The big boys of luxury are tapping into the exclusive nature of streetwear to reel in a younger demographic.

SINGAPORE (June 17): Gone are the days when wearing a pair of sneakers to an event was considered inappropriate, unkempt or a sign of being up to no good. For better or for worse, owing to the rise of street style on mainstream catwalks, tracksuits and T-shirts have blurred the line between casual and formal, leaving room for interpretation and personal preference. Born out of surf and skateboard culture, hip hop and punk, streetwear has blossomed and found itself in every fashion-conscious individual’s wardrobe.

This style includes loose-fitting sportswear, comfortable jeans and shoes, and clothing that allows free and easy movement. It is confusing to see high-end brands following the trend, considering that luxury wear and streetwear are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Luxe evokes images of velvet and silk whilst streetwear is associated with denim and cotton.

Recently, however, the younger generation has been avoiding luxury brands, opting instead for new streetwear designs as worn by hip-hop legends, sports stars and self-made influencers. In some cases, it is celebrities who promote and make streetwear so attractive. Mainstream fashion has become boring while the elusive underground quality of streetwear seems more special, particularly to millennials and Generation Z. Meanwhile, brands such as Stussy, Supreme and A Bathing Ape have managed to stay in the grey area between common popularity and aloof exclusivity with the fixed availability of their collections.

Louis Vuitton

In a collaboration with Supreme in 2017, French fashion house Louis Vuitton unveiled a series of bright red monogrammed streetwear items that were so sought after that their resale prices became unfathomable. For instance, the box logo hoodies that retailed at US$860 were re-marketed at US$25,000. This collection fuelled the public’s adoration of logomania, which is a prevalent fashion trend this season. After its success with Supreme, it was only natural for Louis Vuitton to appoint Virgil Abloh, founder of streetwear label Off-White, as its artistic director. This became a clear statement that the fashion house was embracing street style.

Abloh’s debut SS19 collection for the luxury brand had a Wizard of Oz concept, complete with a rainbow runway that featured streetwear staples such as mohair sweaters, marble and tie-dye prints, utility vests and colourful sneakers. Louis Vuitton’s iconic carry-all bags in this collection even featured neon chains, giving it instant street cred. While the opulence of designer brands might initially seem at odds with streetwear culture, businesses have been able to tap into the market’s pursuit of individuality with limited-edition products.

Left: Adidas x A Bathing Ape; Right: Adidas x Pharrell Williams

Apart from that, a big part of streetwear culture involves niche footwear. Brands such as Adidas and Nike are continuously competing, with limited releases and bigwig collaborations aimed at attracting hypebeasts. Adidas has worked with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, and has a long-standing collaboration with A Bathing Ape (its most recent releases were the BAPE x Adidas Football Ultra Boost and Adizero 5-Star). Meanwhile, Nike collaborated with Jun Takahashi’s Japanese streetwear brand Undercover and Abloh’s Off-White. The shoe conglomerate recently worked with Japan’s godfather of streetwear, Hiroshi Fujiwara of fragment design for Air Jordan 3 (Main image). These shoes are only a sample, and not an official release, to keep fans bursting with excitement.

Fujiwara has also teased fans with a Bulgari collaboration, following a sneak peek of its selection of bags with the FRGMT lightning bolt logo and classic Bulgari elements. With there being hints of the upcoming Chanel x Pharrell capsule collection, including a green and blue rendition of Chanel’s signature round sunglasses with a Pharrell twist, the string of exciting new lines to come are definitely promising. What these collaborations have in common is that they put out a teaser, getting buyers hyped up and ready to fight for that exclusive piece or collection. The word “limited” transforms products into an investment that the fashion-conscious simply cannot resist.

By tapping into underground culture, luxury brands have been able to regain their following among millennials. It makes you wonder if high-end brands hold any power in this case because they are the ones chasing the trend. As the youthful generation of influencers, from musicians to social media moguls and fashion-forward trendmakers, trade in formal oxfords and red-soled stilettos for a pair of comfy — sorry, stylish — chunky trainers or Converse sneakers, it looks as if the big boys of luxury will have to follow suit.


Lakshmi Sekhar is a writer with Options at The Edge Malaysia