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.
Over the past few years, virtually every rule in fashion has been bent, broken, or rewritten entirely. While it might be possible to, at least in part, attribute this to shifts in attitudes and the evolution of the industry, the reality is that much of this transformation has been down to certain individuals.
A lot of the time it’s just a single moment, like when A$AP Rocky name-dropped Raf Simons and Rick Owens in “Peso” back in 2011. Other times it’s a long and drawn out process, like Virgil Abloh’s gradual rise in recent years.
The term “influencer” might get bandied around so often these days that it seems to have lost all meaning, but influence does still exist. The question is, whose contribution was the most significant this year?
With that, here’s how you voted in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns awards for Most Influential Person, along with one extra Editors’ Choice, chosen by us.
The Most Influential Person of 2017
Bronze – Kanye West
You know, there’s an argument to be made that 2017 was a pretty quiet year for Kanye West. But then, even when it’s quiet, it’s never really quiet.
After the spectacle of his YEEZY Season 3 presentation at Madison Square Gardens, followed by a Season 4 presentation plagued with mishaps and debacles, Kanye decided to make Season 5 a distinctly more low-key affair, eschewing social media spectacles or global broadcasts in favor of the more familiar model; a few invites here and there, a closed location, a classic runway presentation. Such a quiet approach is obviously out of character for Kanye, but then out of character is very much part of his character. Confused?
But where Kanye cut back on public statements and outrageous behavior this year, we started to get a glimpse of his broader vision being implemented. More specifically, the revealing of his collaborative “Calabasas” line with adidas Originals was arguably the biggest step forward in West’s dream of creating stylish clothing at an affordable price. Of course, the product sold out almost immediately, as you might have expected, but the point remains: sweatpants and sneakers priced at $120 is pretty big when you remember the eye-wateringly high prices of the first YEEZY line.
Elsewhere, Kanye has continued to prove his worth as a tastemaker and industry leader. At the beginning of the year, he gave an unexpected boost to Finnish sneaker brand Karhu after being spotted out in a pair of their Fusion 2.0 sneakers. On the YEEZY side of the sneaker world, meanwhile, 2017 was the year that the hype surrounding the YEEZY Boost 750 and 350 models finally began to die down, with only four releases of the 350 V2 model at time of writing.
Instead, attention turned to the YEEZY Wave Runner 700, a new silhouette clearly inspired by the aggressively designed running models of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, strongly inline with the “dad sneaker” trend emerging in fashion right now. Considering Balenciaga, Dior, Acne Studios, and countless other labels have all tried their hand at the style, it’s no surprise that Kanye would be close behind with his own take, and with the recent emerging of another new “Mud Rat” 500 model, he’s clearly getting deep into the movement.
Turning to the music side of things, 2017 was a relatively quiet year for Kanye, but not as far as the rumor mill goes. Throughout the year there have been whispers that he was working with the likes of Migos, Post Malone, Kid Cudi, PARTYNEXTDOOR, even Mary J. Blige. Rounding things off, reports recently emerged that West had registered a trademark for “Yeezy Sound,” sparking rumors that he might be in the process of launching his own music streaming service. As is so often the case with Kanye West, nothing’s clear — for now. But when you want to talk about influence, nothing says it quite like having a relatively quiet year, and yet somehow still managing to be the center of conversation.
Silver – A$AP Rocky
Considering he made his name as the fashion-forward pretty boy of rap, it’s no surprise that 2017 was just another year for A$AP Rocky as far as fashion influence goes. He began the year by stepping out as one of the faces of Dior Homme’s Spring/Summer 2017 campaign, alongside Mr. Robot star Rami Malek and ‘80s pop icon Boy George.
Rocky’s ever-popular collaborations with Guess Jeans continued throughout the year, and most recently the rapper confirmed a new partnership with Under Armour. It’s not yet clear what form this new collaboration will take, but there’s no doubt it’ll draw a lot of young eyes to the UA brand, as intended.
Of course, perhaps the largest project A$AP Rocky undertook this year was his AWGE pop-up space at London’s Selfridges department store. Laid out in the style of a typical New York bodega store, the space offered all manner of A$AP-branded merchandise — even Krispy Kreme donuts.
But the main reason Rocky has made our shortlist this year is simply his continued ability to lead the conversation. People watch Rocky as an indicator of where fashion is right now. If he wears it, it’s cool. If he disses it, it’s over. His personal endorsement of Raf Simons, Balenciaga, and Gucci helped to define some of the year’s “must-have” pieces. When you’re talking about influence, it doesn’t get more straightforward than that.
Gold – Virgil Abloh
He just might be the most divisive individual in fashion right now, but then, you know what they say: There’s only thing worse than being talked about–not being talked about.
Ever since he emerged from his role at Kanye West’s DONDA with his own label, Pyrex Vision, Virgil Abloh has been a point of contention among streetwear fans, fashion heads, Kanye stans, and pretty much every other clique in our little corner of the internet. This year, the debates surrounding Abloh reached fever pitch. Rumors that he would be taking over for Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, for example, fired up the old arguments about his validity as a designer, as did later rumors that he was being scouted for a job at Versace.
But this year, Abloh embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of his career, and one that just might have put to bed some of the dissenting voices. His collaborative “The Ten” project with Nike was a monumental event for sneakerheads, fashion fans, and more, and was arguably proof of concept for his particular approach to design and style. When you’ve got scores of teens lining up for hours to buy sneakers, meet the designer, and get him to sign their shoes, suddenly the negative voices in the comment sections seem to matter less.
But the influence and impact that Abloh has personally had is much broader than any single collection or release. Abloh is a black American designer who has climbed his way to the top of the fashion industry a different way; no years of bouncing around doing internships at fashion houses praying for a leg-up; nor slugging it out at one house for a decade or more in the hopes that the CD position might one day be yours; no familiar ties to one of the handful of remaining fashion dynasties that not only provide a healthy supply of cash but also, in turn, all but guarantee your success.
Investment from the New Guard Group notwithstanding, the key thing about Virgil Abloh is that his is a self-built empire, and one that flies in the face of much of what the old guard (pun not intended) of fashion stand for. Which is why, whenever you hear one of those people complaining about Off-White or deriding Abloh, is it because his work isn’t good, or because he’s a threat?
Editors’ Choice – Demna Gvasalia
In our industry, the word “influence” is one that at times has become more and more meaningless, referring to anything from Hollywood stars who can make a pair of sneakers sell out in five minutes by wearing them once, to teenage girls who can garner 5,000 likes on a photo of some highlighter in the grips of some incredibly well-manicured nails. But for this, we’re taking it back to that core, dictionary definition of the term; the ability to do something, and for others to follow. And love him or hate him, 2017 was the year that Demna Gvasalia proved beyond all doubt that he’s leading the conversation right now.
In some instances, it’s debatable whether it was Demna who even started many of the zeitgeist’s biggest trends – the chunky sneaker thing arguably traces back to Raf Simons’ Ozweegos, and the transformation of banal household brands into fashion pieces has done the rounds a few times (Supreme x Rust-O-Leum, anyone?), but it was Demna’s recent forays into those fields that made the world beyond the fashion commentariat really sit up and listen.
When the Triple S sneaker stepped out on the runway at the beginning of this year, the audience collectively said, “Okay, this is a thing now.” When Vetements announced they were effectively throwing out the traditional fashion presentation calendar in favor of two shows a year, showing men’s and women’s collections together, it triggered a slew of think-pieces and op-eds asking, “Is it time for change?” It genuinely made people question the status quo – all of which made the brand’s reversion to the regular schedule for their FW18 presentation all the more satisfying. Demna says, “Jump,” and the fashion world says, “How high?” That’s influence.