I don't know how many times I've heard someone say, "I'm starting a clothing line". Screen-printing images lifted from Google onto T-shirts do not constitute a clothing line. In my travels as a writer covering various events I've come across hundreds of self-employed "artists" who all have misguided visions of being music, fashion, film, or television stars. But isn't this the driving motivation of most people in this age? There is very little love for the actual profession that is claimed and an abundance of effort placed on the benefits of being associated with the profession.
It doesn't help our generation that the carrot of fame is within the reach of the television remote, the mouse, or the smart phone. Think about the hundreds of reality T.V. shows that give the impression that anyone can be a star. There is also the inescapable truth of capitalism which forces a competitive society governed by the acquisition of wealth and/or the image of it. For many of those not born into royalty or given an inheritance, looking wealthy is just as important as being wealthy.
Perhaps it's an external pressure to create an identity. In a society governed by social networking; much of who we are is viewed through the lens of cyber space. A digital representation becomes a direct connection to the reality of image. Who we are is dependent as much on our Facebook updates as our actual life experiences. Our Twitter posts and Instagram feeds are creating a narrative about who we are, what we like and whom we are connected to.
We are driven to create identity in order to be connected. Music, art and fashion are merely parts of this new social construct. What we listen to, what we view and how we present ourselves all tie into the social network collective perception. It's a perception that has a much bigger impact on reality than people understand or care to understand. Who we "follow" and connect to socially have influence on who we present ourselves to be. Fashion specifically "Streetwear" seems to be effected by this fairly new influence more so than any other mode of social perception.
Streetwear is in many ways just as easily transferred digitally as music. New styles, designs and collections are blogged, posted and shared through a collection of sites that share common interests. Iconic brands like Crooks & Castles
have blogs dedicated to their brand identity creating a genuine connection with it core customers. LRG has a website that functions like a magazine with stories, videos, photos, and music all dedicated to connecting with customers. There are even sites like HypeBeast, that are dedicated to the culture of Streetwear and its crossover into mainstream culture.
The technology and accessibility of materials makes the idea of creating a Streetwear clothing line a simple reality. Where there once were a handful of brands like Stussy, Mecca, and Obey-now there are literally thousands of brands vying for a place in the market. Anyone with access to a screen-printer and the latest version of photoshop can manufacture a Streetwear collection. So where does the industry draw the line or set the standard as to what is considered a legitimate brand? This is one of the same questions that Hip Hop has had to deal with recently. We've seen an explosion of "artists" burst onto the scene because of accessibility to technology. Hip Hop music seems to be the easiest genre to replicate because of the various software applications available via the Internet.
Hip Hop has become so interwoven within our collective conscious that many of the elements that constitute the culture are used organically in other mediums. Hip Hop and fashion have always shared a unique relationship. Run DMC's promotion of the Adidas brand in the 80's was merely a precursor of the influence of rap music on youth sub culture. For the past two decades it can argued, that Hip Hop culture is one of the most dominant influences on youth sub culture. The Hip Hop community establishes much of what is deemed "popular". Luxury vehicles, premium alcohol, exclusive jewelry, limited garments are all given a pseudo license to be coveted.
Remember, much of what constituted the foundations of rap was bragging. The emcee made proclamations about how stylish or innovative he/she was which elevated the emcee over peers. This mode perhaps originated at the street level as the "image" or wealth became as much a goal as the actuality of wealth. The stereotypical tales of street hustling, gang banging and poverty are mostly counterbalanced by the wealth, success, and opulence that can be attained through manipulation of the very plights that has imprison.
Hip Hop has a revisionist philosophy that allows it by nature to reconstruct reality. Rap lyrics tend to be recreations of events rather real or imagined and sometimes in-between. Musicians, specifically Rappers; stitch together fragments of life to create an auditory presentation, which in turn creates a shared experience. We can argue over which presentation is more meticulous, or complex but rap music is still a presentation of interwoven reality. A rapper like Juicy J can present his thoughts of strippers, cocaine, and alcohol just as effectively as Lupe Fiasco can present the antithesis of that world. It's a matter of taste and more often than not it's a matter of feeling.
I recently heard the argument of whether or not Streetwear can be considered High fashion. The other argument that stemmed from the conversation was whether or not there was such a thing as High Fashion Streetwear. Yes, there are plenty of premium Streetwear brands like Comme Des Garcons, BAPE and Supreme. These brands have distanced themselves by claiming to be exclusive and by hiking price points up to the stratosphere. The acquisition of some of these "exclusive" items carries with it a label of being a part of an "exclusive" social circle. I could dedicate an entire article on "drops" of capsules and collections at some of these retailers.
The "Streetwear" culture is closely parallel to the Hip Hop culture so there's no reason that some of the same arguments used to define music apply to fashion. Arguing the differences between High Fashion Streetwear and Streetwear is analogous to arguing over whether Rick Ross is as Hip Hop as Kendrick Lamar or vice versa. Ross' point of departure may offer nothing groundbreaking in terms of Hip Hop's evolution but how accessible is Lamar's? Lamar is clearly a much more meticulous and complex artist whereas Ross relays on the formulaic presentation of the genre. However, they are both rappers and both of them have the same goal; presenting their auditory creations.
The same can be said of Streetwear, an established premium brand may have the legitimacy to be featured at Fashion Week in New York but you're more likely to see a less premium brand in public spaces. Neither one can claim to be more relevant than the other but one is merely more accessible than others. If a garment is limited or premium it means less customers will have access. Does a lack of access mean "high"? The argument is often used in the discussion of "conscious" rap versus "mainstream" rap. The point of entry is much more narrow for an obscure artist like Busdriver than it is for 2 Chainz. Should fans of Busdriver feel superior to fans of 2 Chainz?
Should a kid wearing a limited edition piece from Supreme feel more classy than a kid who has an off the rack jacket designed by Obey? Each of the garments is a presentation that is a representation of the voice of the brand. The Crooks & Castles voice is much different than the Comme Des Garcons voice. However, a customer can be a fan of both brands and several others as well without compromising the integrity of Streetwear culture.
This is what makes the culture of Streetwear so appealing to it's target demographic. Contemporary youth sub-cultures thrive in social networking and Streetwear has taken advantage of this factor. Blogging allows the sharing of images in real time. Customers can follow their favorite brands on Twitter to get the latest updates on releases and collaborations. The Streetwear industry is a living organism that feeds on its own hype. Hype that is created by the very people that the industry is dependent on for it's success. Without the "hype" generated by customers, Streetwear becomes as static as any other type of clothing available in the marketplace.
Crooks and Castles
The Crooks and Castles concept: Crooks, criminals, pimps, hustlers, thieves, etc. And Castles those who got rich by becoming a crook. | Photo: http://crooksncastles.com |
In Los Angeles several Streetwear retail shops like The Hundreds, Supreme, and Pink Dolphin all occupy spaces in close proximity. Imagine Jay-Z living in the same neighborhood as A$AP Rocky, Mos Def, and Nikki Minaj. Now take this supposition further and the imagined neighborhood is accessible to the public. Streetwear is one of the only cultures where the exclusive connects with the accessible.
This dynamic creates a conundrum for the culture of Streetwear and it's desire to be considered a legitimate industry. Most of the tools necessary to design and produce Streetwear are not exclusive. The ability for customers to be creators has undoubtedly caused a huge imbalance in the Streetwear industry. However, the next great brand could be selling products from the trunk of a car. Johnny Cupcakes gained a huge following by creating limited editions of his signature T's, which he started selling out the back on his car.
The Johnny Cupcakes brand is now one of the most recognizable in the industry. Cupcakes actually started selling his T's as a joke because that's the type of person he is. His brand is a reflection of who he is and not an attempt at a cash grab. The same can be said for Dennis Calvero and Robert Panillo of Crooks & Castles. The brand is his vision of what his world was. The crooks of the world were always after a castle-or a goal much like Calvero and Panillo when they decided to create a lifestyle brand. What many people don't know is that their first attempt to create a brand was a failure. Perhaps because it did not speak to what their visions and goals were. The Crooks brand was a reflection of their philosophy and not an attempt to gain notoriety. Crooks & Castles has remained relevant because the brand refuses to compromise their vision.
I will never disparage a young designer not to strive to create a brand. There is one thing that any piece of art should do with an audience-create resonance. There must be something that speaks to the audience on a subconscious level that connects to their human condition. Art speaks to you because you're speaking to it, rather consciously or subconsciously. There's something about the idea of being a "crook" that connects with Crooks & Castles customers. There is a connection to the laid-back surfer life of Shawn Stussy that Stussy customers embrace. Every Streetwear brand that is authentic has resonance. The "resonance" factor is the major difference between selling T-shirts and creating a brand. The next time someone tells you that they're starting a line of clothing ask them what their vision is.