At the end of every year we take the time to look back on how the past 12 months have affected the street fashion scene we know and love. Shortlisted by us, but chosen by our readers, the Highsnobiety Crowns are our way of celebrating the leading forces in our field, and the changing face of our industry. And like last year, the winners will receive special aluminum key trophies designed by Snarkitecture and Highsnobiety.
With Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Supreme dominating so much of the news this year, it could be argued that 2017 was a year when the big names really reclaimed their place at the top of the food chain following a disruptive few years. It’s strange to think a few years ago, young labels like Hood By Air and Public School were leading the way while the historic houses were, by comparison, trailing behind. But then if there’s one thing you can count on in fashion, it’s the cycles.
Nonetheless, we saw a number of smaller and younger brands breaking through over the past 12 months on a number of levels. It’s not necessarily surprising in the context of fashion’s current fascination with streetwear and DIY style – after all, you can’t have imitators without originators.
With that, here’s how you voted in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns awards for Best Breakthrough Brand, along with one extra Editors’ Choice, chosen by us.
The Best Breakthrough Brand of 2017
Bronze - Palm Angels
As the brainchild of artistic director at Moncler and famed Italian fashion photographer Francesco Ragazzi, Palm Angels was unlikely to have a hard time breaking into the fashion industry. The label’s confrontational mix of surf, skate, and grunge culture, framed through a romanticized memory of the West Coast, slotted perfectly into the fashion world’s current infatuation with late-20th century nostalgia, and the past year has seen Palm Angels really claim its territory on the contemporary fashion landscape.
Featuring on the brand roster of Marcelo Burlon’s distribution and production company New Guards Group alongside Off-White, Heron Preston, Unravel Project and, of course, Marcelo Burlon, Palm Angels has been naturally predisposed toward linking up with all the scene’s most influential figures. Earlier this year, the brand created pieces for Maxfield LA’s Guns N’ Roses pop-up shop, a theme into which Ragazzi’s flame and palm tree-soaked aesthetic slotted perfectly, while the brand also opened its own standalone pop-up spaces in Milan and Tokyo — the latter modeled on a strip club known as the “Lonely Hearts Club.”
But ultimately, 2017 was the year Palm Angels really found its place on the mainstream circuit, with collections being picked up by some of the most influential boutiques and department stores around the world, as well as receiving celebrity cosigns from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and Joe Jonas. As the brand’s name suggests, Palm Angels is a label immersed in glitz, glamour, and high-life with a streetwear twist, and the brand’s growing list of celebrity clientele is a testament to the value such an offering holds right now.
Silver - A-COLD-WALL*
Young British designer Sam Ross was pegged for greatness early on, and when he first emerged in the press as an alumnus of Virgil Abloh’s label Off-White a few years back, one of the big questions was how his work would develop. Would A-COLD-WALL* be a reflection, or even an imitation, of Off-White, or would we see where Virgil was getting some of his ideas from?
A few seasons later, and Ross has clearly proven to be a talent of his own making. His fascination with modernist design and pioneering disciplines such as the Bauhaus School has returned from collection to collection, gradually evolving with consistency and pace. As a result, the designer has successfully crafted an A-COLD-WALL* “universe,” and it’s possible to look at releases and see continuity and themes – something that isn’t always easy for young and emerging labels.
Ross kicked off 2017 with his label incredibly well, debuting at London Fashion Week with his Fall/Winter 2017 presentation, and receiving a NEWGEN award from the British Fashion Council alongside Liam Hodges and Grace Wales Bonner. This was shortly followed, in May, with the announcement of the brand’s two-day “ACADEMIA CORRECTION WORKSHOP” pop-up in London.
Another significant moment for A-COLD-WALL* in 2017 was during the brand’s Spring/Summer 2018 presentations, when a number of bespoke Nike Air Force 1s customized by Ross were shown. For a long time, it was not clear whether the shoes would be seeing a broader release, but a few iterations have slowly begun to release via ticketed events and unannounced launches. With Spring/Summer 2018 still yet to come, we can only hope to see more of the Nikes next year.
Gold - Kappa
The appearance of Kappa is a bit of an anomaly on a shortlist for breakthrough brands in 2017, but difficult to argue with. Though the brand is now decades old and experienced its heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s with football casual culture, Kappa has gone through something of a renaissance in recent years.
This was kicked off by a number of collaborations with Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, most significantly during his Spring/Summer 2017 presentation at Pitti Uomo last year. As 2017 progressed, this was amplified by new partnerships with Opening Ceremony, C2H4, and Kinfolk, setting the stage for the triumphant return of one of Italian sportswear’s most iconic brands.
Kappa’s return to form isn’t purely down to tactful association, however. The brand’s Kappa Kontroll label, launched in 2017 and named after the label’s original quality control label introduced back in the ‘60s, dug back into the brand’s extensive archives and brought classic European sports style back in a way that only a brand that was there the first time around could.
In the same way that the rise of workwear and heritage a few years ago saw brands like Carhartt, Dickies, and Doc Martens returning to vogue, it makes sense that fashion’s current infatuation with tracksuits and sportswear should open the door for another element of heritage fashion to make a comeback. And frankly, it’s a welcome return.
Editors' Choice - ALYX
Though he might have broken onto the scene through his work with Kanye West’s DONDA agency and the meta-streetwear memelord collective BEEN TRILL, 2017 was the year that Matthew Williams, creative director of ALYX, really came into his own.
And if many of his previous projects demonstrated his savvy grasp of popular culture and modern marketing, ALYX has been where Williams flexed his high fashion pedigree, and with the label’s expansion into menswear for Fall/Winter 2017, that same pop culture perspective reared its head again in a sharper, more refined form.
Playful pieces like a graphic t-shirt displaying the correct pronunciation of the brand (“Aleeks”) poked fun at the fashion world’s typically watertight protection of brand identity, while playful releases like their collaboration with Vans and their now-trademark rollercoaster belt encapsulated the idea that sometimes all you need to do is offer a refreshing new take on an old favorite.
Because of this, Williams’ label was one of the most talked-about brands during the fashion week presentations, and with good cause. And we’re putting our money on it—you’re going to hear even more about Matthew Williams in 2018.