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The Evolution of Streetwear and its influence in High Fashion

Posted on February 28 2019

The Evolution of Streetwear and its influence in High Fashion

On the streets, in the office, on the runway and more, “streetwear” has become the untraditional fashion gatekeeper of the 21st century.

Rooted in the skate, surf and hip hop culture of the 70s, streetwear has morphed from a small sub genre of fashion into the future and reality of what high fashion has become. Rather ambiguous in both what defines streetwear and how exactly it has evolved into what we see today, one thing remains true, it has heavily influenced and arguably taken over our culture’s definition of “high fashion.”

When considering the evolution of streetwear and its impact on the fashion industry, we must first give credit where credit’s due- to the powerhouses of the streetwear phenomenon. When you think “streetwear,” it’s likely that certain brands immediately come to mind. Think Stüssy, Supreme, Off-White, Vetements, etcetera.

Clothing brand, Stüssy, founded in California in the early 80s, became a byproduct of the collaboration between the surf/skate culture and fashion, an artistic approach to style. Shawn Stussy, founder of the namesake brand, was a surfboard manufacturer gone tee-shirt designer who helped pave the way for streetwear as a key component of the fashion industry. Many deem Stussy to be the architect that sculpted the beginning of the streetwear phenomenon. The overall Los Angeles surf and skate influences of the 70s and 80s created a new culture identified within the fashion industry, one that places higher value on the uniqueness of brand identity rather than the craftsmanship of a garment.

Stussy campaign from the 80’s

Stussy campaign from the 80’s

The rise of cult-following brands such as Supreme, launching in the 90s, mirrored the boom in streetwear popularity as we approached the 21st century. However, much of the unpredictable cult following surrounding streetwear had more to do with the culture that had been developed over anything else. Value landed in the demand for streetwear products rather than the actual product itself. What intrigued the average consumer was the culture surrounding streetwear. Essentially, what had been developed was a subculture or experience- that being a launch into the fashion industry in an untraditional scope.

Streetwear emphasized a sense of inclusion within fashion. The idea that anyone could wear this look and even start this look for their own. Less of an emphasis began being placed on wearing certain designer labels or brands. Rather, an a new emphasis was placed on style as a reflection of identity. This sparked the entrepreneurial spirit that burns deep inside so many millennials born at the start of the streetwear phenomenon. Streetwear became more approachable than the average high fashion, designer label. It nurtured community, collaboration and artistic expression. Fashion solely as a visual aesthetic ceased to exist with the start streetwear, marking the beginning of a shift in high fashion.

Streetwear became luxury and luxury became ripped denim, simple tees and graphic sweatshirts. As it became clear that these items were essentially holding more value than luxury leather goods, a major shift in the fashion industry occurred. Streetwear did what no other branch of fashion had done before- it had popped the high fashion, “luxury goods” bubble, rebranding it into something different and entirely unexpected. Mentioned previously, it fostered cultural inclusion, while crafting artistic, one of a kind pieces that still offered the exclusivity needed in order to keep consumers fueled to actually want to be part of this fashion and lifestyle community. Simply enough, streetwear drew in the masses- including celebrities.

Collaboration and community within streetwear came in several forms. Luckily falling parallel to the rise of a heavy social media culture, the streetwear trend benefitted from platforms such as Instagram, one that makes celebrity endorsements and collaborations more accessible than ever. Instagram became a compelling visual medium for illustrating the rise of the streetwear fashion story. With social media came celebrities. As streetwear began molding a new story for high fashion, celebrities were quick to latch on to the trend. Look at Kanye West for example, collaborating with Adidas to create his personal streetwear line, “Yeezy.” Or Rihanna, partnering with Puma and starting the label, “Fenty.” Not only were celebrities endorsing streetwear on social media as a lifestyle, fashion and cultural trend, but they were sporting their own personal streetwear looks and even taking it a step further, crafting their own streetwear brands.

What remains baffling about the influence of streetwear on high fashion is its ability to break traditional roles of high fashion in society, reinventing these roles entirely. Streetwear heavily influenced and rebranded high fashion labels, encouraging them engage with a new audience and take on brand identities far different from before. Think Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, etcetera. Each of these brands have reinvented themselves since the launch of high fashion streetwear. The designer label, Gucci, tells this story clearer than ever. Virgil Abloh, creative director for Kanye West and founder of Off-White streetwear, recently joined the Gucci team as their newest creative director, illustrating a clear picture of what streetwear as a form of high fashion truly means in the 21st century.

Gucci’s transition into ‘Luxury Streetwear’

Gucci’s transition into ‘Luxury Streetwear’

The word “streetwear” simply describes a newly developed culture of artists of various kinds and collaborators of all different backgrounds, talents and artistic visions coming together to create unique, versatile looks of the 21st century. It’s high end fashion that has taken on a mind of its own, chasing culture, community and creativity over traditional standards of luxury fashion.

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