Fashion, pop culture and celebrity influence have always had an intertwined existence. They've been on a collision course for years and finally crashed into each other in 2016 when Louis Vuitton, the world's most well-known fashion house, announced a collaboration with Supreme, the world's most established streetwear brand.
What followed next was a fashion frenzy that officially eliminated the increasingly blurred line between high fashion and streetwear. Suddenly Gucci was creating an entire ad campaign out of memes, people were wearing Gildan with pride and the sweatpants/Chelsea boot combo became a thing *sigh*. What has resulted is an apparent overhaul of high fashion, with formal garments being relegated to the more bespoke "made to measure" services, while athleisurewear and sneakers have taken centre stage in the most valuable retail environments.
Take a walk through the menswear section of Selfridges in London and you will notice something fairly striking – there is Hype everywhere! The store, which used to be populated by guys trying their hardest to look like David Beckham now looks more like the outside of a Supreme store on a Thursday morning than it does a luxury department store. Coming up the escalator I was shocked, not by the labels on show, but by the collections they decided to display. T-shirts, bomber jackets, hoodies and sweatpants were all highly prevalent, while there’s something slightly odd about seeing a Calabasas dad cap in a glass case usually used to display watches…
All the standard trimmings are still there; Louis Vuitton is still selling its bags and Tom Ford still has an effortlessly suave corner that makes it feel like you’re stepping into a Bond film, but there is a shift. Much more floor space is being devoted to less established brands, and the big brands are putting their edgier, more “street ready” collections out ahead of their more traditional styles. You don’t need to look any further than the Balenciaga stand, where their latest “dad sneaker” offering is paraded as the centrepiece.
There’s something refreshing about the change. Fashion is becoming more accessible, with affordable items appearing at fashion week with increasing regularity, those interested in fashion can now be far more involved in the industry. The industry is also listening to consumers and adapting their approach, while the advent of social media has fostered a creative community that has allowed easy access to one of the world’s most opaque industries and has fostered creativity that isn’t dependant on financiers and executives.
However, this newfound creativity seems to be hanging in the balance. The underlying principles of creativity run the risk (some say it’s already too late) of being exploited by big fashion houses to boost their own revenues and stay relevant. With the luxury fashion market struggling, high end brands have turned to different demographics and now find themselves gearing their image towards a more liberal, progressive and creative consumer base. The danger of course, is that this will lead to the stifling of creativity and a rise in commercialisation. The problem is already rife with brands like H&M and Urban Outfitters either copying styles, or just flat out stealing designs. The industry can be hard enough without fast fashion providers like Zara knocking off a cheap copy three weeks after a piece debuts.
Kanye West famously said “You can be wearing a Zara pant, and then a girl walks in wearing the Céline version, and you feel like sh-t.” Sure he has a point, the knock offs are never like the real thing (unless you buy a knockoff of one of his Gildan hoodies printed on, you guessed it, Gildan), but the reality is that affordable options like Zara are the only way a lot of people can afford to be part of the trend. This is where the biggest issue lies. Independent, creative brands have a rare opportunity to capitalise on the industry’s drift to a more casual, street influenced look to really create something unique that is steeped in a culture crafted by themselves and their peers. The danger is that while the big fashion houses are driving popular culture towards that end, the big, budget brands are drowning the consumer in ultra-affordable options that stifles the smaller brands’ ability to stand out.
Since the Carlyle Group bought into Supreme, the industry’s potential has been teetering. Either, creativity and counter-culture will be allowed to thrive and free thought will push the industry forward not only from a visual standpoint, but from a cultural one as well, or the commercialisation of underground fashion will put a swift end to what is one of the most promising and indeed fascinating creative movements in recent memory.