At the end of every year we take the time to look back on how the past 12 months have affected the street fashion scene we know and love. Shortlisted by us, but chosen by our readers, the Highsnobiety Crowns are our way of celebrating the leading forces in our field, and the changing face of our industry. And like last year, the winners will receive special aluminum key trophies designed by Snarkitecture and Highsnobiety.
Sales and revenue might be the main goal of any business out there, but in fashion there’s a third currency which is difficult to define, harder to acquire, and almost impossible to retain: relevance.
Of course, in the age of influencers and media darlings, relevance has become a dirty world in some circles, due in part to its difficulty to put into concrete terms. This might be true in the context of individual players in the scene, but when you’re talking about big brands and the sway they hold in the scene, it’s vital.
To be relevant as a brand is to be leading the conversation and defining many of the rules that everyone else will be following over the next 12 months or more. With the heavyweight brands, this always plays out as a tug-of-war between ideals, but then you also have the lesser-known players that seem to appear out of nowhere but just have “something,” whatever it is.
With that, here’s how you voted in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns awards for Most Relevant Brand, along with one extra Editors’ Choice, chosen by us.
In some ways, you’ve got to feel for Supreme. Ever since the brand launched back in 1994, they’ve been leading the way in defining and redefining what streetwear means, and it can’t be easy having to reinvent the wheel twice a year. That being said, if there was ever a year that Supreme managed to completely tear up the rule book, 2017 was it.
First up, there was arguably the biggest story of the year; a full collaboration with the historic French fashion house, Louis Vuitton. Comprising leather goods, apparel, accessories, and footwear, the collection combined each label’s most iconic symbols – from monograms to box logos, from jacquard denim to the color red – to set the fashion world on fire.
On the one hand, it was the collaboration that cemented Louis Vuitton style director Kim Jones’s deep roots in the world of British streetwear, and his fascination with style led from the sidewalk upwards. For Supreme, on the other hand, it was arguably just another collaboration in a long history of collaborative releases for a brand that has already worked with fine artists, outdoors brands, musicians, and fashion designers alike.
But there was another level to this particular collaboration. After almost 25 years of creating clothing for the counterculture, Supreme’s working with Louis Vuitton was a double-edged sword. A brand which for years had been one of the fashion world’s best kept secrets – “fashion,” but not “fashion fashion” – had proven itself, working with one of the most revered labels in the world without ever holding a runway show. But how does one square a brand built on rebellion and outsidership with a collaboration and public spectacle that all but cements its place within the structure? There are unquestionably two sides to the debate, and you’re unlikely to change your view, whichever side of the fence you land on. One thing can’t be questioned though – Supreme did that.
And as if that wasn’t enough for one year from the Supreme team, there were plenty more stories to come. First there was the announcement that the brand would be opening its third store in the U.S. and its second in New York, with rumors circulating all summer that a new store would be opening Stateside. Pictures of potential locations arose, word traveled down the grapevine, and the buzz that accompanies any Supreme release grew.
Only that news was then supplanted by an even bigger revelation. In early October, news broke that Supreme had sold a 50% stake of the business to The Carlyle Group, a multinational private equity firm with over $150 billion worth of investments and assets, for $500 million–giving the downtown New York skate brand a cool billion-dollar valuation. If debates about Supreme’s status as a symbol of rebellion had been raging after the Louis Vuitton collaboration, this latest revelation only served to fan the flames. It remains unclear what the future holds for Supreme even today, but the same point has to be made – they did that.
With Demna Gvasalia’s takeover as creative director beginning with the brand’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection, 2017 was destined to be a big year for the historic French fashion house, and the rising Georgian designer didn’t disappoint. Followers of the label knew what to expect with its Spring/Summer 2017 runway show early last year, laden with the disruptive cuts and confrontational fits that placed Cristôbal Balenciaga’s historic transformation of the human form into a whole new context. It was arguably the house’s Fall/Winter 2017 presentation, however, where Gvasalia really laid out his vision, laden with the streetwear-esque graphic flips that made his own Vetements label one to watch in the preceding years.
Most notable of these was a graphic which appeared to reference the logo of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic Party nomination campaign, as well as hoodies and T-shirts featuring the logo of Kering, the luxury group which has owned the Balenciaga brand since 2001. As with his own label, it seemed clear that Gvasalia was here to poke behind the curtain of the fashion machine with an uncompromising, irreverent hand. And just as his Vetements DHL T-shirt made waves as the must-have item of 2016, so the Bernie flips became an essential purchase for fashion insiders who liked their politics with a little bit of fashion, and not vice-versa.
The flips went far beyond graphics, however – it was Balenciaga’s “Arena Extra-Large Shopper” bag that garnered the most press earlier this year, bearing more than a passing resemblance to IKEA’s iconic blue Frakta shopping bag. Retailing for over $2,000, the luxury upgrade of a household item created serious buzz, as well as inspiring a number of DIY projects repurposing the IKEA bag for shoes, face masks, apparel, and more.
The foray into streetwear models continued this summer when, during its Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2018 presentations, Balenciaga performed a complete takeover of the second floor of colette, decking the store out with the aforementioned Fall/Winter 2017 collection, as well as a number of Balenciaga-branded accessories such as sleeping masks, travel pillows, and cigarette lighters. There was also a special piece by Berlin-based artist Yngve Holen – a Porsche Panamera cut with laser-precision into four quadrants – placed at the center of the space. No big deal.
Rounding things off, the store also hosted an exclusive Balenciaga T-shirt creation event, where customers could design and print their own Balenciaga T-shirt using a range of pre-supplied graphics, live-printed onto a tee before their eyes. Simple and ingenious all at once, it was a massive hit with visitors, and stayed true to Gvasalia’s core mission – exposing the production behind the mystique of fashion.
If the streetwear influences of Gvasalia’s work with Balenciaga weren’t already clear enough, it’s worth turning our attentions to the brand’s recent footwear releases. Big, brash, ugly, and yet strangely fantastic, the Balenciaga Triple S sneaker was the unquestionable hit of the season. Coming with a triple-layered sole unit that’s anything but practical and a fierce $800 price tag, its release was heavily anticipated throughout the summer, and quickly disappeared off the shelves when it finally released this fall.
On the other end of the spectrum, the brand’s recently unveiled high-platformed Crocs, plastered with kitsch rubber badges and jaunty Balenciaga branding, revived the question of whether Gvasalia is celebrating or mocking the fashion world and beyond. The jury’s still out on that one, but there’s one thing you can’t deny: people are talking about it.
As each year goes by, Virgil Abloh continues to go from strength to strength, both as a designer in his own right, and as the leader of his own label, Off-White. Ever one to lead the conversation and capture the public’s attention, 2017 was business as usual for the American designer, who continued to turn heads with his inimitable mix of modern design, social media savvy, and penchant for public spectacle.
Of course, the big story from the Off-White camp has to be the brand’s mammoth “The Ten” collaborative project with Nike. Teased by Virgil ever since his presentation at Columbia University back in February, the project’s slow and steady unveiling, preview and launch over the course of almost the entire year was a demonstration of Abloh’s unparalleled command of social media, internet culture and, of course, hype.
Beyond the shoes themselves, Off-White took part in a number of different projects to support “The Ten” which provided a deeper insight into the collaborative process and Abloh’s approach to design. Multiple “Off Campus” events at Nike locations around the globe invited members of the public to meet Abloh, create their own custom Nike sneakers, and get shoes signed by the man himself, while panel talks with the likes of Kim Jones of Louis Vuitton gave him a platform to discuss his process further.
Elsewhere, Abloh kept busy with a slew of other collaborations. The brand created a number of exclusive collaborative pieces for Daft Punk’s pop-up shop at the beginning of the year. Moncler released a new collection with Abloh for their “Moncler O” project, and other collaborations throughout the year included Boys Noize, KITH, Dover Street Market Ginza, Travis Scott, Takashi Murakami, and even Snapchat. As demonstrated by his work with Kanye West’s DONDA agency, and the number of designers who have come out and started their own projects after working at Off-White, Abloh is a designer who understands the power of collaboration, and he put this to great use in 2017.
Elsewhere, 2017 also saw the opening of two new Off-White flagships; one in Toronto, and one in Hong Kong. As with all the brand’s locations, each store adopts a particular theme expressed through Abloh’s oft-esoteric lens. For their second Hong Kong flagship, the Off-White “Permanent Store” adopted a heavy, industrial aesthetic laden with concrete, glass panels, grey curtains, and harsh lighting, while the Toronto store, named “Land,” took inspiration from a North American desert in the form of light wooden flooring, dried plants, sand, and limestone blocks.
Speaking of spectacle, it’s difficult not to mention Off-White’s elaborate presentation for Pitti Uomo Spring/Summer 2018, complete with large-scale projections from artist Jenny Holzer. In recent years, Pitti has worked with different designers each season creating a special presentation for the show, and Abloh had no trouble creating something unique for his outing. The project spanned topics as diverse as the ongoing conflict in Syria, poetry by refugee Omid Shans and the uneasy political climate around the globe today. It was an undoubtedly ambitious presentation by Abloh, and garnered a mixed reception for its attempt to blend complex political issues with men’s fashion, but nonetheless demonstrated the designer’s ambitious nature.
Considering Demna Gvasalia was our Editor’s Choice for the Most Influential Person Crown, it’s probably not surprising that the label where he’s currently helmed as Creative Director would win the award for relevance.
But hey, can you argue with us? This year was unquestionably Balenciaga’s year, with so much of their activities setting the agenda in fashion. Their Fall/Winter 2017 presentation, dripping with self-aware nods to parent company Kering’s corporate character and tributes to the man who would be president, Bernie Sanders, let everybody know that irony was the name of the game in 2017.
Then they held their colette in-store pop-up, kicking things off smack bang in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. letting everybody who walked down the Rue St. Honore know who the hottest brand of the season was. Inside, their “Copy Shop” concept flipped the DIY ethos of streetwear with the ivory tower reputation of high fashion, letting customers create their own custom luxury fashion t-shirts there and then.
And then, that same week, their Spring/Summer 2018 men’s presentation set a firm agenda for the next 12 months – “dadcore”. And though the grand vision may not be setting in with the public just yet, we’re certainly beginning to see it emerge with the return to vogue of stonewash denim, tacky trainers and the ever-iconic shallow, bent-brim, belt-adjustment cap. It starts as a ripple, and then it becomes wave.