, are going to bring about broader shifts to varying extents in the long term.”

Some brands are not keen to be given the "streetwear label." According to Eugene Tong, style director of Details magazine, who works as a consultant for fast-rising New York menswear label Public School, "the brand doesn't want to be considered just as a streetwear brand; they want to be considered as a fashion brand — the way a lot of other big brands are considered. Though coming out of New York City and given the background that they have, it is easy to categorise them as 'streetwear' or as 'urban,' but if you look at the clothing, there are elements of that, but it doesn't define the brand."

Henson concurred: "If you ask Stéphane [Ashpool] from Pigalle, Shayne [Oliver] from Hood By Air, Astrid of Astrid Andersen, Marcelo Burlon of County of Milan, or Virgil [Abloh] from Off-White, I think they would resoundingly say that they are not streetwear brands. It's a new genre," he continued. "It's luxury sportswear and deserves to be labelled as such."

“It’s up to the brands to evolve and to have a plan, not to just [play] one note,” added Tong. Henson anticipates much more cross-pollination between so-called streetwear and high fashion. “I foresee the intersection of streetwear and high-fashion evolving by the two working together more collaboratively. Some of the lesser-known streetwear/luxury sportswear designers could consult for more notable brands, as some of the young fashion designers do for the big houses. I also see some of the fashion conglomerates and companies placing serious investments in luxury sportswear as they do in young designers, because the foundation is becoming more secure in the retail space for this genre and the customers are already there.”

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