The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. All shortlists are chosen by the in-house editorial staff at Highsnobiety, with the final result left up to you, the readers.
As you can imagine, we get a lot of emails from new labels wanting to get featured on Highsnobiety. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement: our inboxes are flooded with lookbooks and press releases from upcoming brands and designers.
So at the beginning of last year, we decided to give all these newcomers a place of their own. We launched Under the Radar with the aim of shouting out the best new brands to hit us up each month, and the series quickly became one of our most successful recurring features.
Under the Radar has shown us that there’s a mind-blowing amount of talented new brands and designers out there, and even better, the feature is truly global. We’ve highlighted brands from as far away as Brazil, South Africa, Poland, Indonesia and South Korea, alongside countless collections from all the usual fashion hubs.
So, with that in mind, we’re giving Under the Radar it’s very own category in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns awards. What’s more, we’re teaming up with Capsule to give the winners the opportunity to show their collections to countless buyers and press at Paris and New York’s fashion weeks.
This year’s winners of the Gold, Silver, Bronze and Editor’s Choice awards will show their FW17 collections at Capsule’s Paris and New York shows. Capsule is an expertly-curated tradeshow featuring some of the world’s most directional menswear labels, and a thriving hub for industry insiders to do business. Needless to say, it’s an amazing way for upcoming labels to break into the increasingly competitive menswear market.
Fashion is both an art form and a business, so we’ve selected these brands on not just the strength of their ideas, but their ability to design products that people will actually buy, too. Here’s the best of the best brands to land in our inbox this year — labels and designers that we can really see becoming the next big thing in fashion and streetwear.
One lucky voter was gifted a $2,000 shopping spree courtesy of luxury shopping destination MATCHESFASHION.COM. Stay posted for next year’s Crowns.
Winners: The Best Under the Radar Brand of 2016
Bronze – Used Future
If 2016 has shown us anything, it’s that Korea is a hotbed of exciting young talent. It’s hardly surprising that Used Future scored so highly in this year’s Crowns — it came third, just a handful of votes behind Manta. The brand has got plenty to offer style-savvy guys in Asia, and the rest of the world, too — let’s hope that Korean brands expand their global distribution in the future.
Silver – Manta Ops
One of the best things about streetwear in the age of social media is that brands can go so far in such a short space of time. Manta Ops is hardly a year old, but its eerie, dystopian aesthetic and strong selection of product won us over big time. Judging from Manta’s finishing place, it won over a lot of Highsnobiety readers, too.
Gold – The Incorporated
Repurposed military gear, hand-dyed fabrics and an impressive DIY ethic characterized The Incorporated’s debut at the beginning of the year. The young Seattle brand dropped one of the most imaginative collections we saw in Under the Radar this year. We loved it — and 21 percent of the guys voting in this year’s Crowns did, too.
Editor’s Choice – Sisyphe
In a year jam-packed with promising new brands and designers, Sisyphe stood out. The “Southside” collection, which marked the brand’s first appearance on Highsnobiety, nailed the “sweet spot” between boundary-pushing and accessible, and the collections that followed have been no different. That’s why we’ve awarded the Madrid label with the Editor’s Choice award this year — like all of the brands included in our shortlist, we can really see Sisyphe going places.
Low-brow aesthetics are all the rage these days. From Gosha Rubchinskiy’s army of youthful Gopniks to Vetements’ couture-trash fashionistas and Palace’s tracksuit-donning skate kids, looks that were once considered tacky or tasteless are now all the rage with wealthy high fashion types.
Australian designer Lukas Vincent presented his own take on the high-low aesthetic with Ex Infinitas’s debut collection. Inspired by his country’s “Bogan” culture, Ex Infinitas SS17 was an elevated vision of Aussie bad taste, with huge JNCO-style jeans (which came with reversed pockets), extra-baggy hoodies, velour zip-ups and “wifebeater” tank tops.
Vincent’s collection was cozy, lazy and louche — just look at that bucket hat and robe combo — and while Ex Infinitas doesn’t hit retailers until next year, the label’s distinct aesthetic and solid product offering had us “frothing” as the Aussies would say.
If the Under the Radar series has shown us anything, it’s that streetwear is a global language now. Most people wouldn’t consider Madrid a fashion hub, but Sisyphe’s banging “Southside” FW16 collection aptly demonstrated that it doesn’t matter where you’re from anymore.
Sisyphe’s FW16 collection was filled with witty statement pieces. Fashion-forward streetwear fans would go wild over the label’s patchworked, jagged-hem jeans, half-and-half tees and shirts, which were held together by safety pins, and sleeveless, collarless denim jackets. The Spanish label didn’t skimp on the basics, either — hoodies and tees adorned with youthful slogans like “Social Smoker” and “So Young and Tasteless” would keep regular customers happy, too.
Tokyo’s been one of the most prolific fashion cities in the world for years, so it’s hardly surprising that one of the year’s strongest collections came from the Japanese capital. Founded by Hiroyuki Fujita, JieDa has been around for a while now, but as is the case with so many Japanese labels, it’s been hidden away in the insular, impenetrable jungle that is the Tokyo fashion scene.
Oversized fits are one of the oldest tricks in the book, and JieDa’s FW16 of streetwear basics went in hard on the mega-sized proportions. JieDa’s baggy sweats, jeans and jackets all looked great — especially when paired with XXL-length belts — and the collection’s palette was on-point, too: low-key and neutral, just how people like it these days.
It wasn’t just dramatic volumes, though. JieDa packed plenty of witty details into its collection, as jeans had their seams placed on the front, sweaters were dissected and reconstructed at uneven angles, and trousers sported unusual belted knees.
Online shopping gives us access to a dizzying amount of products in an instant, but that makes it harder than ever to truly stand out in the crowd. As a response to that, a lot of new brands and designers are focussing their vision to just one product category, rather than committing to full wardrobe collections. It’s a smart move when it’s done right: just look at the outrageous success of Common Projects.
Meet Bruta, the London label that’s all about statement shirting. The brand’s founder, Arthur Yates, has no formal fashion training, but his flamboyant button-downs are ideal for bold dressers, thanks to their lavish embroideries, patterns and prints. Bruta’s past collections find inspiration in unusual places — like botanical illustrations and South American “Gaucho” culture — and the label made it into the shortlist because its unique product offering stands out in the crowded menswear market.
When it comes to streetwear, the West Coast is killing it these days. Seattle label Manta Ops proved that point with its second-ever collection, “New Cold War,” which dropped in the opening weeks of 2016.
A striking lineup of visually-charged graphic streetwear, all of the collection’s imagery was sourced from Russia, and commented on our generation’s reliance on technology and social media. In terms of garments, Manta’s designer, Ramza Heiral, focussed on tees, sweatshirts and hoodies — the core product categories of any streetwear brand worth its salt — and used them as a canvas for his distinctive design language.
Since New Cold War, Manta Ops has dropped more collections filled with its own unique brand of gloomy, dystopian imagery. Like all the other names here, Manta made it into the shortlist thanks to its striking, individual aesthetic and strong product offering.
London-based designer Sebastiaan Pieter dropped a FW16 collection inspired by the work of underground fetish photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (whose estate officially collaborated with Raf Simons for SS17, too). Pieter describes his aesthetic as “a masculine look intended for a man who is aware of his body,” so he cinched the arms of elongated shirts to highlight the bicep, cut many pieces close to the skin, and dropped some tongue-in-cheek winks to gay culture via the slogans “cruise” and “HH” (“high and horny”).
Pieter’s leather trousers and blazers made for some striking, fetishistic statement pieces, and his palette of black, white and red didn’t pull any punches, either. Visually strong, with dope subcultural influences and plenty of accessible pieces for buyers and customers to get stuck into: just how we like it.
The brainchild of New York designer Tony Liu, YOU AS debuted with the aim of building a long-lasting men’s wardrobe. The finished product was slick, polished and high quality — something that you could imagine both buyers and menswear fans getting really excited about.
Highlights of YOU AS FW16 included minimalist biker jackets, stripped back to the bare essentials and crafted from supple goatskin, alongside wool bombers with striped waists and oversized pockets, and cheeky intarsia knit sweaters adorned with scantily-clad pinups. A strong selection of menswear that was really crying out to be worn.
Another dope new brand to hail from Seattle (is there something in the water there?) was The Incorporated. The label’s “Body Ritual of the Nacirema” collection brought streetwear’s grassroots, DIY mentality into the present day, by screen-printing slogans onto reconstructed military cargo pants, adding parachute clips to bleached denim jackets and hand-dying some oversized velour hoodies.
The results were strong, and the brand’s DIY ethic shows just how far you can go with limited resources but great ideas. The Incorporated has already made its way into some prestigious global stockists — like KM20 in Moscow, London’s EJDER and New York’s VFILES — and Jaden Smith even wore one of the brand’s handmade denim jackets to the VMA Awards this year.
Another label inspired by obscure subcultures, Nounion looked to the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads, two gangs who roamed the streets of the Bronx in the ’70s. While mega-oversized fits are trending hard, the London label cut its clothes tight — even its sweatpants were skinny — for a sexed-up, ’70s-flavored look.
Highlights of Nounion’s debut collection included a zip-off denim jacket-coat hybrid, double layered sweaters, which had a top layer cropped to chest-revealing height, shaggy zip-up cardigans and thumbhole-cuff striped longsleeves. Nounion’s look isn’t for everyone — especially with cuts that slim — but we could see the label building a strong cult following thanks to its niche sensibilities and daring aesthetic.
South Korea is thriving right now. It’s one of the fastest-growing fashion markets in the world, and the country doesn’t slouch when it comes to creativity either: unlike China, Korea is consistently coming up with dope new brands of its own.
Seoul’s Used Future wowed us with its SS16 collection of punchy, on-trend streetwear. The brand’s shimmering green tracksuits, fine topcoats and hilarious brocolli-promoting sweaters were all dying to be worn, and its forthcoming SS17 collection is packed with bangers too — those metallic silver bombers, wide, side-zippered track pants and bright crimson trucker jackets would cause mayhem if/when the brand made it over into the Western market.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg: there’s countless dope Korean brands these days. Here’s hoping they expand their distribution soon, as their on-trend, highly accessible collections would kill it in the West.
- Illustrations: Yu Nagaba