Eugene Lim: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I work in the media but my true love and passion will always be basketball. I remember being a teenager, discovering the peer-to-peer sharing client, LimeWire and the treasure trove of National Basketball League mixtapes on them. For the uninitiated, these mixtapes are edited video clips, showcasing highlights of NBA players, set against old-school hip-hop tracks. It was in the early noughties, the land before YouTube. Like a fat kid who’d been given free McDonald’s meals, I devoured every mixtape I could get my hands on, watching them religiously over and over again.
While my basketball career is relegated to occasional pick-up matches at the local community centre, these mixtapes fuelled my love for the sport and helped spark my second passion in life, a love of hip-hop culture and streetwear. Why the long walk for a short drink of water, describing my love for streetwear? Because when I say I love every second of this wave of streetwear that has taken over the fashion industry, I truly mean it.
It’s not accurate to describe streetwear as a new phenomenon. Like all trends in fashion, it rides this huge wave of being reintroduced into mainstream consciousness when the zeitgeist calls for it, fading away when we get tired of it. Many credited the rise of streetwear to the seismic collaboration between luxury giant, Louis Vuitton and cult streetwear legend, Supreme. If this journalist may defer on that popular opinion, the coming of streetwear was the introduction of athleisure.
It began with the pairing of sneakers with suits, then traditional trousers were swapped out for joggers. The ties began to go, with shirts following suit, replaced with a T-shirt. Suit jackets were slowly being replaced with bomber and leather jackets. On hindsight, and hindsight being 20/20, the coming of the streetwear age started with the call for the casualisation of the wardrobe, a desire to evolve from the current era.
That call was answered by Demna Gvasalia and the disruptive fashion label Vetements, which he founded with his brother Guram. Demna took casual staples like denim jeans, graphic T-shirts and hoodies, reworked and elevated them. His effect was prolific. Vetements would come to define the aesthetic of the era and help shatter the glass ceilings.
Proposing a new proportion and fit, making oversized clothing cool again. He didn’t subvert gender boundaries, but rather proposed clothing that would fit and look great on any gender, one that did not discriminate against body types.
Demna championed the cut-and-sew aesthetic when he gave new life to multiple pairs of vintage Levi’s jeans and sewed them back together. He weaponised logos with a healthy dose of irony and humour, using T-shirts and hoodies as a canvas for his prints.
He made collaborations great again. The Vetements spring/summer 2017 show featured a total of 18 collaborators, from luxury tailoring house Brioni to Japanese designer Comme des Garçons, to winterwear staple, Canada Goose.
Demna deconstructed the idea of how we define luxury, turning to the streets for inspiration. It made Vetements a lot of money, got Demna hired at Balenciaga, and opened doors for other streetwear designers, like Virgil Abloh to be appointed at Louis Vuitton. He has unknowingly democratised fashion and introduced a new language in how to approach dressing.
The rise of streetwear is also boosted by the advancement in technology. With the help of sites like Highsnobiety and Hypebeast, other underground streetwear labels have been mystified. No longer do you have to be an insider to consume streetwear.
Add the relatively low retail cost of the streetwear, if you can get your hands on them. Resale sites like StockX, Grailed and Goat created a healthy resale market, meaning that anybody can get into the game. Getting your hands on a sneaker or a Supreme T-shirt is just as easy as a tailored suit from Dior Homme.
Coupled with the way we are consuming music, where rock is being replaced by hip-hop as the most listened genre of music, hip-hop artists and their favoured streetwear have become drivers of culture.
Like all things in life, all good things must come to an end. Streetwear has hit the point of oversaturation, and like when McDonald’s released its Hello Kitty toys, hype has manifested in the worst way possible. There is a desire to feed the demand, where marketing and name associations are more valuable than design. Collaborations that make zero sense take place on a daily basis (Undefeated x BAPE x Timberland—possibly the worst). Luxury brands are starting to jump on the bandwagon and producing high-priced versions of similar-looking products. Resellers are buying all the stocks and pricing them at an inaccessible price point. The authenticity is gone. Culture has been replaced by products.
It’s not all terrible, but it’s time for streetwear to evolve. To quote an interview Kim Jones gave to Highsnobiety: “It’s time to retire the term streetwear.” He goes on to elaborate: “You wear clothes in the street, so everything’s streetwear. You can wear a couture gown down the street and that turns it into streetwear.” Streetwear and tailoring are just clothes, putting them into trends just makes it easier to market and sell. If you were to ask me, this era was great. It helped me to find a community of people who enjoyed the same things I did growing up, and that’s what streetwear really is.
Read an opposing view on streetwear—as debated by our senior fashion writer & stylist Asri Jasman.