Couture: The Not So New Response to Streetwear
Is logomania canceled?
By Jonathan Chau
Streetwear has fully infiltrated high fashion, and everyone is aware. The youth-centric, for-the-people approach to clothing was once separate from the heritage houses. Now, the two are intertwined. With Virgil Abloh’s reign as artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear, the distinction between the two can be difficult to decipher.
The idea that streetwear and luxury brands are competing for the same market is strange, but it was destined to happen. Yet, as designer sneakers and logomania continue to build hype, a (not so new) counterculture is beginning to gain prominence in ready-to-wear: couture.
Streetwear’s influence in fashion is not revolutionary but rather heightened. Designers are constantly inspired by their surroundings and the people around them. From Raf Simons’ menswear line, which has developed a cult-like following, or Yohji Yamamoto’s collaboration line with Adidas, Y-3, the inclusion of youth culture in fashion has been around since the ‘90s.
Through the creation of powerhouses like Supreme and Off-White and fresh brands like Ambush and Martine Rose, streetwear has captured the market. Major houses like Balenciaga are selling sneakers and puffer jackets. Even Burberry, the heritage brand that was reluctant to change, started doing “drops” when Riccardo Tisci was placed at the head of the brand.
While some brands are embracing the industry’s change, others are diverging from the ongoing trend. When talking to The Times, Marc Jacob expresses he’s over casual inspiration.
“As somebody who loved to do hoodies and reinvented the sweatshirt every season, I can’t be part of that conversation now,” Jacob says. “I know all about putting a sneaker with an evening dress, it’s, like, we’ve done it.”
And this “rebellious” idea is reflective in his last collections as he takes inspiration from haute couture. Defined as “high sewing” in French, couture is the highest level of design, the highest level of craftsmanship, the highest level of fashion. The materials are the utmost expensive. Each design is made to order and custom made just for them, fitting the client perfectly. Every garment is hand-made by an atelier, never touching a sewing machine.
Jacobs was influenced by 1980s designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Mugler, his Fall/Winter 2018 collection showcased broad shoulders, wide-set trousers, bow-wrapped scarves, and tied belts. For his latest Spring/Summer collection, Jacobs dodges the stereotypical and commercialized sexy New York looks. Though his 80s inspiration remained at the forefront, this time he was influenced by Karl Lagerfeld’s first days at Chanel. With pierrot collars, fluffy coats, ruffled dresses, and feathers, Jacobs emphasizes luxurious fabrics and craftsmanship.
Fashion’s shift towards streetwear poses challenges for designers. The pace is fast and the latest trends are always changing. Regardless, it keeps them accountable.
“I guess if I have to look at the positive side, or if I choose to look at the positive side, maybe new people means new ideas or new approaches or new energy, or all of the above,” Jacob says. “But it is a double-edged sword, it’s difficult.”
For Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Pierpaolo Piccioli was inspired by artisans. The clothing is similar to his recent couture shows, but it’s more accessible and at a slightly lower price point.
Piccioli focused on places where artistic individuals — painters, poets, writers, artists — were free to express themselves and live their identities.
“My starting point reflection for this season was escape, places and the idea of freedom,” Piccioli says in a video with Vogue. “Today, everyone is talking about escapism. But I don’t believe in that — I think everyone should just live their identities in the city, or wherever they are,” Piccioli says.
This form of fluidity appeared in the show. With tall, wide-brimmed hats, balloon sleeves, and flowy tunics, the garments and models felt free. There was a strong sense of precision. Previously, these techniques were mostly reserved for Piccioli’s couture shows, where dresses are tens of thousands of dollars. Piccioli creates precise pleating, ruffled dresses, elaborate embroidery, and beading on matching sets, dresses, and coats. He democratizes couture.
For John Galliano, it’s about introducing couture to menswear.
“I just got so excited with the changing landscape of menswear and the new energy that is coming in at different houses,” Galliano says in his podcast “The Memory of…”
From his time at fashion houses, like Givenchy and most notably, Dior, Galliano created a career on storytelling, creativity, and artisanship. At Maison Margiela, he does the same.
Galliano explores craftsmanship’s place in men’s fashion. “Streetwear will always inspire for sure,” says Galliano. “But like I said, I'm a dressmaker. It's about technique. It's about cutting. It’s about draping.”
For the Margiela Fall/Winter 2018 show, his tailoring is paramount. Looking at fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet’s skills for inspiration, he cuts on the bias, the fabric becomes elastic and molds to the wearer, making each garment feel custom-made. For Galliano, it’s about “exploring masculinity and femininity through cutting.” With sharp double-breasted suits, shearling-trimmed puffer jackets, and PVC tops, it’s about “proposing a new glamour for men.”
This idea of couture continued at his artisanal show in Spring/Summer 2019. Inspired by Galliano’s days as a clubgoer in the 80s, the collection is free and expressive, yet restrictive, sensual, and sexual. Males models walked the runway in sheer tulle overlays, skin-tight patent leather pants, and waist corsets.
Though the majority of the silhouettes are classic, it’s the attention to detail, the fabric, and the material that changes the perception of what defines mens and womenswear. Pearls wrap around necks, ostrich feathers attach to embroidered jackets, and gold leafing is placed on Western boots, but it not tacky or over-the-top. Tweeds are used to create suit jackets. 100-year-old silks are destructed from old garments and made into outwear. Galliano reinvented formal wear for men.
Designers are sidestepping trends and creating what feels right for them. Making dad caps, chunky sneakers, and graphic T-shirts can be economically appealing, but it can dilute a brand’s message if the streetwear influences feel desperate.
Like how Galliano talks about his own collection, it’s important for brands to remember to stay “rooted in authenticity.”