Skater fashion rules Supreme

The fashion world is obsessed with skate culture, but is this the start of a long-term relationship or just another short-lived flirtation?

Photo: Pixabay

For a long time now, skate brands such as HUF and Vans have featured in the wardrobes of young people. However, in the last few years, the influence of skater style has cruised its way upwards out of the mainstream and into the world of high fashion which is not, as of yet, bored with the board.

And it’s not just the fashion industry that has taken interest. In 2013, Palace collaborated with the Tate Britain when Lev Tanju, the brand’s creative director, created a new range of boards, projecting works by John Martin onto busts, creating photos that he then used as skateboard graphics.

Not long after this, the infectious creativity of such hugely popular skate brands as Supreme and Palace touched the world of high fashion with their celebrities and theatrical catwalk shows – something that seems the antithesis of the laid-back, carefree philosophy and style of skate culture.  Designers such as Vestments and Goscha Rubchinskiy show collections that were clearly influences by skaters, with hoodies, oversized t-shirts and Thrasher-esque flame motifs dominating the catwalks. Unsurprisingly, as Rubchinskiy had become a darling of the industry, this new aesthetic quickly spread.

Soon, elements of skate culture were pervading the fashion world with pro skaters such as Dylan Rieder, Ben Nordberg, and Alex Olsen becoming models for major labels like DKYNY and Louis Vuitton. Skate style also became the choice off-duty uniform for many, from model Binx Walton to the mainstream artists Rihanna and Justin Bieber. Recently, Vogue even published an online article series, with the cringe inducing title ‘Skate Week’, including a piece on how to achieve skate style. This shows how obsessed the industry has become, treating the look more like a costume than a source of style inspiration.

Although skate style has not actually been championed by many designers, it is not surprising that it was so popular.  Before Vetements arrived on the fashion stage in 2013, the seventies appeared on almost every catwalk. With Hedi Slimane’s rebranding of Yves Saint Lauren, all eyes seemed to be fixed on him as he brought a youthful edge to the long-established fashion house. With collections such as Nicolas Ghesquiere AW14 for Louis Vuitton going down a similarly retro trajectory, Vetements and Goscha’s laid-back sportswear-inspired collections were something new for the industry to get excited about.

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Furthermore, the big skate brands had already made links between different areas of the cultural sphere, increasing their profile. Palace’s graphic designers, for example, came from outside skateboarding. Fergus Purcell was named design director at Marc by Marc Jacobs in 2013, and Will Bankhead was one of the main visual directors behind the Mo Wax imprint and Joy Orbison’s Doldrums. He cited skate magazines Transworld Skateboarding and Thrasher as his inspiration. Therefore, with skateboarding already appearing across the creative board, and Palace and Supreme growing ever bigger, the popularity of this new style could easily have been predicted.

Now, on both the high street and in vintage shops there is a multitude of skate-inspired clothing. From low rise baggy jeans to oversized hoodies, which are sometimes made more ‘skater’ by text or printed flames added down the sleeves. In the accessories department, high-top Converse and checkerboard Vans are making a comeback from our pre-teen emo days.  As elements of skater style has made its way into the mainstream, it has merged with other styles popular among the urban creative youth, such as the 90s sportswear that has come from the rise of the ‘Wavey Garms’ look. Now in the nightclubs of the UK’s biggest cities you’ll see this new breed of creative youth lounging around in the smoking area sporting their Dickies and pulling out a packet of Amber Leaf from their across body bum bag.

This style has brought with it a new stereotype of the skater. Supreme is now a highly successful business, having recently collaborated with the fashion giant Louis Vuitton. Across the pond, here in the UK, the skater turned artist-cum-fashion designer Blondey McCoy is showing that skaters can be far more than the stoner dropout cliche they are usually associated with. Blondey skates for Adidas and Palace, while also acting as the creative director of the skate brand Thames.  McCoy has recently launched his fifth exhibition, entitles Us and Chem, which includes a creative collaboration with the British artist Damien Hirst.

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Some skaters do not seem bothered by the eclecticism and ambition of creatives such as Blondey. But unsurprisingly many are unhappy with the with way in which fashion designers have plucked out elements of their style, and gone on to be lauded by the industry for their creative genius, not to mention the financial remuneration the have received. Skaters are rarely involved in the conversation the fashion industry is so excitdely having about their culture and style, making the industry more vulnerable to their accusations from skaters that their pursuits are disingenuous. This raises questions about the nature of fashion itself, an industry inherently prone to accusations of appropriation, cultural or other otherwise. If a designer references something without belonging to that culture or subculture, does that immediately make their product problematic?

Perhaps the skaters who take issues with the industry are just reacting against the increasing inclusivity of their subculture. The opening up of their world to the general consumer may well result in a serious loss of authenticity, as the mainstream image of skate culture becomes all that they are represented by. Most significantly, when the fashion world decides that its skater crush is over, they will just be dumped by the wayside with all those other discarded trends.