The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
June 21, 2018, was the day streetwear won. For years, the walls separating the runway from the street have been crumbling, and now that Virgil Abloh is at the head of Louis Vuitton, the underdog has become the establishment. What happens next won’t be worrying Abloh — he’s king of the world right now — but it poses serious questions for the old guard.
Where does Fashion Week go now that the outsiders are the insiders? What happens to the legacy houses, iconic designers, and Fashion Week as a whole now that streetwear is the norm? Does Abloh’s appointment mean we’re at the dawn of a new era, or is a backlash inevitable?
There’s talk of a return to tailoring. In Milan, Prada made blazers out of suede, technical wool, and denim.
“We need a new outline,” proclaimed Raf Simons. “Too many hoodies with prints! You know, something needs to shift.” Simons cut his collection from couture-grade satin, with barely a graphic tee and not one hoodie in sight.
COMME des GARÇONS doubled down on tailoring: Rei Kawakubo called her Homme Plus collection “Crazy Suits.”
Sarah Burton, for Alexander McQueen, cut her collection Savile Row-style: traditional, British, stiff.
Justin O’Shea’s SSS World Corp, with its explosion of animal patterns, Italian tailoring, and Pantera soundtrack, was a welcome exception to the rule that new brands only make streetwear.
Lots of beautiful pieces, sure. But is there longevity to tailoring when younger generations have never worn a suit in their lives? How do you sell suits to a generation whose status symbols are comfortable sneakers and logo tees?
The Paris old guard is starting to look, well, old. Raf might have declared the end of hoodies, but he is treading familiar ground. Margiela didn’t even show a proper men’s line, instead offering an “artisanal collection” that was more an explosion of Galliano’s imagination than a proposition for how guys should dress. Rick is Rick and Rei is Rei, forever and always. Haider Ackermann wasn’t even on the schedule, instead electing to do a joint men’s and women’s show in September.
The problem isn’t that these guys have run out of ideas — far from it — but that their point of view is completely different to what resonates with young consumers. Fashion today isn’t about originality, it’s about communicating. That’s why Demna Gvasalia is one of the most successful designers working today, and why the world’s biggest luxury house appointed Abloh, a DJ-designer with little in the way of formal fashion training, to direct its menswear division.
Luxury streetwear is a Fashion Week cliché, but it’s the only thing that sells. For years, critics dismissed Abloh and OFF-WHITE as derivative, but they were winning all along. Last week’s Vuitton show wasn’t a coronation, it was a victory lap, a celebration of what we’ve all known for years: streetwear is the only genre that matters in 2018.
What separates the old from the new isn’t an aesthetic, it’s a state of mind. Designers who proposed their own visions of elegance (because even Rick Owens is striving for beauty, in his own way) — those are a thing of the past. What matters now is who’s cool. To our parents, being cool meant smoking cigarettes and doing stuff you weren’t supposed to, but now it means you’re part of “the culture,” i.e. at the intersection of streetwear, hip-hop, and the internet, the cultural space that steers the direction of the mainstream.
Cool is no longer a side effect, it’s the goal in and of itself. It was telling that Abloh’s debut collection for Vuitton opened and closed with rappers and featured skaters in the middle — two professions that have become lucrative largely thanks to their cool-guy status.
In 2018, being cool isn’t a lifestyle, it’s a profession. It will make you successful, even if your reputation is tarnished. Just look at who was sitting front row at Paris’ biggest shows: numerous rape allegations couldn’t stop cool-guy stylist Ian Connor from sitting front row at Louis Vuitton. Likewise A$AP Bari, sitting in a mask on the front row at Dior despite facing charges of sexual assault in London after a disturbing video of him surfaced last year.
Luxury streetwear is tedious at this point, but still, the most compelling young designers who showed this season were streetwise in their mentality. GmbH, Y/Project, and 1017 ALYX 9SM were some of Paris’ best shows. They make expensive clothes but they’re not your typical luxury proposition; they’re for young people who don’t care that Helmut Lang did it all first.
What does this all mean for the future? Well, Fashion Week will continue on the trajectory it’s on — shows aren’t really about the clothes, they’re lifestyle events. The calendar will get more fragmented. Prada is the last must-see event in Milan, while London and New York’s menswear weeks are adrift and would make more sense if they were brought back in line with the women’s schedule. Large, old houses will continue to chase after the same millennial customer that Abloh has already won.
The big houses are safe because they don’t need to sell clothes to pay the bills. They’re essentially accessory and fragrance businesses. The real casualties will be the high fashion designers, whose customers are getting older and will someday die out.
An old Irish folk song plays in the background as Ann Demeulemeester’s models pace the Palais de Tokyo. Save for the soft pink runway, there’s barely a color in sight. The models are wearing veils crafted from lace. They clutch black roses. It’s beautiful, but it feels like a funeral.