Late last year when the fashion designer Virgil Abloh said that streetwear “is definitely . . . gonna die” in the 2020s, it sent shockwaves through the fashion intelligentsia.
These words, coming from the Louis Vuitton artistic director for men’s collections and founder of the cult label Off-White — who has been heralded as the folk hero of this new age in fashion — made the start of this new decade feel like streetwear’s version of the Y2K millennium bug that threatened computer chaos 20 years ago.
Yet 2020 has arrived and the genre is very much here.
The term “streetwear” itself may be outdated but the ideology won’t ever change. The genre was never solely about drops, graphic-driven sportswear or limited-edition collaborations, it was about creating a sense of community via shared cultural codes.
These codes, whether pulled from punk, hip-hop, surfing, skating or graffiti, are largely inspired by movements that are no longer subcultures but have proliferated to the point where they’ve become pop.
In a way “streetwear” is a microcosm for brands that speak a certain language and represent a community that has become much bigger. In fact, the research we have done at Highsnobiety, [the website and media brand, founded by Fischer in 2005 and known for its commentary on streetwear] on our own audience has shown us that what younger consumers demand from luxury is a real sense of culture and community.
In this way, fashion shows are not just a way for designers and labels to show their latest collections but to offer new concepts, ideas and stories in a way that has more in common with theatre and music videos.
Pop Smoke’s track “Dior,” Migos’ “Versace,” and A$AP Rocky’s “RAF”, (which references the designer Raf Simons, and features the line “please don’t touch my Raf”), show us how intertwined the fashion and hip-hop conversation have become, where knowledge about brands and cultural participation are as important as ownership.
Because of this, it is clear that luxury brands are targeting consumers who grew up with streetwear and now have an equal appreciation for luxury products.
Ironically, the decade began with a Marc Jacobs-led collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Kanye West, and it ends with Abloh, West’s former creative director, at the house.
Abloh is equipped to take Vuitton into the future because of the way he appreciates both worlds. In our latest book, he recalls seeing the cultural value of Takashi Murakami’s Vuitton monograms, and his desire for it was so strong that it was the first luxury purchase he can remember making.
The push-and-pull between streetwear and luxury has seeped into stores as well. The locked-door days of luxury boutiques is something that early streetwear and sneaker shops tried to emulate with varying success.
Mixing such products with streetwear used to be ahead of the curve but now it is par for the course. Perhaps no other shop saw the wave forming as much as Colette, the seminal Parisian boutique that is also the subject of our forthcoming documentary Colette Mon Amour.
Colette’s 2017 closure marked the end of an era . . . and the start of another. Retail remade itself to mirror changing consumer relationships. Concept stores were not just places to buy things, they were platforms for discovery and enrichment.
A shop such as Dover Street Market feels more like a museum than a retailer and, in the age of social media, shop windows are no longer enough — which is why you see artists and brands creating whole installations inside storied department stores. Examples include Bergdorf Goodman’s partnership with Kith, Galeries Lafayette’s collaborations with upstart New York menswear label Noah and streetwear consignment shop Round Two, and even media brands, like my own Highsnobiety, which has teamed up with Selfridges on the Co.Lab. We will host product drops and collaborations every week for five weeks, as well as events such as a documentary screening, all starting this weekend to coincide with London Fashion Week Men’s. To be relevant to a new consumer, stores need to sell something beyond the product.
Combining the sense of community with merchandising tells a story behind a product’s raison d’être, and the relationships between stores and consumers becomes more like a curator and eager patrons of the arts. The boundaries between fashion, art, luxury and street feel like they are no longer there. To me, that is what streetwear was always fighting for.
David Fischer is founder and chief executive of Highsnobiety
The Co.Lab at Selfridges Corner Shop, 400 Oxford Street, London, January 6 to February 9. selfridges.com/highsnobiety
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