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The Rise of Streetwear

Stephanie Smith

Streetwear has evolved from a grassroots movement to a mainstream phenomenon that’s captured the attention of the high fashion world. Since gaining popularity streetwear has become increasingly inclusive, leaving room for a more couture sensibility to integrate with its gritty roots. Many streetwear success stories are brands that have managed to combine grounded authenticity with  fashion-forward appeal and an active digital presence. Similarly, high fashion brands have found commercial success by appropriating the streetwear aesthetic. Utilizing everything from the power of  celebrity endorsers to creative branding, these streetwear labels are taking the fashion world by storm.

KTZ (Kokon to Zai) who recently unveiled their men’s S/S 2014 collection is one example of a brand that has smartly infused high fashion chic with the pop-culture obsessed,  trend savvy details of streetwear. KTZ has also heavily integrated an active social media aspect into their brand DNA by using the online space to create a lively, cutting edge image. London-based streetwear brand Mort-Paris whose snapbacks have been seen on celebrities and entertainers all over the world has also  managed to grow an almost cult-like following. With hats available exclusively at the Kokon to Zai boutique in Paris and at Gr8 Tokyo, Mort has very much become a “cool kids”  brand.  Seoul-based Juun J, known for its modern, sharp,“street tailoring” has also made its mark on the streetwear with re-imagined classic tailoring and fresh new silhouettes. Experimental jewelry line Ambush Design, whose exclusive creations have been worn by Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Rihanna, is inspired by the phrase “Anything Goes”, and with its solid use of a range of metals, stones and plastics, the brand truly lives up to its name. In a similar vein brands like Wolfware and This One are utilizing a combination of design savvy and to-the-minute trend to distinguish themselves in the ever-growing streetwear market.

Yet another name to pay attention to in this arena is Riccardo Tisci whose innovative designs for Givenchy have gained a prolific celebrity following.  Tisci has been one of the more successful high-end designers to seamlessly marry a subtle street aesthetic with couture influence. In many ways Tisci’s ability to meld the two worlds has allowed him to beat streetwear brands in their own backyard—his clothing brings a certain amount of technical skill and intuitive understanding of design  that many grassroots brands lack. In fact, Tisci’s designs are so closely on the pulse of trend that a floral moto jacket he sent down the Givenchy runway looked eerily similar to a floral Supreme hoody unveiled earlier in the year. Despite these minor hiccups, Tisci has been given the stamp of  authenticity in the form of support from well-respected artists such as Kanye West and G-Dragon, a South-Korean hip-hop artist and style icon who has also been spotted in his designs.

Similarly, some streetwear brands have taken a page from the high fashion playbook and successfully channeled the lure of exclusivity to woo customers into accepting higher price points. Hood By Air, the brainchild of Shayne Oliver, who reportedly established the line as a response to the hypocrisy he observed in street culture, marks a meeting of high fashion and urban culture. Rife with ‘90s influences and couture elements, Hood by Air takes inspiration from the deconstruction of Gaultier and Helmut Lang. Not necessarily meant for the ‘90s generation, the line has been re-imagined to fit the context of today’s consumers evolving lifestyle.

Pyrex Vision, Been Trill and Pigalle follow a similar formula, with much of their popularity resulting from innate brand coolness rather than fresh design or uncommon innovation. Pyrex Vision is particularly ironic in its use of urban culture—right down to its name Pyrex, which is derived from the kitchenware brand commonly misused to cook crack cocaine. The brand’s latest collection, “Youth Always Win,” is in many ways a studied and deliberate rejection of acceptable fashion—and to many, that is the appeal. The high school influenced collection was punctuated with oversized, reinterpreted gymwear and flannels emblazoned with the Pyrex name. Newcomers BLUR (Becoming Legendary and Unveiling Radiance) are also capitalizing on pop culture references, unveiling a line of tees which include graphics such as a blurry Elroy Jetson set against a black and white television screen.

This unique way of branding parallels techniques used in high fashion, which relies on exclusivity and exclusionary measures to attract a certain market. However, the exclusionary nature of high fashion also works to make it seem inaccessible to many consumer demographics. Collaborations with streetwear brands have become a way for high-end designers to bridge this gap. Working directly with an already established streetwear company legitimizes a designer new to the territory. Accepting, translating and appropriating aspects of street culture also offers a less gritty, more sartorially refined version of an unfamiliar lifestyle to an interested luxury market.

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