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Over the past few years, the definition of streetwear has become more fluid, with a wide swath of brands mining the category for inspiration and interpreting it for the masses. Whether this has helped or hurt the category is open for discussion, but its growing popularity has opened the door to a surge of brands making their own statements and disrupting conventional business models.

This story first appeared in the April 6, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD spoke to a group of emerging streetwear brands and designers who are figuring out ways to maintain a mystique — essential for the category — and simultaneously grow a business.


Second/ Layer

In women’s fashion, many a designer has cited a sophisticated grandmother as inspiration. But in men’s fashion, let alone the edgy category of streetwear, that credit is usually nonexistent — until one meets the trio behind Second/Layer.

“We design for this idea of a guy called suavecito,” says Joshua Willis, who handles design and creative direction for the Los Angeles label. “It’s something our grandmom called us when we came out and looked good that day.”

Willis’ grandmother isn’t the only source of inspiration for the three-year-old business. The principals — Anthony de Padovane also works on design and creative direction and Willis’ brother, Jacob, oversees everything else — grew up absorbing southern California’s surf, skate and street cultures. Then they studied eclectic subjects such as religious studies, finance and graphic design in college. The mishmash of influences is reflected in their position in the market.

“We kind of get in the middle of Christophe Lemaire and Phillip Lim and we’re near Fear of God, Off-White and Gosha Rubchinskiy,” Willis says. “We like to propose these ideas of tailored-made daily wear and elevated essentials.”

Working with respected mills, Second/Layer uses Japanese jersey, fleece and denim, and finds most of its knitted and woven textiles in Italy. Retail prices run from $95 to $250 for T-shirts and fleece sweats, $200 to $350 for trousers, $500 to $1,000 for jackets, and $800 to $2,200 for coats and leather pieces. Stockists include United Arrows in Tokyo, H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles and Ne.sense in Taipei.

In their fall line, they push the fit toward something boxy, oversize and enveloping. At the same time, they maintain a sharp edge in details. The hems of loose jeans and trousers float above the ankles. Pullover hoodies have a sleeve emblazoned with the word “dreamer” in Gothic script and a razor blade serves as the chest logo for a forest green bomber jacket. They use heavy virgin wool for the first time in a long coat and turn to pin-striped wool gabardine for shirt-jackets.

The theme is “she’s only with you when she’s with you,” says de Padovane, who previously was a lead designer at Stussy. “It ties with the feeling of warmth and companionship.” — KHANH T.L. TRAN


Palm Angels

Mix a classic American preppy look with an Italian sartorial approach, add a pinch of skate culture influence and the result is Palm Angels.

This formula, conceived by the brand’s founder and creative director Francesco Ragazzi, has landed Palm Angels in 160 stores around the world in the span of three seasons. An online store is expected to be introduced within a couple of years.

“The growth is very fast but cautious,” says Ragazzi, who is also art director at Moncler. “I want the brand to evolve from very solid roots.”

The brand presented its fall 2016 collection in Paris last January. According to Ragazzi, orders for that season were up 30 percent compared to the spring 2016 range.

The collection grew from a photography book of images shot by Ragazzi in Venice Beach, Calif., published in 2014 and featuring an introduction by Pharrell Williams. It offers full men’s collections focused on staples, such as suits, pants, parkas and leather jackets, all infused with a cool twist.

“Outerwear and pants are the most successful items,” says Ragazzi, who notes the collection is designed to be unisex. “I like the idea of girls stealing pieces from men’s wardrobes.”

While the marijuana leaf — a symbol of the skate culture — is a staple motif season after season, each collection is devoted to a specific theme. The latest lineup pays homage to Bob Marley and Jamaican Rasta culture. Positioned in the upper contemporary segment, the lineup retails from 180 euros, or $202, for a T-shirt, to 2,000 euros, or $2,243, for outerwear.

Along with ready-to-wear, the brand also makes footwear, which was introduced for fall 2015. “In the future, I would like to launch jewelry, but no rush,” Ragazzi says. “Let’s do things step-by-step.” — ALESSANDRA TURRA


Faith Connexion

Designed by a collective, Faith Connexion is a brand with many faces. It combines aesthetics as varied as punk and preppy, couture and street, or sport and rococo — at times mixed in one piece.

“[The brand] is so schizophrenic, but that’s also what makes it so interesting,” says Myriam Bensaid, who is in charge of men’s collections but not head of design. Titles are taboo at this up-and-coming label, and the roles are fluid. “Everybody does everything.”

Case in point: Thomas Monet, the head of studio for men and women — and the only one allowed to carry an official title — is also known as “the crazy denim guy,” credited with creating the label’s best-selling category: jeans that are heavily washed, massively distressed or embellished via hand-painting and embroideries.

“Understatement” is not this label’s motto.

Alexandre Allard, a former Balmain shareholder and owner of Faith Connexion, calls his brand a pioneer in many ways. “Collectives will soon become the new normal,” he believes. “Men’s fashion is going through a major revolution and the whole system is imploding. In 10 years, there will be no more fashion shows or supermodels, no more stores as we know them.”

The brand itself has no interest in staging traditional catwalk shows or setting up a retail chain, instead relying on one-on-one appointments and a network of multibrand stores, which Allard believes need to embrace independent brands as more established designer labels pull out.

Sold through 240 doors, Faith Connexion has doubled sales in its men’s division this season, logging 14 million euros, or $15.8 million, in turnover. And Allard has high expectations for growth, adding: “We are aiming at 30 million euros for 2017.”

There are seven designers working on the collections, with plans to increase headcount to 20 over the next three seasons. Allard has consistently resisted questions about whether former Balmain creative chief Christophe Decarnin is behind the label, comparing the brand’s management to an orchestra. “Instead of creating some good riffs for a guitar soloist, we prefer to make a symphony with 20 instruments. Why? Because people want diversity. The total look is finished. Brand territories are finished.”

Whether or not Faith Connexion is indeed the precursor of a new breed of brands remains to be seen. What is clear is that through its high-low mix, it caters to an increasingly individualistic consumer, devoid of label loyalty — which is essentially what defines Generation X.

Among this season’s standouts were a fringed XXXL-jacket in pony skin, an uberlong T-shirt embellished with hand-cut flower embroideries in metallic leather and crystals, as well as a series of round-shaped clown jeans sporting extra-big cuffs. — PAULINA SZMYDKE


Gypsy Sport

Hidden deep inside a labyrinth of rooms in a Garment District factory in Manhattan is the Gypsy Sport headquarters. It’s here where founder Rio Uribe, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native, cultivates Planet Haturn, a world he’s created where inclusivity is king and his unisex streetwear line is the uniform of choice — this planet is symbolized by the Gypsy Sport logo, which includes two hats placed together to mimic Saturn.

Once upon a time, only a slice of the fashion cognoscenti knew about Gypsy Sport, but since winning CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund honors last year, Uribe and his brand have quickly migrated to center stage. The even-keeled designer says he doesn’t feel any pressure from the win, but he’s still adjusting to the heightened attention. And he wasn’t happy about his depiction on the first episode of Amazon’s “The Fashion Fund” series, which followed Uribe and nine other contestants who were vying for the award.

“I thought the comments were kind of tough,” says Uribe, referring to the judges’ assessment of his business. “But at least I know that I can redeem myself because everyone knows that, in the end, we are one of the winners.”

The first episode positioned Uribe as the underdog — not a stretch. While Uribe held a merchandising stint at Balenciaga, he isn’t a trained designer and doesn’t produce clothes that can easily slide into stores. Uribe, who started Gypsy Sport as a hat line in 2012, says even his friend Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air was initially skeptical of his design ambitions.

“He’s always been super supportive but in the beginning he didn’t really take me seriously as a designer. But now he will be like, ‘I see you,'” Uribe says.

Although Gypsy Sport is clearly influenced by Hood by Air — both collections are derived from streetwear, androgyny and club-kid looks — the brands sit in different spaces. While Oliver is focused on deconstructing and subverting traditional sportswear for a specific customer, Uribe is interested in designing everyday clothes that riff on conventional gender binaries but are generally more accessible than Hood by Air.

“At first I thought I needed to go the route of a Hood by Air, but then I realized I was totally wrong and it wasn’t the same,” recalls Uribe, whose line is sold on Amazon and The Corner and retails from $45 to $850. “We should be something like Supreme and [offer] limited runs of product because that’s working for us.”

His fall 2016 collection, which was influenced by skin tones and the Seventies, was the designer’s most commercial effort to date. “Commercial isn’t a dirty word. Now I’m trying to work it out and learn how to be commercial,” says Uribe, who has collaborated with knitwear brand Coogi and is working on a collection with Uniqlo for fall 2017. “If we want to keep working for Gypsy Sport, we have to make money.”

Uribe is willing to move with the market so his brand can thrive, but he’s not willing to budge on his unisex proposition; even though buyers have said it could get in the way of growth.

“I think we are going to maintain unisex sizing,” the designer says. “I feel like fashion will never fall backward from that, so we might as well just keep pushing it.” — ARIA HUGHES


Les Benjamins

Sometimes fashion can be a tool to talk about things that are bigger and more socially impactful than just clothes.

That’s the case with contemporary label Les Benjamins, which presented its latest men’s collection during Milan Fashion Week last January. The brand was established in 2011 by creative director Bunyamin Aydin, who was born in Germany and moved to Istanbul at age 12.

“I was called a ‘German Turk’ in Turkey, and in Germany I was considered a Turk. I became aware that these terms made no sense, because we are all part of the same world and we all come from colorful backgrounds,” says Aydin, who studied business and international relations in Geneva. “I turned my frustration into creativity to solve the problem — that is, the need not to label people to fit into any category.”

Les Benjamins offers high-end urban separates combining digital prints and artisanal textures by creating a captivating blend of Eastern and Western influences. “It’s made to promote togetherness,” according to Aydin. “I would like to pass a message to the youth, and people who live in cultures that clash, that we are all united. That’s the brand’s DNA.”

For next fall, Aydin, who named his collection “Ottoman Punk,” embellishes streetwear staples, including oversize track pants, bombers and T-shirts, with rich patterns and embroideries echoing Turkey’s artistic tradition. Other prints, updating traditional iconography with contemporary elements, were splashed on a range of designs, such as a tunic layered over coordinated leggings.

Refusing to stick to strict analytics, Aydin embraces a more intuitive approach by injecting what he calls “a new spirit into streetwear culture.”

The line retails from 90 euros, or $100 at current exchange, to 1,990 euros, or $2,220. Les Benjamins’ bestsellers are its jersey pieces, and the collection is available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols, Beymen, Milan’s La Rinascente, Browns in London, and more than 80 multibrand boutiques globally. — ALESSANDRA TURRA


Fear of God

The key to Fear of God’s success can be traced to four distinct but disparate people: Kurt Cobain, Allen Iverson, Justin Bieber and God.

Armed with an MBA and a résumé filled with projects like developing the Los Angeles Dodgers brand, Jerry Lorenzo’s only fashion industry experience prior to launching his Los Angeles-based label three years ago was selling clothes at Gap and Diesel.

But the 38-year-old began cultivating his brand’s DNA much earlier. His father is Jerry Manuel, a former player, manager and baseball analyst, and his Major League Baseball career took the family to southern Florida, where Lorenzo attended an all-white high school and worshiped at an all-black church.

“I had this juxtaposition of cultures — it’s the marriage of Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam with Allen Iverson and the hip-hop of that generation,” Lorenzo says. “I try to give you a little bit of both in every piece I make.”

Averaging one collection a year and tallying annual sales of about $10 million, Lorenzo recently released his fourth offering. To the chagrin of retailers such as Barneys New York, Colette and Selfridges that follow the traditional fashion calendar, he admits that he hasn’t even considered the fifth collection yet. “We could offer three next year,” he shrugs. “It depends on when we feel it.”

What matters is that he sells out — fast. stocked its first order of Fear of God’s raglan-sleeved denim jackets and red plaid shirts last month and reordered after depleting its inventory in a day. PacSun had enough faith in Lorenzo to ink a two-year-long collaboration — a youthful take on his ideas of layering and contrasting materials but at a quarter of the price of his signature line.

Fear of God’s retail prices start at $150 for T-shirts and climb to $995 for jeans and $1,100 for bomber jackets. The most expensive item is a $1,700 denim deck coat, which was cool enough for Gigi Hadid to sport around New York in what Lorenzo dubbed a “Courtney Love vibe.” Prescient to cast a female model in his latest look book, Lorenzo said he’s working on a women’s line that could launch as soon as this holiday.

Then there’s Bieber, who was a big fan before asking Lorenzo not only to design the wardrobe for his world tour but also to provide creative direction for the concert merchandise. The tie-dye denim he designed for the singer could appear in future collections.

“Bieber’s message of purpose that he’s communicating now is a message and story that I believe in,” Lorenzo notes. “And I think his message transcends cool. I think it transcends any trend that is happening in the market.”

Fear of God makes all its products in downtown Los Angeles, with the exception of its newest items, $1,200 military-influenced sneakers that are produced in Italy. In due time, Lorenzo wants to add leather to his repertoire.

“I went downtown three years ago and taught myself how to make a short-sleeved hoodie. I learned the denim process last year,” he says. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself.” — KHANH T.L. TRAN