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Where the runway meets the street

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 reader. Every voter will be automatically entered to win one of two prizes. This year’s grand prize is a $1,500 gift card with two runner-up gift cards valued at $500 each, courtesy of luxury shopping destination LUISAVIAROMA. Stay tuned for the final results on December 21 and see who won last year here.

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.

So this year’s shortlist of breakthrough brands is a diverse mix, from simple T-shirt and hoodie brands to fast-emerging high fashion labels. Each made 2017 their year in their own special way; the question is who did it best?

Alyx Studios

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety.com

Though Matthew Williams only launched the label back in 2015, Alyx Studios has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame, fueled by a tastefully progressive take on current fashion trends as well as Williams’s razor-sharp command of pop culture and contemporary style. But 2017 was the year that Alyx Studios really broke out into the mainstream with a number of big steps.

Most significantly, this year saw Alyx Studios debut their first full menswear collection. The collection’s title, “E. 1999 Eternal,” is borrowed from the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony album of the same name, and presents a playful blend of sharp tailoring and cultural references that you might expect from an alumnus of DONDA Creative and the notorious Been Trill collective.

Beyond the main collection, another big story for Alyx this year was its expansive collaborative releases with Vans, offering tasteful updates to lesser-known silhouettes like the OG Style 138 LX and Authentic Convertible 43 LX. In its simplicity and subversiveness, it was a collaboration that demonstrated Williams’s innate ability to present the familiar in a new light, and encapsulates the reason we’ve nominated Alyx Studios for Breakthrough Brand this year.

GmbH

GmbH

As any resident of the city will probably tell you, Berlin doesn’t really do fashion so much as it does “style.” Berliners certainly have a distinctive and oft-stylish way of dressing, but it’s rarely led by broader fashion trends – unless that trend is the color black.

It’s this which has made Berlin-based fashion label GmbH such an interesting one to watch over the past 18 months. The fledgling brand has in many ways achieved the impossible, condensing the unique mix of utilitarian design and fearless subculture that informs the Berlin style into a single, cohesive brand. Even the brand’s name, an abbreviation for limited-liability companies in Germany (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung), speaks to the industrial spirit of a city that wears its history on its sleeve.

As a result, GmbH’s offer is a distinct mix of rugged workwear pieces like chore jackets and painter pants, relaxed fit sweats, and the essential puffy jackets that become a mainstay among Berlin’s youth when winter rolls around each year. But subtle updates and a few design twists – asymmetric paneling, material switches, stylistic touches – turn Berlin’s core aesthetic of function and necessity into a compelling fashion statement. From the collections to the brand’s bare-bones name, it’s an approach that embodies the Berlin spirit – creating something compelling with the simplest materials, and looking good while you do it.

Palm Angels

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety.com

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.

Kappa

Lou Rolley / Highsnobiety

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.

A-COLD-WALL*

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.

Advisory Board Crystals

Advisory Board Crystals

Still relatively underground in the scene even now, Advisory Board Crystals has been slowly building up momentum throughout the year due in part to its quirky, ethereal aesthetic, and in part to the identity of its two founders – former Band of Outsiders Remington Guest and Heather Haber. With a pedigree like that, it’s no surprise the burgeoning spirituality-meets-streetwear brand has been garnering so much attention.

It’s been a busy year for the brand as well, with notable collaborations with Bergdorf Goodman putting them on the retail map. At its core, however, the brand’s allure comes from its weird and wonderful concept, rooted in spirituality, shamanism, and new-age cosmology. Alongside tie-dyed T-shirts and surreal T-shirts not dissimilar to Cactus Plant Flea Market, the brand also sells healing crystals, including a $720 diamond which “may stimulate clairvoyant abilities and may assist in telepathic communication.”

I suppose part of Advisory Board Crystals’ charm is in the ambiguity of how sincere the concept is. On the one hand, Guest and Haber tout their brand’s origins in their chance meeting in an Uber a few years back – a serendipitous encounter that they cite as evidence that the universe was working in their favor. On the other hand, the concept is so out there that it’s difficult to believe it isn’t even slightly tongue-in-cheek. When it comes down to it, the brand is a perfect expression of that aloof, eccentric West Coast sense of humor that’s less about whether the joke is on you or someone else, and much more about whether you choose to be in on it.

Martine Rose

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety.com

Back in February of this year, Interview Magazine introduced Martine Rose as “London’s of-the-moment menswear designer,” so it’s hardly surprising that 2017 has been a pretty busy year for her eponymous label. Her label has formed part of the new guard of cutting-edge British designers alongside Liam Hodges, Grace Wales Bonner, Samuel Ross, and Charles Jeffrey, and her raw, down-to-earth reinvention of familiar British wardrobe essentials like technical jackets, sweats, and white-collar workwear has proven a hit amongst London’s fashion elite, as well as further afield.

This year also saw the debut of Napa by Martine Rose, a collaborative collection between the designer and iconic Italian technical brand Napapijri, bringing her exaggerated silhouettes to the brand’s utilitarian outerwear pieces. A longtime favorite among certain British subcultures like ravers and skaters, what at first seemed like an odd pairing turned out to be a perfect match for Rose’s unique perspective, and created some of the most fascinating designs we’ve seen all year.

Put simply, this year was Martine Rose’s because of how timely her collections have proven to be in an era when designers the world over have become increasingly fixated on normality and the benign. Rose’s exploration of British culture at its most charmingly mundane came into its own this year, and similar offerings from other high-end labels, in comparison, seem watery and flat in comparison, not naming any names. Here’s hoping she has even more to offer in 2018.

Ader Error

Ader Error

Though already a firm favorite in its home country of Korea, 2017 was the year that Ader Error really seemed to break out across the globe. The label’s bright color schemes, Windows 95-esque aesthetic, and surreal universe has been perfectly suited to a world where reality and truth have become increasingly unstable concepts, but more than anything, their clothes are just fun – to look at, to touch, to read, to wear, you name it.

If Japanese streetwear label C.E is a brand that explores the nitty gritty elements of contemporary digital culture, Ader Error might be the label that stays in the sunshine. Their collections are like the visual manifestation of a LiveJournal profile, littered with the same playful notes that we’ve seen from brands like Lazy Oaf, Acne Studios, or Opening Ceremony.

But coming from the merging fashion market of South Korea, there’s something more fresh and exciting about Ader Error. It’s glossy and shiny in a way that South Korea does best. We’re expecting to see a lot more from them over the coming months. In a global landscape that’s becoming increasingly sombre, they’re a welcome breath of fresh air.

032c

032c

Operating out of a brutalist church in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, helmed by one of the sharpest minds in art and fashion, it’s little wonder why 032c is arguably the best fashion magazine on the globe right now. The magazine’s lateral-minded approach to style and culture has meant some of its best comments on fashion have happened when it wasn’t even talking about fashion at all, and vice-versa.

Perhaps more surprising, however, is the equal success of 032c’s relatively-new eponymous label. Though much of their releases have revolved around the mag and its St. Agnes home, it would be an understatement to summarize the 032c brand as merchandise. The brand’s output has been as creative and forward-thinking as many “proper” fashion labels, and some of their releases – such as a range of T-shirts and sweats inspired by motocross gear – have actually been a few months ahead of the curve.

As for some of the other offerings – a capsule collection celebrating the art of smoking, hoodies and tees adorned with Swarovski crystals, and sweats emblazoned with the title of a hit song by Crowded House – the beauty of 032c is just how weird and wonderful it all is. It’s a fashion brand for those in the know, until everyone knows about it, at which point they’ll probably do something even better with that.

Abasi Rosborough

Abasi Rosborough

Abdul Abasi and Greg Rosborough’s Brooklyn-based fashion label Abasi Rosborough has had a pretty fortuitous year, just missing the shortlist for the LVMH Prize for best young designer (for Rosborough) back in March and garnering praise for their richly-themed collections.

The duo haven’t shied away from broader politics and social issues with their label, choosing to engage with some of the problems facing the world head on. Their Fall/Winter 2017 collection, tellingly entitled “Dissident,” presented a number of pieces almost exclusively in stark colors of blue, red, and black, while the collection’s lookbook was accompanied by famous quotes on the topics of rebellion, resistance, and activism.

The label’s measured blend of classic tailoring, contemporary cuts, and technical fabrics means Abasi Rosborough is naturally predisposed toward pushing envelopes in a number of senses, both political and sartorial. The brand’s recently-released “Apollo Tabi” boot has been gaining a lot of attention, an exciting hybrid of a Chelsea boot, a Japanese tabi shoe, and a typical basketball sneaker. Overall, Abasi Rosborough is one to watch for its designers’ ability to confidently mix diverse and disparate influences into a single form, all while remaining firmly engaged with the realities of the world around them, however bleak.

The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. See all of this year’s nominees here.

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