Top image: Off-White FW20 / photography Emily Malan
This season, A-COLD-WALL* creative director Samuel Ross took the brand from London to Milan for the first time. Schedule shifts like these are commonplace in fashion, but the collection marked an aesthetic departure, too: gone were the utilitarian parkas and tracksuits, replaced instead by loosely-belted overcoats and lightweight takes on double-breasted suits.
The sudden shift could be easily justified as a business move, or a reaction to the brand’s five-year anniversary. But it felt like more than that. It felt like a manifestation of a prophecy made late last year by Virgil Abloh: that streetwear would die.
Naturally, Abloh took the lead. At Off-White, he paired cashmere hoodies with pleated, grey trousers and oversized, branded ponchos, whereas classic white shirts came with experimental ruching and, again, various stamps of the Off-White logo. At Louis Vuitton, he took a different approach, literally ripping apart business suits and stitching them into new formations. The collections combined to make a clear statement: expect the unexpected.
Other designers took a similar approach of fusing luxe fabrics with relaxed silhouettes, like Astrid Andersen, whose signature, oversized hoodies this season came in layered organza, or worn underneath fur coats. Heron Preston looked to hazmat suits and construction overalls for inspiration, reworking their signatures onto zip-up bustiers for women and bomber jackets with patches and chain detailing for men. Then there was Liam Hodges, whose signature tracksuits came spliced and stitched with rows of colourful thread.
Backstage at Off-White FW20, Photography Emily Malan
Even Vetements’ FW20 showing – the first without Demna Gvasalia, now creative director at Balenciaga – was relatively light on the tongue-in-cheek hoodies and exploded puffers that put the brand at the forefront of the streetwear conversation a few years ago, signalling a true shift in the fashion landscape.
But the writing has been on the wall for a few seasons: Hood by Air went on hiatus in 2017 (although a hotly-anticipated relaunch is on the cards), Gosha Rubchinskiy disappeared quietly in 2018, and pioneers like Virgil and Demna were quickly snapped up by prestigious houses. So why is the ‘death of streetwear’ conversation so dominant right now?
Well, a lot has changed since 2016 – arguably the height of fashion’s so-called streetwear obsession. After his most recent Off-White menswear showing, Virgil spoke of the term being used for years to “make things flat,” and he has a point. The literal definition of ‘streetwear’ is self-explanatory, but over the years, it’s become a cultural shorthand for an aesthetic with roots in hip-hop, skate culture and working-class communities. Tracksuits? Streetwear. Tailoring? Menswear.
Backstage at Astrid Andersen FW20, Photography Ariel Chan
Designers – particularly designers of colour – have outlined this separation and alluded to a sort of ghettoisation, particularly over the last twelve months. Pyer Moss called the term “lazy and singular,” whereas Nasir Mazhar linked its usage to diverse casting and “casual silhouettes,” highlighting that luxury brands which also happen to sell tracksuits don’t get pigeonholed in the same way. Shayne Oliver spoke of feeling misunderstood and boxed in by labels ahead of the upcoming Hood by Air launch, a sentiment echoed by Virgil over the years, too.
In this context, the so-called death of streetwear can be seen as less of a trend conversation, and more as a step forward in terms of cultural awareness.
But even aesthetically, this season saw a marked fascination with the conventional markers of elegance and luxury. Daniel Lee’s award-winning stint at Bottega Veneta is arguably partly responsible. When he was first appointed just a few seasons ago, he spoke of wanting to bring elegance back into fashion. He’s since done so by mixing butter-soft leather with slick yet timeless silhouettes, building an aesthetic blueprint of classicism with a twist.
Bottega Veneta FW20
Other designers have been reconsidering the business suit. Some have taken Virgil’s approach, literally hacking into blazers and conceptually deconstructing the codes of the bourgeoisie – most notably Galliano at Maison Margiela, whose slashed-up collection paid homage to the dress-making process. Yet silhouettes across the board have been loosened up and reinterpreted, built for comfort as opposed to just status. This ties into a wider reconsideration of what luxury looks like today – especially in the midst of a climate crisis. The emphasis was on timelessness, not trends.
Others made it their mission to sex up menswear, like Ludovic de Saint Sernin, whose collection featured wispy, chiffon tops and barely-there breastplates. Jockstraps featured at Gareth Wrighton’s collection for Fashion East, and there were even a handful of codpieces and harnesses scattered across the menswear runways.
All of this ties into the fascination with deconstruction: of elegance, of masculinity. Accordingly, the more we deconstruct the ‘streetwear’ conversation, the more outdated it starts to look. It’s obvious that tracksuits, hoodies, trainers and other so-called streetwear staples will never die – they’ve just taken a back seat this season. But hopefully, when they do return, we’ll celebrate them as fashion as opposed to cordoning them off into their own category.
Backstage at Ludovic de Saint Sernin FW20, Photography Sara Cimino