For the past half decade or so, a steady undercurrent has been building beneath the fashion world. A captivating wave that champions a gritty, urban, minimalist aesthetic; one that transcends social, economic, and national demographics, that blurs gender boundaries and which, by now, has impregnated the worlds of high-fashion and high-street fashion alike.
At its most experimental we see this new mode gracing the catwalk from brands like Pigalle, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Nasir Mazhar, Vetements, Astrid Andersen and Hood by Air. Particularly intriguing, though, are those brands to have successfully bridged a high-fashion to high-street accessibility gap; notably, East London’s’ Blood Brother, Palace, Commes des Garçons collaborations with Supreme, and Stussy collabs with Kiko Kostadinov and DSM.
Demonstrating a mixed influence from such diverse areas as workwear, sportswear, and streetwear and exhibiting a combination of futurist, minimalist, survivalist, and utilitarian design tropes; this avant-garde movement in fashion has eluded definition, and a growing controversy surrounds what we should (or more precisely, should not) call it.
The catch-all phrase “streetwear” has been widespread as a means to describe the work from these brands, much to the dismay of the pioneering designers behind them. The historically vague term has been used to apply to everything from skaters to hip-hop’s prison-inspired-style, 90’s fashion, and a range of things in between which usually means baggy tees, loose jeans, and tracksuits.
The term was referred to as “demeaning” by FT reporter Charlie Porter and many others have picked up on the dismissive utility of the term. London designer Nasir Mazhar spoke out in Dazed Digital about the reception to his use of non-white models on the catwalk, and the often less than serious reaction his work receives as a result of being reduced to a transient streetwear trend.
While many characteristics unify this newly evolved menswear, perhaps what stands out most of all is how each brand uniquely manages to reflect their audience in their work.
To begin, one principal universal feature these brands share is a glorious postmodern blurring of sexual iconoclasm that has been labelled the “agender agenda”. On the one hand, we see the creation of more and more unisex clothing, and, more sensationally, with an embrace of conventionally feminine shapes and styles for men.
At the zenith, we find brands like Nasir Mazhar, Kaimin, Rick Owens and others transcending gender norms and rebranding masculine sexuality. Meanwhile, a more toned down vision demonstrates an almost contrapositive effect with an asexual, minimalist, uniform-like aesthetic comprised of straight fits and simple, subtle styles that grace the wearer like religious garb or uniform.
In the first, we find a confession of past style envy. A new progressive generation raised on feminist ideals and values, unafraid to emulate a freedom traditionally offered by womenswear compared with a more rigid and oppressive menswear. In the second is a perspective that seeks to eliminate the gender binary in another way, that is by creating an entirely new aesthetic which does not distinguish between genders to begin with.
Beyond issues of race and gender, this new fashion also seems to coalesce around particular ideologies relating to an increasingly global mentality, as well as toward the digital way of life we have to thank for it.
Styles frequently cross continental divides until appearance and origin lose their relation. Gosha Rubchinskiy showcases ironic Nationalism with indiscriminate use of Russian, Chinese, and Soviet icons throughout his collections, and his current SS16 collection focuses on 1984 in an evocation of increasingly popular counterculture ideals and concerns.
Mazhar, Rick Owens, and Kaimin all exemplify a tendency toward survivalism with consistent use of string vests, and leather straps for apparel that conjures a Mad Max world of tomorrow. Blood Brother broach the same subject with a subtle approach in their scavenged Colony AW15 collection, exploring distant human relocation, while their current SS16 collection focusses on our heritage of the industrial and technological revolutions.
Another vital life force to this new wave fashion is minimalism. Brands like Kiko Kostadinov, Blood Brother, Off White, and Rick Owens all allow their fits, materials, colour schemes and unique silhouettes to do the talking. Minimalism, it would seem, prevails in all elements of design in contemporary life, whether it’s architecture, marketing, graphic design, or in fashion. A busy commuter lifestyle, and even busier visual lives jumping from the train board to the newspaper to social media, image after image. In response to the chaos of our visual world, minimalism offers sense by making the most of the fewest elements.
One of the most defining elements of all when it comes to this new fashion, and a reason I believe that guarantees longevity, is for their contemporary re-adaptation of formalwear. Far from being outfitters of street corner apparel, the vision shared by these designers addresses a niche previously untapped in the workplace – that of the creative.
Relating back to the theme of our digital age; this new fashion offers something entirely new to the younger, more dynamic side of the workforce. For all the 30-40 somethings working in communal workspaces that encourage fluid sharing of ideas – and for all of those who can carry out technical tasks as well from the cafe as from the office – this new menswear offers a new alternative to dressing somewhere between couch surfer, churchgoer, and professional hipster.
One final point that not only singles this modern movement out as culturally relevant but which also ties together all of the previous points made here is that this new wave of fashion, far from being elitist and exclusive, is inclusive and unifying, or at least is an “elitism for all”.
As we’ve said, the genre seems to cross common borders be they national, social, economic, racial, or gender related. They also, while offering plenty of potential for the individual, are held together by a uniformity that prefers minimalism to flashiness and understatedness rather than overcompensation. And of course, the wide cross-genre appeal from fashionistas, skaters, musicians and creatives just adds to the whole communal spirit.
This new (nu) menswear sees off the ironic tweed laden side of hipsterism to create a new ethic, attitude and aesthetic of cool that comes without the side order of pastiche. Though the market, critics, and traditionalists may well continue to search for and apply dismissive taglines, the evolution that we’re witnessing is essentially fashion doing what fashion does best – evolving – illuding – captivating – and causing controversy.