It’s no secret that high-fashion has been flirting with streetwear for the past half-decade, but while the prestigious Parisian houses have been dabbling in hoodies and graphic tees, a handful of streetwear designers have been pushing things in the opposite direction.
Menswear currently stands at an unusual, almost-lawless juncture. These days there are no longer any rules for what a runway collection must look like (see Gosha Rubchinskiy) or limits to what you might consider streetwear (see Hood By Air). The paradigms have shifted and blurred the traditional lines of categorization, meaning that streetwear can not only coexist with luxury fashion, but can actually become part of it, too.
Borrowing ideas from the street and translating them into luxury ready-to-wear collections is not a new idea. You’ll struggle to find a fashion house more steeped in old-world authenticity than Yves Saint Laurent, yet the French designer regularly drew inspiration from the streets of Paris around him. In recent years, however, a new wave of designers has emerged, with their streetwear background – and that’s “streetwear” in the most traditional, skate-influenced, graphic-adorned sense – marrying perfectly with their contemporary, avant-garde sensibilities. There are, of course, obvious protagonists in this field: think UNDERCOVER’s Jun Takahashi, founder of arguably the archetypal brand within this niche, or, more recently, Virgil Abloh with his OFF-WHITE label.
The stories of these designers, however, are well known to most people with a vague interest in street fashion. So, here we’ve chosen to shine a light on four members of the newer school — designers we feel are truly pushing the sharp end of the scissors to cut the divide between classic streetwear and luxury high-fashion.
Fumito Ganryu at GANRYU
Being awarded your own eponymous sub-brand under the COMMES des GARÇONS umbrella is an honor that the label’s founder, Rei Kawakubo, has only bestowed upon a handful of designers. And it was in the studio of the first person to receive such an honor, Junya Watanabe, that Fumito Ganryu first cut his teeth, working as a pattern-cutter for several years before being given the go-ahead to launch his own eponymous sub-brand in 2008.
While Ganryu’s stylings incorporate the typical avant-garde spirit that most have come to expect from the Japanese label, his seasonal offering is typically rooted in sportswear and skate graphics, creating coach-jacket-blazer hybrids and riffs on motifs by legendary names like Thrasher. While there’s something inherently “streetwear” in that concept itself — taking something from another world and subverting it — when you dig beyond the surface of each collection, the same themes seem to crop up again and again — the uniforms of rebellious youth-tribes are deconstructed and reimagined for a highly discerning customer base.
London-based designer Kiko Kostadinov rose to prominence with his collaborative Stussy “Displacement” collection in 2013, sold by Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio. The Bulgarian-born designer created a selection of one-off pieces from slashed and spliced hoodies and sweatshirts – expanding on his work with stylist Stephen Mann, who had first commissioned him to make one of these bespoke hoodies for a shoot in Clash magazine.
Kostadinov has since gone on to create several more variations on this theme, in an ongoing collaboration with the brand and their London sales agency, Gimme 5. Last year he released a further capsule collection via London boutique Machine-A, which he used to fund his masters course in fashion design at Central St Martins, where he has honed a unique style that takes influence from designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Jun Takahashi.
Kostadinov’s creations are far from your typical Stussy aesthetic, with each one pushing the envelope further than traditional streetwear would ever dare to venture, as he explores just how much you can really do with a single sewing machine and a big box of sweatshirts. As it turns out, the answer is: a lot.
Daisuke Yokoyama at Sasquatchfabrix.
There has always been something wonderfully democratic about Japanese fashion, which allows brands to move swiftly between genres, eschewing all forms of rigid categorization. This may, in part, be due to Tokyo’s fashion history (or lack of it, up until the 1960s), as designers like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto helped transform the city into a major fashion hub. Mercifully free of the old-guard stiffness that has often stifled European fashion, Japanese labels have long felt able to mix items like plain graphic T-shirts with highly conceptual runway designs and it be quite normal – something that the likes of Paris and Milan have only recently warmed to.
Such a paradigm has allowed brands like Sasquatchfabrix. to thrive. Daisuke Yokoyama’s esoteric label launched in 2003, under the Wonder Worker Guerilla Band umbrella — a group of Tokyo-based visual artists with a shared background in skate, graffiti and music — and his collections combine a background in both architecture and graphic design alongside an irreverent love of youth culture. It’s not uncommon to find collections that happily contain bucket hats and Beavis & Butthead tees alongside $1,000 mohair cardigans, challenging asymmetric shirts and traditional leather tabi shoes, creating a willful mix of influences that revels in being both grown-up and young-at-heart all at the same time.
Max Vanderwoude Gross at Proper Gang
Like so many freshly-popular brands in the world of contemporary menswear, Proper Gang announced itself to the party with the help of seminal retailers Opening Ceremony. They saw in designer Max Vanderwoude Gross what Supreme would go on to see some seasons later, reportedly offering him the position of Design Director just a few months ago. Gross claims the brand took its name from his former life as a gang member, seeking to translate his one-time street-punk uniform into something that wouldn’t look out of place in the world’s finest boutiques.
The label’s look is perhaps nothing groundbreaking in its laid-back, deliberately boxy aesthetic. However, Gross made the astute move to blend super luxury fabrics with clean lines or ever-popular sportswear staples, transforming them into items far removed from their source material. In some respects, Proper Gang took Phoebe Philo’s winning formula at Cèline and re-appropriated it for a male audience — choosing to sell style with a luxury finish over something that deliberately tried too hard to be “fashion.” The challenge for Gross now is whether he can maintain his sterling run of work while also grappling with the challenge of designing two seasonal collections for Supreme — a brand with a far more traditional place on the streetwear/fashion spectrum…
Words by Calum Gordon for Highsnobiety.com