The old is new again. Our 90s nostalgia has seen Pamela Anderson resume her cover girl status, Power Rangers on the big screen, and Matrix sunglasses in the street. Of late, there’s also been a shift in the skateboarding scene – its style has moved from skate parks to department stores, pinned to mood boards in the houses of high fashion. 2017 looks a lot like 1997, with skaters re-emerging as our fashion muses, a trend to which seemingly few brands are immune. But is everyone happy with its revival?
Skateboarding’s longevity wasn’t always guaranteed; its embrace of slacker culture, and a decrease in skateboarding sponsorships, seemed to signal a death knell to the industry. Yet the much-touted millennial craving for authenticity has led us back to the skate scene (with that trend reaching its peak, or nadir, this year with Hermes’ £2,200 longboards, and Dior’s skate deck collection). The current reign of skateboarding stars has reinvented the wheel (pun not intended), reviving their sport for new audiences, appetites, and customers. The new generation of skaters has jettisoned the peak beanies, XXL cargo shorts, and wallet chains from 1995, in favour of high street collaborations and branded hoodies.
With skateboarding back in vogue (and in Vogue), designers of every ilk have tried their hand at appropriating this look. Staples of skate fashion are now commonplace on our runways; the chunky footwear, kneepads, and wide legs all harking back to 90s skate parks. This line between skate wear and luxury fashion has blurred and merged to a point where distinguishing the pair is impossible. Asking Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White and Creative Director for Kanye West, about our gradual tiptoeing towards (or backwards to) the 90s, Abloh states that “fashion, in a way, has gone completely back to the 90s… The rise of branded skate clothing has had skaters reverting to logo-less looks, and an emphasis on proportions.” As a result, fashion houses can adapt skate fashion, Abloh says, but “fashion houses should be authentic in their own language. At that moment they learn the most valuable lesson; that true skate brands can teach all brands.”
As a result, skate brands have evolved into a perpetual part of our fashion commentary. Not all instances of this style appropriation have been well-received, such as when the models of Kenzo’s PFW 2013 show held their skateboards the wrong way, or Jake Phelps, of skateboarding bible Thrasher, called out Justin Bieber for sporting his tees. When Frank Ocean sported Vans to a White House appearance, the validity of skate wear as a high fashion outfit set fashion sites aflame. Some view the ‘style appropriation’ that occurs as a form of flattery, a loving homage to the lifestyle, but these cases attest to the still-existing divide between the two worlds.
Ultimately, fashion’s promotion and appropriation of skateboarding culture shows no signs of slowing down. Demna Gvasalia, Raf Simons, and Louis Vuitton have all plucked elements of skateboarding fashion for their collections. Abloh’s own Nike collaboration this year welded the worlds of street wear and high fashion further together. This cross-pollination of industries will always draw some detractors, but even they must admire the constancy of skateboarding – its music, style, and aesthetic continuing to find acolytes of all ages, and across all industries. While the runways of fashion week seem far removed from the body-breaking bouts of your average London Southbank session, it might be that skateboarding’s new exposure brings newcomers to the scene. For Abloh, this is unsurprising; “When I was a teenager, a guy would look like Josh Kalis, in a white tee, and jeans – it embodied a look that was not fashion, but beyond fashion.”
For a subculture to endure, as skateboarding has done, its appeal must be able to extend across generations. There’s a hint of Neverland about the skate parks, where age becomes irrelevant. While tech can interfere with the traditions of other sports, to this skateboarding is immune – no electronic upgrades, little inequality of gear. Yet, there’s more to skateboarding than some fashion houses can comprehend. Abloh understands this point well; “It’s about a lifestyle; there’s a history and rhythm to how it all works. The only general rule of thumb is that fashion is traditionally late.”
This article originally appeared in Man About Town 10th Anniversary edition.
Photographs © Mario Testino
Text Jonny Mahon-Heap