Text by: Riccardo Slavik
Menswear has changed, the casual revolution has turned into a streetwear invasion, the way men choose, buy and wear clothes has changed radically, no matter what Karl Lagerfeld says, sweatpants CAN be chic nowadays (tracksuit pants, at least). Karl’s distaste for them is just the final roar of a dying generation as less and less people actually need formal suits to wear to work or even remotely want to wear one. Is this a death drop in elegance? Who knows? Who cares? What is sure is that the rules don’t apply anymore. On a sociological plane this freedom leaves men with too many options, lost in a sea of suits and casual wear and the risk of mix and match horrors to haunt a generation’s dreams forever. Gone are the days when men wore suits to their grave, nowadays it’s much more likely to see grandpa rocking a tracksuit, because it’s comfortable.
Much as some may lament this, it’s the current state of affairs, and given men’s penchant for being as unbothered as possible I very much doubt a huge three piece suit revival is around the corner, let’s leave that to the poor Pitti Peacocks.
Given this premise and the latest boom of streetwear inspired trends, it’s no surprise sportswear has recently made its way up to the catwalks of the most exclusive brands, so much so that even Burberry showed luxe tracksuit tops for Fall 2016. We’ve all seen how many sportswear brands are enjoying a timely revival through collaborations with hot name designers. Collaborations aren’t new, Yohji Yamamoto began his Y-3 collaboration with Adidas in 2002, Puma started a line of sneakers with Alexander McQueen in 2005. What is new is designers making their own ‘luxury’ versions of vintage tracksuits or more or less copying them. But what is the point of a luxury version of tracksuits, (or technical sportswear in general), when at their core are concepts like comfort and technical details designed to aid performance?
Which is why the next logical step, embraced by many, from Gosha Rubchinskiy with Adidas’ Soccer line to MSGM with Diadora, is to get a real sportswear label to make the tracksuits that will give your catwalk collection that  ’lumpen’, old-skool. techno-rave feeling that makes it more desirable to your intended target audience.
But, alas, the bottom line is: how long can you go making expensive sportswear that isn’t particularly luxurious or technical? Or too luxurious to be practical?  And on the other side of the equation how many sportswear brands are there left to be relaunched, rebranded or revived?
The fine line between the idea of a sportswear inspired look and the actual showing of real sports clothes on the runway, risks becoming an attempt at dumbing down high fashion while still trying to sell a dream of quality and research, it’s a constant struggle many designers face. Lumpen luxury is after all a contradiction in terms and it takes a real talent to weather the paradox.
Kris Van Assche, for example, has been exploring subcultural tropes at Dior Homme for a couple of seasons. The intersection of clubbing and youth subcultures is a very good place to start if you intend on playing with a mix of tailoring and sportswear. His clever explorations of ravers and gabbers have permitted an interesting discourse on proportions and materials that translates into a modern take on luxury that isn’t chained to the sartorial past or enslaved to a desire to join the streetwear bandwagon. His latest collection for the label, titled ‘HARDIOR’, is a perfect example of graphics, tailoring and sportswear elements coming together in a familiar yet thrilling way, with the added bonus of a clever wordplay on one of couture’s most storied names.
A big part of the streetwear aesthetic has always been the iconoclastic appropriation of high fashion logos, from the fake Guccis in early hip-hop to Stussy and Chanel, or even more famously Supreme and Vuitton, making fun of old, storied, luxury houses was a way to both ridicule the status quo and present a front of fake affluence. It was funny because it wasn’t true. Let’s not forget that all those labels were, by the mid-80s, quite off the coolness chart, they made money selling perfume, foulards, wallets, mostly in duty-free shops. Part of their revival stemmed from their being adopted by a whole new generation and social class in an ironic way. Chanel became super hip again thanks to stylist Caryne Cerf de Dudzelee, who, inspired by the fakes sold in the streets in NY and adopted by the Banjee Girls went all out on chains and accessories and created a ghetto-luxe look which spawned a million monsters. As for Louis Vuitton their renaissance began when Marc Jacobs got permission from the bosses at LVMH to deface the storied logo with the help of genius designer/artist Stephen Sprouse, whose graffiti accessories became the label’s first sold out collection and are still collectible items. Not so ironically, this happened in 2001, a year after Vuitton hit Supreme with a cease and desist order for their fake-Vuitton skateboard deck.
2016 has been a huge year for cross-branding, real-fakes, and plain old bootlegs, from the infamous Vetements official-unofficial DHL tee and Titanic sweatshirt, to Gucci collaborating with artist Gucci Ghost and then reproducing an almost exact copy of an 80s bootleg Gucci sweatshirt, albeit in a very expensive, embroidered, appliquéd, version. The lines between real and fake, high fashion and cheap knockoff have been blurred, crossed and probably snorted. The phenomenon had such a fast rise and explosion that after spoofing the Champion logo and classic sweatshirt in their FW16 collection, Vetements collaborated with the brand for a number of pieces in their SS17 one. Thanks to internet and social media the circle has opened and closed in just a few months.
There is a fine balance between commercial success and coolness, streetwear brands live off the obsession for a certain product, a certain aura, much as luxury labels live off the promise of a better lifestyle through the promise of a luxe and exclusivity which isn’t always there. The fact that big brands are now trying to use the same techniques as cult streetwear labels to create a loyal fanbase is worrying for a number of reasons.
The fashion business used to be about selling luxury, then about selling at least the idea of luxury, now it’s about selling the idea of youth and coolness.
Vuitton’s latest collection, for example, featuring their much touted collaboration with Supreme, has a weird ‘murder-suicide’ quality to it, with classic Vuitton accessories branded with gigantic Supreme logos, it looked like a defeat for both, a desperate bid for street credibility on one side and a huge sellout on the other. Will it sell? Probably, with all the hype it’s received it probably will, but I doubt it will help Kim Jones’ apparently strained relationship with the brand or make Supreme any cooler in the eyes of its core fanbase.
Let’s not forget that almost every item the streetwear brand has ever produced was a copy of something else, there’s even an Instagram account dedicated to it ( @supreme_copies).
As –Jian Deleon, Editor at Large at Highsnobiety so eloquently wrote ‘ That doesn’t mean Supreme is “over.” By all means, they’re just getting started. But they have become ingrained in the very establishment they once stood in contrast to. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not. But what it does mean is there’s now a chance for something new to start among young connoisseurs of culture seeking to tip the balance between the big brands and the youthful upstarts. Every new religion starts with killing the old gods.’
So are sportswear and streetwear over? As long as a yearning for (and catering to) youth will be a driving force in fashion we can expect them to stick around. Besides, let’s not forget that certain brands and styles generate incredible loyalty, whether it’s prompted by a youthful desire to belong to a tribe or a vague element of nostalgia, it doesn’t really matter, they exist somewhere outside of the classic rhythms of fashion and trends, in a sort of subcultural bubble with elements of sports and streetwear, they might go under the radar, or off the high fashion catwalks, but they never really disappear.