A lot changes in 10 years. In the past decade, streetwear and sneaker culture have leaped from niche interests to international phenomena, once-obscure brands have taken over the world, and this very website has transformed from a personal blog into a fully-fledged publication with a global readership.
Streetwear has become not only popular with style-conscious men, but with the high fashion cognoscenti as well, and the past 10 years have seen momentous shifts in the relationship between fashion and hip-hop, as well. Rappers are now tastemakers not just in the hip hop community, but in the broader fashion world, with men (and women, for that matter) looking to them for style tips as well as new tunes.
With that in mind, here’s 10 moments that left an indelible mark on the Highsnobiety universe, and made street culture what it is today.
The Nike SB “Pigeon” Dunk Causes Pandemonium – 2005
Long before Jordan releases would incite riots across the United States and people would offer up cars in exchange for sneakers, Jeff Staple was enlisted by Nike to design a New York-themed Dunk for the Swoosh’s skateboarding division.
The shoe was limited to just 20 pairs at Staple’s Reed Space store in the Lower East Side, and featured a slate grey upper with an embroidered pigeon on the heel, in tribute to the Big Apple’s native pests. A scrum of over 100 thirsty sneakerheads gathered outside the shop on the shoe’s drop day, causing a scene that would make headlines and, along with Diamond Supply Co.’s equally-revered “Tiffany” Dunk, set the scene for the next 10 years of footwear-related mayhem.
Pharrell and NIGO Introduce the World to BAPE and Billionaire Boys Club at the VMAs – August 31, 2006
When Pharrell Williams hit the red carpet at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, he brought his friend, new business partner and BAPE founder NIGO along for the ride.
Decked out in gear from their recently-founded streetwear line and with some comically oversized bling to match, the duo exposed their Billionaire Boys Club / Ice Cream venture – and NIGO’s BAPE imprint, for that matter – to a huge new audience. BAPE would, along with BBC/Ice Cream, go on to achieve vast levels of popularity, marking a high point for streetwear’s garish, kaleidoscopic mid-2000s era.
NIGO was forced to sell BAPE to Hong Kong’s I.T. Group for just $2.8 million in 2011, citing poor financial performance. The Jacob & Co “$” chain he wore to the VMAs would later fetch $104,764 at his 2014 Sotheby’s auction and the multicolored, bling-adorned aesthetic he and Pharrell were so pivotal in is now a bit of an embarrassing footnote in streetwear history.
Kanye Makes His Sneaker Debut With the Louis Vuitton Yeezys – 2009
Kanye West’s sneaker projects stretch back to 2006 – including a friends-and-family Nike Air 180, a BAPE Bapesta, and a rather forgettable Reebok S. Carter shoe – but Yeezy’s project with Louis Vuitton marked his first step into full-on shoe design.
A trio of luxe kicks – the low-top “Don,” high-top “Jasper” and sneaker-loafer hybrid “Mr Hudson” were designed in collaboration with the legendary Parisian house, signifying the dawn of a new era in rap’s influence on style; one where MCs are not only recognized as tastemakers, but (in some cases, at least) welcomed into high-fashion’s inner circle.
The first set of Swoosh-adorned Yeezy shoes would follow soon after Kanye’s Louis Vuitton project, causing mayhem on the sneakerhead scene and kickstarting what would become one of the footwear world’s biggest collaborations.
Check out a complete illustrated history of Kanye West’s sneaker designs here.
Tyler, The Creator Reps Supreme in the Video for “Yonkers” – February 14, 2011
2011 saw Tyler, The Creator and his Odd Future cohorts leap from obscure hip-hop collective into a global rap juggernaut – cementing the group’s figurehead as an unwitting style icon in the process. The video for “Yonkers” saw Tyler bare-chested, rapping against a white backdrop with only a chain and Supreme cap for accompaniment. Similarly, when the young rapper collected his MTV Award for Best New Artist later in the year, he did so donning the brand’s iconic box logo.
As the Odd Future mob shot to global stardom, they took their beloved NYC skate label with them; exposing Supreme – and its unmistakable logo – to a new generation of internet-savvy youths in the process.
The “Feathers” and “Leopard” caps most famously donned by Tyler would go on to become some of the label’s most highly-coveted pieces, reaching upward of $300 on the resell market. While Supreme had been a streetwear icon for years, Odd Future’s meteoric rise to stardom signified new levels of visibility for the box logo; both on the streets and in the brand’s collections themselves.
Jay Z and Kanye Bring Street Goth and Givenchy Into the Spotlight on the Watch the Throne Tour – October 29, 2011 – June 22, 2012
When Jay Z and Kanye West took their blockbuster Watch The Throne album on the road, they did so with a gargantuan stage production and a gargantuan aesthetic. Head-to-toe in black, leather, and a whole ton of Givenchy, the rap megastars dragged the nascent street goth look into the spotlight and brought the brand – whose director Riccardo Tisci had designed the album’s artwork – to the forefront of high fashion and hip-hop’s blossoming romance.
Tisci’s iconic Rottweiler and shark graphics were not only worn by the duo, but blasted out onto huge screens, while Yeezy bravely wore a pleated Givenchy leather kilt – drawing derision and respect in equal measure.
Watch The Throne‘s all-black, graphic-heavy aesthetic would have huge repercussions not only on streetwear, but on the wider fashion world as well. Color all but disappeared from the streets, leather became the de facto fabric for anything and everything, and the street goth look was recreated by fast-fashion retailers all over the globe – making Kanye and Jay Z’s onstage dress look pretty dated just a few years later.
A$AP Rocky Shouts Out Raf Simons and Rick Owens in “Peso” – November 16, 2011
“Raf Simons, Rick Owens usually what I’m dressed in” rhymed A$AP Rocky on his breakout single “Peso.” While rappers name-dropping luxury brands is nothing new, Rocky’s boasts signaled the start of a new era in hip-hop style; one where rappers of all stripes wear avant-garde designer labels, giving new weight to the high/low trend and influencing legions of style-conscious fans in the process.
Fast forward four years and every rapper under the sun is professing a love for Raf and Rick, with obscure designers like Boris Bidjan Saberi and Haider Ackermann finding love in new places, too.
Along with 2011’s MTV Awards and the Watch The Throne tour, Rocky’s boasts would cement the idea that rappers are style influencers not just in their own world, but in the wider fashion sphere as well; catapulting niche labels into the streetwear wardrobe in the process.
Clearly, 2011 was a big year for our culture.
The Air Jordan 11 “Concord” Causes Riots Across the United States – December 23, 2011
The Pigeon Dunk was one of the first times a sneaker drop made headlines, but the release of the Air Jordan 11 “Concord” six years later would mark a high point for sneakerhead hysteria. While the shoe had been reissued twice already, Nike’s ability to create hype had hit stratospheric heights by 2011: the Concord release caused pandemonium across the United States, with police shutting down several malls and even resorting to pepper spray to keep the braying crowds under control. A mall in Richmond, California had to cancel the release after gunshots were fired and rumors even spread that a man had been killed in the fray for the sneaker.
Like most Jordan releases, the Concord was meticulously calculated to ensure maximum hype while still selling in vast quantities; Nike made headlines across the globe, caused mayhem at shoe stores nationwide and sold hundreds of thousands of sneakers instantly. All of this without the need for PR or advertising, and for a 16-year-old shoe that had already been reissued twice.
Nike’s Flyknit Technology Debuts at the Olympics – July 27 – August 12, 2012
When the many, many Nike-sponsored medal-winners stepped onto the podium to collect their prizes at the 2012 Olympic Games, they did so with the brand’s latest Swoosh-adorned innovations on their feet. Four years in the making, Nike’s Flyknit technology was a response to professional runners’ need for lighter, more breathable footwear, and had been engineered by the Oregon sportswear giant for maximum performance (and in typical Nike style, head-turning aesthetics).
The Flyknit series was given huge exposure during the games – most notably by a four-time victorious Michael Phelps – and would be a smash hit among sneakerheads, with the high-performance shoe becoming an integral part of the technical sportswear craze that gripped the streetwear world in ensuing seasons.
Nike would later become embroiled in a lawsuit with adidas over the technology; temporarily halting the production of its arch-rival’s Primeknit shoes.
As adidas makes big moves to usurp its arch rival, the Flyknit case serves as an example of just how big a mountain the Three Stripes has to climb; Nike’s woven sneakers dominated the sneaker landscape even though adidas claimed to have created the technology. Similarly, the Swoosh’s Olympics campaign – much like that of the 2014 World Cup – out-performed the Three Stripes’ on social media, despite adidas being The Games’ official sponsor.
Normcore Takes Over the World Then Disappears – February 26, 2014
In February of 2014, New York Magazine published a report on what trend forecasting agency K-Hole had dubbed Normcore; a supposed anti-fashion trend that embraced all things normal. Thanks to hysterical reactions from the content-hungry fashion press, Normcore quickly turned into a style movement of epic proportions; becoming the most googled fashion trend of 2014 while editors, stylists and fashionistas of all stripes pledged allegiance to the ordinary. Months later and it was gone, ironically resembling one of the meaningless fads it supposedly defied.
While Normcore’s swift rise and fall may have shown just how quickly things come and go in the age of social media, its spirit lives on in many ways. Gosha Rubchinskiy’s collections are imbued with a healthy dose of the ordinary, New Balance remain the anti-fashion sneaker of choice, readily-available baseball caps have become de rigueuer among streetwear kids and hipsters alike, and the chucks-and-Dickies look (which also featured heavily in Supreme’s “cherry” film) has become a standard in the skate scene. Normcore poster child Ian Connor has even landed the prestigious gig of styling Kylie Jenner.
Pharrell and His Mountain Hat – January 26, 2014
When Pharrell Williams strolled down the Red Carpet at the 2014 Grammy Awards – almost a decade after his landmark VMA moment with NIGO – his ever-youthful face was topped by a hat of colossal proportions.
The pop megastar’s vintage Vivienne Westwood mountain hat caused a sartorial earthquake, drawing derision, applause and more derision – not to mention a swathe of desperate copycats whose attempts at mimicking Williams’ steez were, quite franky, embarrassing. “The Pharrell Hat,” as it came to be known, showed just how vast celebrities’ – particularly those of the rap variety – influence is in this day and age. It did kickstart a new penchant for brimmed hats among streetwear heads and fashionistas alike, though – which is no bad thing in our books.
For more long reads, check out the following:
- Illustrations: Clara Lacy