Stay On The Streets
By Jack Klein, Part of Retrograde 1.2
The year was 2000 and anyone could walk right in to the not-so-world-famous Supreme store on Lafayette street. Once inside, you could buy sweatshirts, t-shirts, and skateboarding paraphernalia. Better yet, you could also buy the recently released collection of skate decks, t-shirts, and beanies emblazoned with Louis Vuitton’s repeated monogram print. By producing this line without permission from the fashion giant, the on-the-rise brand continued their theme of blatantly disrespecting authority. Within a mere two weeks Louis Vuitton, helmed at the time by Marc Jacobs, was able to obtain a cease and desist order preventing further sales of these items by the young brand. However, Supreme wore the legal action as a badge of honor, rather than a slap on the wrist. Supreme even went so far as to boast on its site that the collection was, “recalled after two weeks due to lawsuit.” For many, Louis Vuitton’s attempt to slow Supreme’s rise merely added to the brand’s dangerous appeal.
At that time, “luxury” and “street” were at polar ends of the fashion spectrum. Most people would not even consider street or skate style on the same scale as the designs of haute couture fashion houses. Yet in just 18 years, Supreme has grown into another kind of fashion giant, improving on what came before it and encouraging many other brands following in its footsteps. Supreme founder, James Jebbia, originally worked with the founder of Stussy, a streetwear brand founded in the 1980’s, before founding Supreme in 1994. Due to his innovative rejection of the idea that street style and couture had to be mutually exclusive, however, Jebbia’s company has now become the largest and most influential street style brands.
In 2017, in a surprising turn of the tables, Louis Vuitton collaborated with Supreme, combining each company’s distinctive style to create one of the most exclusive and desired fashion lines of the year. The line featured Louis Vuitton’s iconic leather goods in Supreme’s bold, cherry red color and famous “box logo” design. The two giants also released hoodies, arguably Supreme’s most sought after item, but printed, legally this time, with Louis Vuitton’s century old repeated monogram print. The combination of Supreme’s trademark limited inventory and Louis Vuitton’s established reputation and high end pricing made the line incredibly exclusive -- and incredibly sought after. In less than two decades, street culture’s avant garde style and often reckless attitude had been accepted into the elite world of high fashion.
Arguably the greatest example of a pure amalgamation of street and luxury fashion is Virgil Abloh’s fashion label Off-White. The brand’s slogan, “Defining the grey area between black and white as the color Off-White,” could just as well substitute “street and luxury” for “black and white.” Off-White truly blends luxury with street style. Abloh’s Spring 2018 collection featured tulle gowns that would not feel out of place at classic high fashion houses. Yet the brand is still anchored in t-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers. Furthermore, the house has had a number of successful collaborations, many with more accessible brands such as Champion, Levi’s, and perhaps most successfully, Nike. However, these collaborations were notably sold at the much higher Off-White price point.
Virgil Abloh, Off-White’s Founder and Creative Director, has pushed the boundaries of fashion. Formerly Kanye West’s longtime Creative Director, Abloh’s trademark “recontextualizing” can be seen in the Off-White/Nike collaboration, in which Abloh redesigned some of Nike’s most iconic silhouettes to create shoes that frequently resell for five to ten times their initial sales price. Recently, in a striking victory and validation for street fashion, Louis Vuitton named Abloh as their men’s artistic director. This move is indicative of the massive changes taking place within the three trillion dollar [fashion] industry. Abloh is Louis Vuitton’s first African American artistic director, and one of only a select few African American designers to helm a major couture fashion line. Abloh has also been nominated for Men’s and Women’s Fashion Designer of the Year at the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers Awards, competing with James Jebbia in the former category. Abloh’s recent appointment and nominations are surely an achievement for him, as well as for the fashion style he represents.
And Louis Vuitton is not the only one. Many luxury fashion houses have begun to accept streetwear in recent years. Comme Des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo’s unorthodox Japanese fashion house, collaborated with Supreme in 2017. In 2016, Gucci collaborated with Trevor Andrew, the ex-Olympic snowboarder turned graffiti artist who is known as “GucciGhost.” Andrew spray painted his interpretation of the Gucci logo all across New York before being invited to collaborate with the brand. Even Chanel created limited edition “NMD” sneakers with Adidas, designed by rapper/singer Pharrell Williams. Whether or not you are willing to wait on the endless line to shop at Supreme, you cannot deny that streetwear is on the rise. Brands like Supreme and Off-White have dedicated fan bases that are only growing as they gain recognition from some of the most famous names in fashion.