Is streetwear on life support?
To Virgil Abloh, the answer is yes, but to streetwear brands and commentators, he’s dead wrong.
In a recent interview with Dazed magazine, as part of the publication’s series featuring this decade’s top players, Abloh predicted streetwear is going to die in the coming decade, and consumers will “hit this like, really awesome state of expressing your knowledge and personal style with vintage.”
“In my mind, how many more T-shirts can we own, how many more hoodies, how many sneakers,” he said in the interview. “There are so many clothes that are cool that are in vintage shops and it’s just about wearing them. I think that fashion is gonna go away from buying a box fresh something; it’ll be like, hey I’m gonna go into my archive.”
But his comments raised the hackles of the streetwear community.
“He’s part of the reason why streetwear is the new high fashion, and luxury today is sneakers and T-shirts. Him saying that is like the biggest rapper saying hip-hop is dead and then making different music,” said Broken Promises designer Mandee Bence. “He’s just outgrown it.”
“I believe Virgil has an interesting perspective that I respect, but I disagree with his statement that streetwear is going to die,” said Dre Hayes, president of Kappa North America. “People are not going to stop wearing hoodies, Ts and sneakers. To me, that is like saying hip-hop is dead. It didn’t die, but rather it evolved into what we have today. Evolution is happening to streetwear. In regard to the vintage comment, streetwear is already part of the vintage experience. The resell market for sneakers and apparel is very much an integral part of the streetwear. People are already wearing their archives every day.”
ComplexCon in November held a panel discussion about the future of streetwear with Chris Gibbs of Union, Guillermo Andrade of 424, Matthew Henson, and Don C and Ev Bravado, all of whom have close ties to Abloh. No one on the panel believes streetwear will die.
“I would have to disagree. I don’t believe streetwear will ever die, but I do believe there are major changes coming,” said Renowned ceo John Dean. “I believe streetwear will evolve especially with this push for sustainability and tech. I do agree with us having too many hoodies and T-shirts, and I believe streetwear will purge itself and create a new style that’s more tailored. The styles will be more high-fashion based with more subtle graphics. It’s all a revolving door though, heavy graphics will be back a few seasons after that.”
Nick Diamond, founder of Diamond Supply Co., said, “I understand the concept of the ‘streetwear look’ losing popularity in high fashion, because it is just a trend among luxury consumers and brands right now. I appreciate the idea and use of more recycled vintage clothing for the great pieces you can find but also from an environmental standpoint. The less clothing manufactured, the better for the planet. However, streetwear and skate clothing are where brands and designers can be innovative and still affordable. The skate uniform of T-shirts, hoodies, sneakers and hats is not going anywhere. As long as there are new young creative designers from the streets there will be streetwear.”
Huf creative director Romeo Tanghal also disagrees with Abloh’s opinion and believes, “As long as people continue to make art and their opinions known, whether on an expensive garment or pedestrian T-shirt, streetwear is definitely here to stay.”
“I don’t think streetwear is necessarily going to ‘die’ but I do believe there is going to be a big step in a different direction,” said Alejandro Rodriguez, founder and designer of Btfl, formerly known as Beautiful Fül. “As far as vintage goes, I think it’s always been part of the conversation for people in the know, the difference now is items from the Eighties and Nineties are considered vintage and it’s easy for these kids to relate to them because of movies they’ve seen or artists that come from that period, so there will definitely be a lot of focus on that. However, streetwear has solidified itself in the fashion world and won’t disappear, I just think it’ll put on a new pair of sneakers.”
In the Dazed interview, Abloh also spoke about the famous group photo Tommy Ton shot in 2009 of himself with Kanye West, Don C, Taz Arnold, Chris Julian and Derek Watkins, better known as Fonzworth Bentley; his first Off-White and Louis Vuitton shows and frustrations of his designs being categorized as streetwear.
“At the time,” he said, “the formal press was only just categorizing that type of design as ‘streetwear.’ As a designer, you get confronted with the term of your generation which you have no control over. From that frustration I decided if ‘streetwear’ was gonna be the sign of the times I was gonna define it rather than be defined by it. I needed to do a show to define what ‘streetwear’ could be, and do it with urgency, you know.”
He wasn’t defining streetwear alone. Brands and designers such as Palm Angels and Heron Preston ascended during streetwear’s takeover and the influence was evident in moments like Louis Vuitton collaborating with Supreme, and James Jebbia of Supreme being named Menswear Designer of the Year at the CFDA Awards in 2018.
Abloh succeeded in his task, leading streetwear’s evolution and takeover of men’s wear. But he doesn’t appear to be done just yet. He last week revealed a collaboration with A Bathing Ape and Human Made founder Nigo. They will partner on a capsule collection for Louis Vuitton to launch in 2020.