After years of unparalleled excellence in service to this publication, our editorial director Jian DeLeon has bid us farewell. As a parting gift, he has left us with a meta-eulogy for the subject he knows best: streetwear itself.
Streetwear, like New York, has died a thousand deaths and come back to laugh at the many eulogies written about its demise. The latest “New York is Over” missive to go viral happens to be a LinkedIn post written by James Altucher. First: The worst kind of viral is “LinkedIn viral,” which hits about the same as the Nada Surf lyric “my mom says I’m a catch.” Second: The last person I’m going to take “culture” advice from is someone who frequents comedy clubs and is best described as a swagless Malcolm Gladwell.
As Bobby Hundreds wrote last year in one of the more recent epitaphs for the culture: “Streetwear dies every night, but it is subsequently reborn and renewed by the morning.” So no, streetwear certainly isn't over. But clearly, we're seeing some narratives being tied up in a bow while being left with new questions to ask. That sounds more like the persistent, addictive nature of binge-worthy television rather than a final nail in the coffin.
Indeed, seeing Mark “Mayor” Farese — arguably the most prominent sneaker collector on the planet — part with a collection valued around $1.6 million certainly felt like seeing Will Smith pace around the Banks family’s empty living room during the denouement of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, especially seeing the aftermath of what happens when you get Jaysse Lopez of Urban Necessities to scoop up roughly 2,000 pairs of kicks.
But that’s the thing about how mainstream this once-niche world has become. Before there was no set path, and as kids become adults, those adults become the ones who can legitimize the movement on a larger platform (see: Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, KAWS’ Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, and Leah McSweeney joining the cast of Real Housewives of New York). This kind of matriculation didn’t exist before, and now it’s time for a cast of new characters to rise to the occasion, not just as designers, but also as arbiters and tastemakers.
As OGs like Bobbito Garcia and Hiroshi Fujiwara become more historians and custodians of certain eras, we’ve seen new blood with the likes of HIDDEN® balancing odes to the past with a path towards the future, and Phil Leyesa’s artisanal, Arsham-esque way of turning crispy kicks into wearable artifacts similarly toeing the line between back then and the here and now.
As for the old players? We’ve seen that playbook in reality TV too. They transition from series regulars to either come back as recurring guest stars (they get to compete in Streetwear vs. High Fashion: The Challenge!), move on to higher-paying behind-the-scenes roles, or are totally fine with getting voted off the island.
In the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design’s January 1996 issue, Kevin Lyons moderated a short roundtable with Russ Karablin of SSUR, former UNION New York shop manager Joseph Melendez, Eric Haze, and Supreme’s James Jebbia. The topic revolved around streetwear’s penchant for flipping corporate logos and sampling different aesthetics as a way to seize the means of production.
“Reappropriation comes very naturally to us. It has been a necessary step in our development as designers and entrepreneurs,” writes Lyons. “It has been our education, as well as our mode of educating others. In the end, reappropriation has allowed us, at the least, to stake claim to the urban street culture of which we have been both victim and champion.”
It’s a modus operandi built on contrarianism, impressing your teenage self, and killing your idols if you have to. It’s a strategy Abloh’s taken to the runway, despite many detractors, and one that continues to inform everyone from Supreme (see: FW20’s Mondrian-inspired pieces) to young Instagram-upstart brands like I Never Heard of You, whose bootleg Nike sneakers are a literal middle finger to the cycle of consumption.
In the words of the inimitable Gary Warnett: “It’s easy to become jaded in a world where much of what you love has become cyclical cultural mass, but that’s how you become so embittered that you render yourself unemployable.”
Streetwear — once again, like New York — lives, dies, and rises again on the backs of the people who make it what it is. The same people who always talk about how lame things have gotten are the ones who aren’t trying to do anything to make the situation a little better. Despite times that oscillate between grittiness and gentrification, there’s always more to be excited than miserable about. And the best part is if you think everything else sucks, you’re free to create your own shit and try your luck at getting casted for the next season.