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 $500 each, courtesy of luxury shopping destination LUISAVIAROMA. Stay tuned for the final results on December 21 and see who won last year here.
Over the past few years, virtually every rule in fashion has been bent, broken, or rewritten entirely. While it might be possible to, at least in part, attribute this to shifts in attitudes and the evolution of the industry, the reality is that much of this transformation has been down to certain individuals.
A lot of the time it’s just a single moment, like when A$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 people we’ve shortlisted for our Most Influential Person in this year’s Crowns have demonstrated their ability to shape and carve the dialogues taking place in fashion, no matter how you might feel about them personally. The question is, whose contribution was the most significant this year?
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?
If you want to talk about a rapid rise to fame, it doesn’t get much faster than Demna Gvasalia, who in less than three years has gone from virtually unknown to creative director of one of the world’s most beloved couture houses.
Demna Gvasalia is another name in our list who has a unique ability to fascinate and infuriate people in equal numbers, and 2017 was the year Gvasalia really settled in to his role as the fashion scene’s provocateur-at-large.
After cementing his Balenciaga role with a (relatively; it’s always relative with Demna) conservative women’s presentation, Spring/Summer 2016 was when Demna really made his mark, particularly in menswear, where a collection defined by boxy shoulders and deliberately-conspicuous branded fitting cards in chest pockets announced that the new guy had arrived.
From that point onward, the industry sat up and paid attention to the Georgian’s personal brand of design — a combination of intertextuality, self-parody, and irreverence presented with such a straight face, you’re never quite sure if it’s all a joke, and if the joke might be on you.
And all of that only intensified as the year progressed. Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter 2017 collection turned all the dials up to 11, offering Bernie Sanders shout-outs; hoodies decorated with the logo of Balenciaga’s parent company, Kering; and styling which included hoodies worn under T-shirts and a particular pair of big, chunky sneakers. Like, really big, and really, really chunky.
Of course, that collection would become one of the hottest of the year, launching with a takeover at colette during Paris Fashion Week, while that sneaker – the Triple S – has sold out at an eye-watering pace in every color it has released in, and reignited that ever-enjoyable debate about sneakers, design, price, and hype. We can ask if the Triple S is popular because it’s well-designed, or maybe because of the brand, or maybe because of its high price, or simply because of hype. It’s probably all four at once.
And all of this is without even mentioning Gvasalia’s other project, Vetements, where he continued to stick two fingers up to the system, by doing away with the idea of a runway show for Spring/Summer 2018, instead presenting a collection of photos at the top of a multi-story parking lot in Paris.
To try and condense the work Gvasalia has done over the past 12 months alone into a few paragraphs is futile. Much like Abloh, his influence has been completely disrupting the way the fashion world believes things should be done. But where Abloh’s rebellion against the system has arguably always been one of necessity due to his particular background and circumstances, Gvasalia seems much more comfortable in his role as the industry’s trickster.
The most enjoyable and precarious element of watching Gvasalia at work is sitting at the sidelines, laughing along, with the anxiety that, at any moment, the spotlight could shift and the joke could be on you. In the world of Demna Gvasalia, nothing is sacred – least of all the audience.
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.
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.
Rihanna has long had a massive, passionate fan base who hang off her every word. Over the past few years she’s matured from pop star protégé of JAY-Z to media mogul, businesswoman, and feminist icon – at this point, she’s effectively the vanguard of women not giving a fuck, and she does so masterfully.
But let’s turn to the fashion side of things. As we explained during her nomination for Best Collaboration, Rihanna’s collaborative FENTY collection with German sportswear brand PUMA has undergone a similar evolution over the past few seasons. Starting from a handful of footwear silhouettes, Rihanna has grown her corner of PUMA to encompass a full fashion line, whose most recent Spring/Summer 2018 collection received rave reviews in the press, with some critics praising it as one of the best presentations of the season.
So far, so good. But if you’ve been plugged into Black Twitter at all over the past 12 months, then you know the real story for Rihanna this year was the release of her FENTY beauty line, backed by LVMH and released to acclaim, not least thanks to its offering of over 40 distinct shades of foundation, 30 shades of match sticks, and a gold highlighter, appropriately named “Trophy Wife,” that has basically changed the makeup game.
Put simply, this year was simply big step after big step by Rihanna, but it’s not just about what she did, but who she is and why she did the things she did. Arguably any major cosmetic company could have done what FENTY did – and it should tell us something that so few had even tried – but over the past few years, she’s made no mystery of her mission to make girls all around the world feel beautiful and empowered.
It’s hard not to be suspicious of large brands when they decide to take part in the push for greater diversity and representation in their industry, but when one of the world’s biggest pop stars with a huge heart for empowering women comes out with fashion and cosmetic lines that not only increase visibility of black and minority women in the industry, but also provide genuine, practical benefits to those same women as consumers, you can’t really feel anything except a warm glow inside.
You’re welcome to argue with that, of course, but remember: if you come for the queen, you’d best not miss.
Jerry Lorenzo’s career is one largely defined by influence. He first emerged, for most of us, as the guy decking out artists like Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and many of the G.O.O.D. Music crew in a rugged, ‘90s grunge style that has become his design signature. In the early days of Kanye West’s foray into fashion, it was rumored that Lorenzo was the true designer of “those” leather sweatpants that triggered the Kanye/Hedi beef. Lofty heights.
Though he might not have been milling around with the LA superstar set as much as he has in previous years, Lorenzo continued to demonstrate the sway he holds in the scene throughout 2017. Considering some of the biggest trends of the year were vintage rock tees, flannel shirts, and Vans Old Skool sneakers, it’s no surprise that Lorenzo’s been close by the whole time.
On a personal level, Lorenzo embarked on a number of projects this year, such as his sale of vintage band T-shirts at Maxfield LA, as well as selling off rare pieces from his personal wardrobe on Grailed. Elsewhere, Kendrick Lamar was seen wearing Fear of God tracksuits on multiple stops during his ‘DAMN.’ tour. And, of course, his collaboration with PacSun has continued to bring Fear of God’s distinctive aesthetic to the whole of the USA at an affordable price. When we’re talking about influence, there’s no denying Jerry’s got it.
And yet, somewhat counter-intuitively, if you really want to understand the influence of Jerry Lorenzo, a lot of the time you have to look in the places where he, quite explicitly, is not there. It’s difficult to understand how a comparatively small, independent label like Fear of God, selling T-shirts and hoodies in the hundreds of dollars, is so often touted as one of the most influential labels in contemporary menswear right now.
But countless fast-fashion brands have been rather conspicuously profiting off of an aesthetic of sand and pastel colors, draped silhouettes, zippers, and fleece cotton which has been, for as long as we can remember, Lorenzo’s signature. Zara, Topman, H&M, and a seemingly-endless list of small-time labels looking to capitalize on the current trend (or as I like to call them, “smash & grab” brands) have, for some years now, been making money off of product that is Fear of God in almost every way but name.
Forget about who invented leather sweatpants. Whatever it is that’s going on in mainstream men’s fashion right now, a lot of that is thanks to Jerry Lorenzo.
Another guy quietly pulling strings behind the scenes, you’d be forgiven for reading this shortlist and knowing every name but Mat Vlasic’s. But as the CEO of Bravado, the merchandise wing of Universal Music, Vlasic has been a vital part of the resurge in popularity of band merchandise as both a fashion statement and revenue stream for artists.
As Jian Deleon put it in his article about Bravado earlier this year, these days merch isn’t simply “a way to commemorate the show, but a main event unto itself.” We saw it with Kanye’s 21 global pop-up shops for The Life of Pablo (that was Bravado, by the way), the appearance of Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour merch in fashion stores across the country (Bravado again), and artists like The Weeknd, A$AP Mob, and Travis Scott creating elaborate merchandise going as far as collaborations with VLONE and Off-White (yep, Bravado).
Bravado was also the brains behind the Maxfield LA pop-up celebrating the 30th anniversary of Guns N’ Roses iconic debut album, Appetite for Destruction, which offered exclusive fashion pieces designed by the likes of Off-White, Palm Angels, and AMIRI, all decorated in GnR’s inimitable hair metal aesthetic.
What this adds up to, ultimately, is a pretty massive proposition. With command over the identity and branding of dozens of the biggest artists in recent history, connections to some of the hottest designers in fashion right now, and the infrastructure to create a unique and exciting take with every possible combination thereof, Mat Vlasic could be sitting on the largest fashion empire that was never a fashion brand. Our guess is that we’ll be seeing a lot more of his influence over the next few years.
Back in 2016, New York sneaker boutique KITH was awarded the Highsnobiety Crown for Best Store. A huge element of KITH’s success has been down to the business savvy of its founder, Ronnie Fieg. Fieg has long been known for his grail-level sneaker collaborations. Whether with adidas, Nike, ASICS Tiger, or anyone else, Fieg’s collaborative releases have always been highly coveted in the sneakerhead community, and his distinctive color-block approach to design has inspired countless copycats and imitations.
This year, however, Fieg shifted attention away from himself and toward the KITH empire. Of course, with the opening of an extravagant new location in Manhattan, it was perfect timing for KITH to expand in a conceptual sense as well as physical.
The result? Well, 2017 was the year that KITH released collaborative collections with Nike, Coca-Cola, ASICS, Off-White, Fear of God, Vogue, and countless others, as well as playing host to a special art installation for adidas Originals’ collaboration with New York artist Daniel Arsham. Oh, and they opened an art gallery on the second floor of the Manhattan store as well. So, you know, baby steps.
Ultimately, Fieg’s gift as a leader in this industry is in his sharp eye for current trends. He’s a guy that knows when a burgeoning trend is ready to be rolled out to the masses, and he knows how to do it with class. And it’s worth remembering this: if KITH is doing this much out in the open, we can only imagine the kind of stuff Fieg’s involved with behind the scenes.
He’s the designer that birthed a thousand designers. He’s the godfather of the menswear avant-garde. He’s the dude that made thousands of emerging fashion bros fall in love with Joy Division. He’s Raf. He’s Simons. He’s Raf Simons.
Where to start? First up, we should probably turn to Raf Simons’ work at Calvin Klein, where the debut of his 205W39NYC line was met with widespread acclaim. The designer’s foray into creating clothing for one of the most iconic American fashion brands of all time has manifested, so far, as an exploration of American culture in its various forms, from pop art and Andy Warhol to cowboys and Americana itself.
Coupled with the similarly-Yankophilic, but much more melancholic themes of his own line’s FW17 collection, and people began to wonder if Simons’ exploration was less a celebration of American culture, and more a lamentation of the death of the American dream. The irony wasn’t lost on people when Melania Trump would march out on the White House lawn, only days later, wearing one of the color-blocked Western shirts from Calvin Klein’s SS18 collection. Perhaps a gift from Simons, given in admiration, or abhorrence? Draw your own conclusions.
Elsewhere in fashion, it’s difficult to look at the burgeoning “dad sneaker” trend taking hold of virtually every high fashion label out there right now and not find a genesis, of sorts, in Raf Simons’ adidas Originals collaborations. It seems pretty clear that the Ozweego, and a number of other silhouettes from the collaboration, were precursors to fashion’s current penchant for maximalist sneaker design, loaded with extra panels, fabrics, and sometimes even sole units.
And lastly, there was of course the interview Raf Simons did with GQ back in January where he finally commented on Virgil Abloh’s well-documented fascination with him. As I said previously in my article about Virgil Abloh’s potential as a designer of a major fashion house, it’s unfortunate that pundits and audiences alike framed Simons’ comments on Abloh as the start of some sort of rap beef rather than constructive criticism from a peer, but if we’re talking about influence, look at the knock that was to Abloh, intended or not.
If artists like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar are the mind of rap today, then Travis Scott is the spirit. Over the past few years, the scene has gone through a renaissance of sorts, adopting all manner of symbols and practices previously associated with rock music, and using them to bring a punk-rock revolution to hip-hop.
At the center of this, surely, is Travis Scott. His shows are wall-to-wall mosh pits from start to finish, his ‘Bird’s Eye View’ tour was peppered with incidents taken straight out of the ‘80s rock playbook, including an arrest for “inciting a riot” after one show in Arkansas, while his merchandise is plastered with eagles, flames, skulls, and gothic typography.
Elsewhere, Travis has continued to expand his empire, launching Cactus Jack Records earlier this year, and then announcing a collaboration with Ksubi denim on a range of jeans, jackets, and T-shirts.
Musically, though we didn’t see any major releases from Scott following 2016’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, we were gifted a number of singles that kept the flames burning, including the hit single “goosebumps,” all in anticipation of his next release, tentatively-titled AstroWorld.
But at the core, the influence of Travis Scott is his role as the physical embodiment of what rap aspires to be right now. He’s a little bit unknowable, a livewire, and stylish in a way that nobody else can quite do.
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.
- Illustrations: Stephen Cheetham