Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s weekly celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting an emerging brand that’s bringing something new to the worlds of streetwear and fashion.
Nostalgia and irreverence are now so ingrained in skateboarding that they’re quickly becoming tropes. Flexing the familiar is a proven formula for sales and a bit of weirdness can create a safe level of ambiguity. But when New York City-based skate brand Grand Collection emerged in 2016, it chose to keep things simple.
Its stark, almost non-branding stood out and was bolstered by endorsements from some of skating’s biggest cult figures, such as Wade DesArmo, Connor Champion, and Nick “Buggy” Ferro. The brand’s sans-serif type choices and simple iconography create a pointed, intentional aesthetic informed by a tight-knit collective.
“I wanted to create something where all my favorite skateboarders could be involved in one thing,” says founder Ben Oleynik. “The aesthetic for Grand is really pure — just wanting to strip away things that aren’t needed. The main inspiration for the designs is the actual clothes themselves. Just making the things that we want to wear.”
The brand’s story began with Naomi, a Naomi Campbell-referencing 2016 clip featuring DesArmo, Champion, Kevin Tierney, and Adam Zhu.
As Oleynik explains, the look and feel of Grand is a product of his roots in rural Canada as well as his decade-plus in NYC. Growing up in a small forestry and mining town north of the border, Oleynik tastes were informed by the emerging East Coast scene of the ’90s.
The utilitarian aspect and Oleynik’s subsequent experiences in New York are central to Grand Collection. While many of its videos have the familiar grain and hip-hop pulse associated with ’90s NYC skate clips, Grand speaks with modernity and poise. Both the garments and videos evoke the uneven clicks of skating over brick and the unpredictable nature of navigating the Five Boroughs. But, as Oleynik explains, that narrative expands through friends of the brand, wherever they are.
“We were all in Barcelona and everyone was wearing different swishy pants every day, but there were issues with all of them,” he says. “So one night, Buggy and I were just like, ‘The last thing the world needs is another pair of shitty swishy pants, so let’s make the best possible pair we can and have all the things we want in them.”
As entrepreneur and former Aesthetics Skateboards rider Jimmy Gorecki puts it, “The beauty of Grand to me personally is that each collection looks very new, recent, and relevant, yet pulls in design cues from so many past eras of skate and fashion. They all tie together very clean. Even the skateboarders involved are an extension of those various eras of skate. Vets mixed with fresh faces.”
Grand’s mission is clear: skate-driven clothing that’s built for wear. While Grand Collection’s price points are generally higher than many of its competitors, the caliber and quality construction are paramount, justifying the cost. That might be lost on those who haven’t felt the cold crack of a northeastern winter, slid across jagged pavilion marble, or simply don’t get how much easier it is to get through an Arctic session in the right gear, but Oleynik is realistic and sensitive about the disparity in consumer habits.
“I know that not everyone that’s into Grand is always going to want a $200 Canadian-made hoodie with a 14-inch embroidery on it, so we also make core items like tees and hoodies on Champion bodies that are at the standard skate brand pricing,” he says. “It’s important to me that pricing isn’t something that prevents people from having the brand. I just wanted to make something that people can cherish, something that has the right fabric and fit and will last. When people touch the product and wear it, they can feel the difference.”
Within Grand Collection, there’s no formal “team” as such, and the brand’s website is purposely sparse. Even Oleynik himself is somewhat guarded about lending too much to the brand’s story. “I think the product and videos and imagery speak for themselves,” he says. “I like that people can interpret the brand however they want.”
“Grand is family, simple as that,” says Canadian-born, undefeated Dime Glory Challenge Game of S.K.A.T.E. champion DesArmo. “Everything in the line is high-quality and cared for. I wear the caps or beanies almost every day and you already know they got the best pants out.”
Grand Collection’s Holiday ’18 drop is available on their website.
Now, check out why bulky skate shoes are on the comeback trail.