Why top fashion brands have fallen in love with the street
Just a decade ago, a T-shirt was just a basic commodity, and being seen in one
at a fashion show or a board meeting was unthinkable. Success was, after all,
measured by the height of one’s stilettos, or the width of one’s shoulder pads – all the better to shoulder the world being conquered. Utilitarian garments were the sign of leaner fortunes, or lack of taste as trends filtered from the hallowed runways of Paris and Milan, towards the street level of the rest of the world.
Nowadays, many of those on the Forbes 30 Under 30 lists grace their entry in the T-shirts, denim and sneakers once left exclusively for leisurewear or sports, and have made this their uniform. And in fashion itself, the marriage between high and low, couture and street savvy, has been consummated. These days, one is just as likely to see a pair of designer-revisited Crocs at Shoppes at Four Seasons as they are to see a sharply tailored jacket.
Athletic gear has become slicker and been repurposed for the everyday; humble staples have become must-haves seen on a kaleidoscope of runways; and messages of all kinds, from the simple logo to militant expressions, now run rampant on the runway. Have fashion’s elites lost their style sense, or have they elevated the ordinary to an art form, or even a secret handshake of exquisite craftsmanship and subtle signs of belonging?
Sportswear and streetwear aren’t even trends any more, they’re mainstream staples. Where once there was a form of apathy that led people to slip into a comfort zone of jersey and combed cotton, now stands a polished landscape filled with Balenciaga sweatshirts and Dior message T-shirts.
When couture and fashion’s most noted designers start to put on their workout gear, it’s time to get worked up and out in garments that are as performance-enhancing as they are ornamental. Ultimately, it is an admission that feeling on top of the world is not a privilege: it’s a hard day’s workout.
While “athleisure”, certainly one of the buzzwords of 2017, can be seen as the natural child of decades of sportswear – America’s biggest contribution to the fashion discussion, and a movement started in the 1970s – this iteration stands apart for several defining factors. In spring 2018, it’s not so much the comfort aspect that is prominent as its performance undertones. Gone are the cotton slubs and slouchy knits that were once the preferred materials for the genre. In the coming spring, technical fabrics and the most advanced man-made threads are in the limelight, the hallmarks of a life lived at the speed of light, or at least at the speed of Wi-fi and 4G.
Accordingly, the sports of choice have moved from the leisure class towards statements of dynamism, and the adrenaline rush of extreme sports. Rather than slobbing around in workout clothes, next summer’s workout gear will be about wearing the right outfit for maximum impact on and off-piste.
As befitting the new time frame of our lives, silhouettes give the impression of lightning-fast dressing captured by a speed cam: sportswear pieces and fabrics are seen on the runway in full looks but more often integrated alongside skirts or
beautifully tailored pieces.
Just take a glance at some of the top maisons that have made their home at Shoppes at Four Seasons: at Christian Dior, this took life as a leather suit that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a motor racer, or a form-skimming one that could dive to the marine depths on an award-winning scuba diver. As for Marc Jacobs, the American designer tapped into the fantasy evoked by sportswear – that dream holiday, that limit broken for the fun of it, one’s own boundaries, in a way – and released macro-sized sporting gear that would look quite at home on the pistes of the Alps.
Key to this trend is the understanding that comfort is not where it’s at; performance is what we all seek. The myriad utilitarian details – pockets
and straps, adjustable elements and more – collide beautifully with a certain lightness of being.
Speaking of performance, there is a secondary aspect of the term to consider. One other source of this shift towards a glossier version of real clothes for real people, embodied by luxurious versions of readily available commodities lies in social media, the frothy and flighty mirror through which the life of others is shown to us.
Performance transcends all aspects of life and nowadays touches the person herself: why live an ordinary life where every meal, every trip, every social gathering can become the showcase for a bigger, brighter, fuller life? Further fuelling the trend, the rise of image-oriented social media platforms have quickly turned fashion from a prop to an actor.
Take Gucci, where creative director Alessandro Michele regularly mines his very eclectic inspirations to offer collections that are as familiar as they are pure fantasy. Spring 18 was no exception, with its very vintage, fabulously 80s runway. Taken individually, anything from the bobbly sweaters to that ice blue nylon shell suit looked like it might better find its place in the recycle bin, but for the intricate
detailing that went into their embellishment. As the Italian designer told Vogue Runway, “I’m trying to push the fact that fashion is full of little things.”
Offering silhouettes that have one foot in the reality of everyday life and the other in the promised land of superior crafts and luxury materials is a mirror of our epoch, where social media offers a window into the best versions of ourselves, and where scene setting has become the ultimate skill to cultivate.
Herein lies fashion’s deep shift: rather than the immediately visible, today’s luxury is a secret handshake for those in the know, a detail that is so subtle that it requires being experienced rather than viewed to be truly understood. The seemingly mundane becomes the perfect canvas on which to refine, experiment, innovate. Materials such as hard-working denim become the new power suit, and even humble plastic becomes the attractive challenge through which Chanel creates a cape and matching boots, or Burberry cuts its rain poncho.
Craftsmanship becomes less about conspicuous ornamentation than about intimate knowledge of an item, transparency of its creation processes, and ultimately reassurance that it was created by another human being. In anointing garments that seem to have little to do with the promised dreams of highbrow design, and everything to do with high-res reality, fashion throws into contrast the complexities of our times. Repurposing the uniform of the familiar is a way of saying, “I am normal, you know me, I am harmless.”
But it also serves as an innocuous vehicle for powerful messages. Ever a reflection of its time, fashion captures like no other the voices that are getting louder. On the front of a Christian Dior T-shirt, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist question, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, has a resonance that reaches further than any all-black red carpet protest could: from the mind who imagined it straight into the heart of pop culture, via the prism of fashion. As simple as they seem, these tops were the first signs of the #MeToo tidal wave, by turning every fashionista into a one-woman demonstration of values.
Ennobling the familiar amounts to injecting a little magic into the everyday, a way of threading hope as a subliminal message, and creating a luxurious yet familiar cocoon. In their very thread lies the tenacious power of a whispered message: the extraordinary springs but from one thing – one’s self.