From Streetwear to Snobwear
Text Carlo Mazzoni
Let’s take a step back and rediscover the definition of ‘streetwear’ – sportswear for skateboarding, surfing and basketball on the Los Angeles beaches and tarmac in the 1970s, adapted for free time and developed by the African-American community in order to communicate through rap and hip hop music. With this as the basis, we find a blend of Japanese design and its experimentation, a constant reinterpretation of logomania and various details from Parisian couture. Everything has to be showy, everything has to appear in contrast and with a touch of irony – the ruffle skirt with sneakers and sculpture-like heels under tracksuit bottoms. People who dress like this attract attention and photographers – on the lookout for streetwear – get excited on the sidewalks outside the fashion shows.
Until recently, shoes, caps, tracksuit bottoms and tank tops – sportswear in general that forms the basis of this streetwear – was proposed by mass market companies: Nike and Adidas at the top of a myriad of department store brands. In recent seasons, luxury fashion houses have offered their own interpretation on the catwalks of Milan and Paris – from Valentino to Louis Vuitton. And let’s not forget the limited editions designed by rappers, proposed by mass market brands at high consumption prices. In recent years, press interest was more legitimate: plastic-coated cotton basketball tracksuits, worn by rappers and mixed with a luxury style, with a hand-made quality, with research into materials and with graphic speculation, were a prime subject for investigation and reasoning.
Fashion has a single rule: never stand still. It is in its very definition – by fashion we mean what is liked at the current moment. Evolution is constant – as soon as one aesthetic is consolidated and codified, it means that another is on its way. The first shock came in June during the men’s fashion shows (almost all changes appear first on the men’s catwalks and then on the women’s ones: the scope of action on the male figure is limited, and creativity makes a special effort). More precisely and as often happens, the shock came from the Prada catwalk – from the Prada hype. While all the fashion houses played on elastic and plastic cottons for jumping and dancing, sports and astronaut space, Prada harked back to the Seventies man. Tight trousers with a high crotch, a hint of a flare, short, almost sloping jackets, structured shoulders, wet-look colours, English university crests. Themes recurring at Gucci, where however they are not treated with the rigor of the form but as references to custom, to culture if you prefer. Prada has been precise in this aesthetic: and in the current fashion scene, this tapered and somewhat rock-like aesthetic leads back to one name – Hedi Slimane.
Allowing myself freedom of rhetoric, it is as if, in June, Prada wanted to give its approval, an introduction to Slimane’s next work, guessing some of its possibilities. This is what many other fashion houses went on to do during the women’s shows in September – as if everyone wanted to give their own interpretation of a Celine reinterpreted by Slimane, each in their own way. In doing so, the fashion of tomorrow left its mark: a conversation of images that captures the topic of the moment and leaves everyone the expression of their point of view on the issue. Fashion journalism is knowing how to grasp this central theme that continues and leads the aesthetic evolution, marking what remains current and forward-thinking, compared to what is marked as outdated.
Celine designed by Phoebe Philo was a reference for a woman dressed in volumes, confident of her own intellect and not particularly interested in pleasing others because she first wanted to please herself. It was assumed that Slimane would come into this bourgeois vision with his black mark, his graphic silhouette, the cut silhouette, the gloss of the night and the motorcycle – a good, bourgeois girl who becomes spoiled and conceited in her education, both cultural and intellectual. The first to present his version of the subject was Riccardo Tisci in London: the show perhaps presented too many ideas, missing the point – but the first outfits were for well-dressed, sensible, neat girls – the total opposite to the streetwear we talked about above and which the world expected from Tisci for Burberry. In Milan, again from Prada: in its reinterpretation of little black dresses, patent leather décolleté shoes. Fendi in its graphic leather sheath dresses, longuette skirts, coats and raincoats from an eternal wardrobe (even though here, some sporty elements were present). In Paris, Dior’s dark opening for a spring show was perhaps full confirmation – Dior’s foundation, of course, remains a simple, well-cut dress, but the first two outfits to come out could have been a tribute to Philo, as could an oversized, short dress in what was perhaps taffeta, which then clung to the waist on sloping petite robe-style skirts with a nod to Slimane, then proceeding with colours including white, cream and dark tones. At the opening of Valentino, we could again see a sign of Paris streets at night – while all this found a natural, albeit ambiguously legitimate, power in a Saint Laurent that for the last two years has continued to please everyone, the public and the market.
The only one who couldn’t have given a damn about Celine, its culture and its reference was Hedi Slimane himself. In other words, he let the others do it. Slimane presented only Slimane – with conceit certainly, almost with arrogance, his runway models wore dresses similar to those from his last show for Saint Laurent, some time ago now, as if nothing had happened.
As I write, questions remain open – on the other hand, I always think questions are more interesting than answers. The criticism from both the public and the press has exploded against the new Celine (the accent has been dropped from the brand name). LVMH is expected to have many resources for the Slimane project – and I remember the same criticism for the first Slimane show at Saint Laurent when then, the next season, everyone was singing the praises of a genius and the market was snapping up his work like there was no tomorrow. What Slimane does is irritating at first, but then people like it. The snobby component of the fashion system is dominant: it is what others do not have that is popular. Especially today when luxury has been trivialized and disseminated by digital communication. Slimane knows the moves of this game. I repeat, what the intellectual elite wants is what others do not have – and history, ancient as well as more recent, teaches us how much the intellectual elite lead the popular masses (it is important to underline that the term intellectual elite does not refer to the rich or the children of the rich from any continent in the world, but precisely to the European intellectual and cultural elite). By choosing a claim that is perhaps a little banal (all claims must be banal in order to be claims) you could say, from streetwear to snobwear.
What will result from the contrast between on one hand the style and attitude of Slimane that many fashion houses recognize and on the other the bombastic success of streetwear? We must not think in terms of who remains, who wins and who falls, but we must ask ourselves how the two aesthetics can react with each other and how market demands will evolve.
The last question. Slimane did not consider Celine, presenting only Slimane. Is it on this point that Pandora’s box wants to stay open? That the time of creative directors has come to an end and that of designers has returned? Today, brands are distribution, sales and media channels, with enormous economic resources available. Brands appear similar to broadcasters. By this I mean that perhaps there will no longer be creative directors interpreting the brands, but simply brands that will give space and voice to designers. Perhaps in the end this is only, always and in any case, a question of sobriety: everyone simply does what they know how to do. Everyone draws what they know how to draw. Nothing else matters much – what counts is self-confidence, a dose of egocentrism, the arrogance that stems from one’s own bravura. This is snobwear.