In this monthly column by Eugene Rabkin, the founder of StyleZeitgeist shares his opinions, observations, and insights about the world of fashion. For the first installment, Eugene explains why he thinks the future of fashion is male.
What were the most exciting news in fashion this year? Virgil Abloh being hired by Louis Vuitton and Kim Jones going to Dior. That is Louis Vuitton men’s and Dior men’s. Hedi Slimane’s hiring at Celine also included the major news that he will be creating a menswear line. Around the same time Jun Takahashi of UNDERCOVER announced that he will stop showing womenswear on the Paris catwalk and start showing men’s.
Last year’s most exciting collaboration was between Louis Vuitton and Supreme, menswear again. On the retail side, the talk of the town has gone from the see-now-buy-now model to the drop model - witness the newly recalibrated Burberry under Riccardo Tisci. This product delivery method is being adopted from streetwear. It was pioneered in Japan by the likes of Hiroshi Fujiwara and NIGO of A Bathing Ape, and adapted in the West by Supreme. The kind of excitement a Supreme drop generates has become the envy of every luxury fashion house. Young men routinely wait in line for hours in order to get a piece of each new drop. When was the last time you saw women line up for new clothes?
Even though women’s fashion still outsells menswear by roughly a fifty percent margin, its menswear counterpart is outpacing it in growth, and has been for most years since 2009, according to a study published earlier this year by Euromonitor, a market research firm. But the larger point is that it feels like virtually everything that generates excitement in fashion these days comes from the menswear world.
The reasons for this takeover of fashion are not new, but it looks like menswear is now at its apex of influence. The largest development here is the acceptance of streetwear into the mainstream of designer fashion. It is now perfectly normal for fashion designers to put the archetypes of streetwear, like hoodies and tees on the catwalk. Every design house from Louis Vuitton down is busy making sneakers. For its part, the audience has grown comfortable with high-fashion level prices and is willing to plunk down serious cash previously reserved for cashmere sweaters and dressy shoes.
If we expand this lens wider, what’s behind the rise of streetwear is the continuous casualization of the way we dress. But while that has meant that women have been dressing down to athleisure from the likes of Lululemon and adidas, in a way men have been dressing up, going from Champion hoodies to hoodies by Givenchy and VETEMENTS, and from Nike sneakers to sneakers by Balenciaga.
Instagram, the ever-more-important barometer for fashion tells the same story: Its female influencers are now just as often spotted in Supreme and the latest Nike sports bra, as they are in Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana. This past Halloween, Urban Outfitters rolled out its first-ever female “influencer” costume—it consists of a generic-looking baseball hat, hoodie, sports bra, leggings, and a pair of sneakers.
Another important part of this story is that this newly-minted male cohort of fashion fans consists of straight men. In the Western world, it has now become socially acceptable for young straight men, at least in big cities, to be genuinely interested in fashion and dressing up.
In China, arguably the most important luxury market today, the story is similar. But the dress code largely remains the same—the familiar tropes of streetwear straight men are comfortable with, but done better.
In an interview earlier this year, Chris Gibbs, the owner of cult Los Angeles menswear store Union, told me that he got into elevated streetwear because he saw—especially with the Japanese designers like visvim and Neighborhood—that one could have the same sensibility of high fashion in terms of fabric quality, construction, attention to detail and fit, but filtered through streetwear archetypes. It's an absolutely spot-on description of what young men want to wear today.
The enthusiasm for fashion that men display is palpable also in the rise of their fascination with vintage fashion from cult designers like Raf Simons and Helmut Lang. First popularized by rappers like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, wearing vintage Raf and Helmut has acquired a trajectory of its own, culminating in a recent sale of a Raf Simons vintage bomber jacket for a cool $47,000 on Grailed, the menswear resale site.
Last month, the owners of Patron of the New, a New York boutique, rolled out a three-day vintage sale heavily featuring the pair, plus garments from UNDERCOVER, Rick Owens, and Craig Green. Nine out of 10 people in the line that stretched down the block to get into the store consisted of high school-aged boys.
Gill Linton, the owner of Byronesque, the highly curated resale site, says that men’s interest in vintage fashion is the biggest shift she has seen in the last few years. This December, Byronesque will host an exclusive sale of James Lavelle’s collection of early clothes from A Bathing Ape in London. It will be Byronesque’s first-ever menswear-only event.
Chances are the influence of menswear will continue. I recently asked my teenage daughter if boys in her high school care about clothes. She answered decisively: “Much more so than girls!”
Those of you in the fashion world who haven’t figured this out yet, take note.
Eugene Rabkin is the editor of StyleZeitgeist magazine.