Streetwear has come a long way in its short history. Back in the ’90s it was all big tees, baggy jeans and caps. The mid ’00s was a kaleidoscopic, allover-printed hell, but that made way for a rustic workwear streak when Chore coats, raw denim and Red Wing boots were all the rage. That all changed once Kanye started wearing leather sweatpants, Rocky name-dropped Rick Owens, and “street goth” became a thing people actually said IRL. Fast-fashion retailers and tacky people with too much money were quick to jump on the luxe-urban wave, though, so we moved on to sportswear and lo and behold, “athleisure” got its very-own Wikipedia page.
Nowadays, though, there’s a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll streak running through our beloved sub-genre of men’s clothing. Rappers are wearing tees from metal bands that they may or may not have ever actually listened to, people are tearing their jeans to shreds and upcoming labels are using graphic tees to pay tribute to guitar music in all its glorious forms.
This new wave of brands and designers are shifting streetwear away from its staples of sneakers and sportswear, but keeping the culture’s dogged DIY mentality, grassroots marketing and cool-guy mentality intact. It’s a bit like Supreme meets Wayne’s World.
Streetwear’s newfound taste for rock isn’t fussy – it finds inspiration in punk, grunge, indie, thrash metal and even a bit of crust punk. My personal favorite sub-genres are yet to be given the streetwear co-sign – where are the tributes to noisecore, tech-death and mathcore? – but it’s still heartwarming to see brands find inspiration in musical icons who played guitars rather than rhymed over beats.
There’s no embarrassing buzzword for this trend yet, so for the sake of this story I’m going to refer to it as grungewave. If you see any publications dropping hastily-written op-eds hyping up this new fad then you know you read it here first.
While NYC has long been considered streetwear’s spiritual homeland, the epicenter of the grungewave movement is in Los Angeles. Case in point is Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God label, which takes ’80s metal staples – ripped jeans, flannels and denim jackets – and adds exaggerated cuts, luxe fabrics and contemporary detailing. It’s basically the sort of thing Metallica wore back when Cliff Burton was alive, but it feels extremely now, thanks to Lorenzo’s high-low sensibilities. Fear Of God is worn by all sorts of trend-setting mega-celebs – Kanye, Justin, anyone with the name “Kardashian” – so it’s safe to say that it’s one of the biggest names of this new rock ‘n’ roll revival.
Lorenzo is also a big fan of vintage rock memorabilia – you can probably hold him accountable for the questionable trend of today’s Hollywood A-listers wearing nostalgic rock tees, which is pretty much 2016’s version of those cringe-inducing Native American headdresses that were all the rage amongst Coachella-goers a few years back. The designs used by ’90s-era metal, grunge and punk bands have quite rightfully earned their place as some of the most powerful graphics in clothing history, but it’s still pretty confusing to see mega-rich celebrities and fashion industry insiders borrowing a bit of faux-rebellion from metalheads who they may have laughed at in school (if you know the opening riff to Master Of Puppets, however, then all is forgiven).
If Fear Of God is all about Bay Area thrash for the Instagram generation, then Shane Gonzales’ MIDNIGHT STUDIOS looks a little further back in time: 1970s London, to be precise. With Sid Vicious as his brand’s muse, Gonzales (also a LA native) previously linked with punk photographer Steve Emberton, for a FW15 collection that adorned tees, hoodies, shirts and even a biker jacket with photos of the legendary Sex Pistols bassist.
Gonzales’ SS15 collection also featured a tee inspired by Jonny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols project PiL, and MIDNIGHT’s three-way collab with 424 and monkey time adorned fishtail parkas with cut-n-paste graphics, a motif from the DIY punk scene if ever there was one. Gonzales’s brand is one of the most exciting names emerging from the West Coast’s thriving fashion scene right now, thanks to its refreshingly gritty aesthetic that owes a lot to early UNDERCOVER – Jun Takahashi’s legendary label that Gonzales collects religiously.
HOMME BOY, also from LA, takes grungewave’s disheveled aesthetic to the extreme via some near-obliterated T-shirts, shredded hems and graphics that dream of Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain onstage together. HOMME BOY’s second collection was even dubbed “Blew,” after the sludgy opener from Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach.
Pleasures, meanwhile, drops pieces adorned with text from Kurt Cobain’s suicide note (nobody said grungewave was classy), alongside tees bigging up a plethora of rock legends – from post-punk pioneers New Order to everyone’s favorite politico-metal firestarters Rage Against The Machine. There’s some caps with tongue-in-cheek digs at Morrissey, too – he’s the guy from that Supreme T-shirt, remember?
Babylon LA’s founder Lee Spielman has been touring for over 10 years in Trash Talk (who are sick, by the way), so it’s safe to say he’s more than earned his right to reference niche punk bands in his clothing. Babylon’s graphics include homages to Crust Punk legends Discharge, and also channel the genre’s ever-present distrust of the police.
Nervous Juvenile’s founders, which include CNCPTS’ Nicholas Wojciechowski, also have punk pedigree – they met through the scene, and Nick’s band Cold World is signed to Deathwish Records, which is sort of like hardcore’s version of being stocked in Dover Street Market. NervJuve’s clothing, like that of its peers, also finds inspiration in the Sex Pistols, Morrissey and Discharge (imagine those three artists on the same lineup).
It’s important to note that this cultural revivalism is nothing new – it was happening way before Kanye started wearing Metallica tees.
Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons – two designers who are hugely influential at the moment – have worn their love of loud, noisy music on their sleeves since day one. Slimane’s uniform of leather jackets, thigh-strangling jeans and Chelsea boots is pretty much a sartorial love letter to rock ‘n’ roll, and the ever-divisive designer regularly uses musicians he admires in Saint Laurent’s lookbooks, editorials and runway shows.
For Raf Simons, music is also a seemingly endless source of inspiration. His collections have been soundtracked by the Smashing Pumpkins (FW97) and Pink Floyd (SS99). He’s been inspired by the Manic Street Preachers’ missing-presumed-dead guitarist Richey Edwards (FW01), and some of his most iconic pieces are adorned with the artwork of New Order and Joy Division (via graphic design legend Peter Saville, for FW03 and FW04 respectively).
Japan’s fashion scene is notorious for its reworking of Western subcultures, so it’s hardly surprising that countless Tokyo labels have channeled the spirit of rock and its rebellious sub-genres, too. The likes of UNDERCOVER, Number (N)ine, AFFA, Lad Musician, LUKER by NEIGHBORHOOD and Blackmeans have all found inspiration in the ’70s punk aesthetic. UNDERCOVER’s designer Jun Takahashi actually played in a Sex Pistols tribute band, FYI.
At the end of the day, ripped jeans, grungy styling and nostalgic graphics aren’t new – they’re just signs that streetwear is evolving away from its roots in hip-hop and sneakers. Besides, nothing reflects streetwear’s underdog worldview better than rock and its various sub-genres – both have a staunchly DIY, us-against-the-world philosophy and a diehard community of fans who’ll question an artist’s integrity at the drop of a hat.
Grungewave’s cultural revivalism needs to be put properly into context, too. Post-internet youth culture is fickle and nebulous. Back when Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain and James Hetfield were cementing their status as musical icons, you had to dedicate yourself to subcultures – you either got it, or you didn’t.
Nowadays, though, social media, smartphones and the internet allow us to dip in and out of a kaleidoscope of music, fashion and art simultaneously, unlimited by borders or languages. Post-internet subcultures – things like normcore and health goth – are shallow, temporary movements created by a hyperactive, fickle generation that has access to everything at its fingertips. Unlike the tribes of the past – punks, goths and metalheads – there’s no need to dedicate your life to them, so they’re just vague parodies of things that people once lived and died for. Streetwear’s newfound interest in noisy guitar music is likely just another aesthetic prop to be toyed with before the world moves onto something else.
For more ramblings on modern trends, dive into this think piece on Normcore and the Future of Youth Culture.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not reflect the views of Highsnobiety as a whole.
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