Jean-Marc Chauve is currently a consultant and the Artistic Director of IFA Paris. He studied marketing, fashion design and socio-semiology of fashion, and used to work at Nelly Rodi and Maison Martin Margiela.
Despite what we might think, streetwear fashion today appears as the new horizon of luxury brands. But the links between streetwear and luxury are actually much older and perhaps much deeper. Seen as a way to seduce a new generation of consumers, can the streetwear permanently inspire luxury houses?
On March 26th, the Louis Vuitton House announced the appointment of Virgil Abloh, who just got a name in the world of fashion with his off-white streetwear brand, as the new Artistic Director of Men’s Collections. A marriage that may seem surprising, but only at first glance: Kim Jones the previous AD of Louis Vuitton’s Men’s ready-to-wear already fed his inspiration with references of streetwear and the recent collaboration with the cult label of skate culture, Supreme, demonstrates that streetwear seems to be the new horizon of the venerable house of luxury leather goods.
Dapper Dan with LL Cool J in his Harlem store in the 80s
It isn’t the only one in this case: the best seller of the House of Balenciaga is now a sneaker, it is so popular among Asian buyers that recently a queue in front of the corner of the brand in a Parisian department store turned into a brawl. The garment label has managed to build commercial success in three years – from oversized hoodies and collaboration with historical labels of streetwear. Even Valentino, yet more known for its Haute Couture references. last autumn launched a line for sport, called VLTN, with strong streetwear accents.
So how come this style, born at the end of the 70s in the wake of the hip-hop scene rooted in the practice of skateboarding, surfing, mixing the sportswear, workwear and the jeanswear, which was built in disadvantaged suburbs cities American as a counterculture, in opposition to the “bourgeois” style and the institutional luxury, now fully participate in this luxury to which he objected?
In fact the merger occurred much more quickly than what appearances may suggest. By the 1980s, New Yorker Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, dressing Harlem gangsters, athletes and the first hip hop stars of expensive jackets and luxury tracksuits with acronyms (hence a certain number of trial that led to the bankruptcy, until Gucci decided to resurrect the label the time of a collaboration…) While with his baggy jeans Marithé and François Girbaud were the style of ready-to-wear luxury hip hop.
As always, fashion was quick to appropriating elements of any counter-culture, taking away little by little its subversive nature. In the 1990s therefore streetwear become a dominant style among adolescents around the world, and if in Lacoste France fights against appropriation by the youth from the suburbs of its’ famous crocodile, Chanel diverts taken accessories by rappers in its parades of Haute Couture and adds designer heels to sneakers to the double C. At the same time, the stars of the hip hop become billionaires filling their closet of the most prestigious claws and claim with great blows their bling bling logo. Alost tradition, starting from Kanye West to Pharrell Williams: in 2012 A$AP Rocky continues to sing the praises of not less than twenty creators of luxury, from Alexander Wang to Jil Sander, and also Rick Owens, in a song called “Fashion Killa”.
It’s that the streetwear and some forms of luxury have in common the taste of the logo and the importance of belonging. From its origin, even if they do not borrow the dress codes in vogue in rich neighborhoods, it comes for supporters of streetwear, to assert itself by the appearance, to conjure a precarious situation by the sape, the look and the anchor in a community. Like Bape (A Bathing Ape) and especially the label Supreme (of which it is said that the brand would be valued today at $ 1 billion), also owe their success to a strategy that is comparable in many ways to that of a luxury brand like Hermès: price relatively high compared to the type of product, limited production that creates the scarcity so desire, multiplication of codes of belonging and brakes buyers, effective storytelling, collaboration with creative people and artists… which led to a cult, a resale market that reached the heights… and the development of a copying industry.
Today the craze for this return of the oversized, the hoodie with logo and sneakers can be explained by the age of the artistic directors of major luxury houses, which is a common phenomenon in the history of fashion, tend to recreate the style of clothing that has dressed their adolescence. Thus, streetwear has the enormous advantage of nostalgia for consumers in their thirties, as they also have teenager memories, plus the purchasing power, with that to seduce the famous “millenials”, especially Asian. Perhaps sensitive to the values of freedom, development and images of a life without constraint where the skate and surf culture are still present, which are the source of the streetwear culture, but who especially find a trend there, which seems totally new while being comfortable and easy to wear. The famous ‘cool ‘. The major risk for luxury brands, but even more for streetwear labels with which they collaborate, is precisely to make simply a stylistic trend, disconnected from any content, which will substitute it again and that, quickly exhausted by the “mainstream”, will have to make room for the next. Streetwear is therefore most certainly the present of the luxury industry, but it is much less sure that it is still its’ future…