This is what distinguishes streetwear brands them from traditional designer labels. Rather than selling a high-end name on a label, streetwear brands seek to sell us their culture. This phenomenon has uniquely arisen as a result of social media, which streetwear brands use strategically to build hype surrounding their collections and solidify their overall look. Those who eagerly await the drop of the new Yeezy sneakers or this season’s collection at Opening Ceremony are such avid fans that the line is usually sold out within minutes of the release. They buy the goods because what they really want is to buy a piece of the culture, and these brands are experts at carefully curating the image they project to the world about who you can be if you wear their clothes.
Big-name streetwear brands such as Vetements and Commes des Garçons construct fascination and anticipation around each new season’s drop through social media, online stores, and collaborations with carefully selected celebrities. However, make no mistake, such work should not be taken frivolously. In recent years, many streetwear brands have moved from small companies printing tees to creating shows for the same elite Fashion Weeks they were scorned from just a couple seasons ago. Stüssy grew from a small surfboard company to a powerhouse label with annual revenue of $50 million dollars.
Another prominent example is Gosha Rubchinsky, the founder of his eponymous brand. In the beginning, Gosha was just a young photographer in Moscow with an eye for capturing the Moscow’s youth culture and skate scene in post-Soviet Russia. Like others, he grew his business making t-shirts for his friends, but nothing took off until Gosha was taken under the wing of Adrian Joffe, the president of streetwear giant Commes des Garçons. The fashion world soon took note of the raw energy and authenticity in his work, distinguished by his unique background and frequent incorporation of Soviet iconology.
The streetwear look’s transition to the high fashion arena has been one of the most high-profile trends recently, mostly as a result of brands’ undeniable ability to consistently sell out collections at prices not much lower than that of establishment designer houses. Even if some of the fashion elite can continue to turn up their noses at streetwear design, no one can deny their money-making power.
As a result, established brands are seeking to cash in on the hype. Puma, a long time player in the world of athletic wear, recently named Rihanna as the creative director of their women’s wear line. The relationship between the two has been fruitful, with Puma having their first ever show during Paris Fashion Week. The Fenty x Puma show, described by Rihanna herself as “what if Marie Antoinette went to the gym,” received positive reviews from fashion critics and elevated Puma to the level Adidas has been working at ever since their enormously successful work with Kanye West.
Regardless of all their success, there remain many doubts about the longevity of creative vitality of many streetwear brands. The question that lies ahead for these labels in high fashion is this: can they sustain their fast-paced growth? Is this simply a trend that audiences will tire of eventually or does the rise of these labels symbolize a permanent change in taste? And from critics who find the designs one-dimensional, how many times can the t-shirt or hoodie be reinvented?