Originating from streets, symbolising the style of neighbourhood, skateboarders and underground scenes, streetwear is more than just fashion. It is a cultural movement that earlier resonated with cool and relaxed non-designer and affordable clothing but ended up becoming a part of the luxury fashion collective. As the world started embracing this style, the fashion landscape witnessed the influence of many luxury streetwear brands.
With their conceptual approach to fashion, they have paved a way for the style of the streets to emerge as a statement that lets one choose comfort, convenience and style, all at once.
What is luxury streetwear?
Contrary to the flamboyant designing and experimental details of couture, streetwear fashion aims at making noise in an understated and aesthetic way. From oversized hoodies, baggy parachute pants and distressed denims to loose graphic tees, caps and sneakers, the style is usually marked with comfy silhouettes and a laid-back vibe. It truly started transforming luxury fashion when brands such as Supreme, Off-White and A Bathing Ape launched their covetable streetwear lines. Most of their initial drops were released as limited collections which created a hype and a demand for their pieces.
Today, almost every other major luxury fashion house including Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and Gucci has stepped into the world of streetwear by giving their own creative spin to this style. On the other hand, there are a plethora of niche brands particularly characterising luxury streetwear such as Kith, Undercover, Neighborhood and Vetements. Although there are many players and labels defining the global streetwear scene now, there are a few key ones that everyone who swears by this aesthetic should know about.
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A Bathing Ape, nicknamed BAPE, is a leading Japanese streetwear label founded in 1993 by Japanese designer Nigo (also the present artistic director of Kenzo). While the brand’s name and logo is influenced by his love for the 1968 film Planet of the Apes and a Japanese idiom, ‘A bathing ape in lukewarm water,’ which refers to an over-indulging individual, the collections channel the 20th century pop-culture aesthetic.
Standing out for its signature camouflage pattern and shark hoodies, the brand is known for its eclectic and bold take on streetwear with loud designs, in-the-face graphics and colourful prints. BAPE skyrocketed in the early 2000s when it was introduced to Pharrell Williams for whom the label’s vividness and flashiness was a perfect match to his personality. This was followed by collaborations with other brands and artists such as Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa, which has contributed to BAPE’s success over the years.
With its progressive and futuristic designs heavily marked by typography, bold graphics and pop-culture references, Off-White is a brand that has redefined streetwear and luxury by merging the two exceptionally well. Founded by the late designer Virgil Abloh, the Milan-based label enjoys a cult status that can be attributed to its innovative range of apparel and accessories and the designer’s personal achievements in equal parts.
Abloh first stepped into the world of streetwear with his brand Pyrex Vision which soon landed itself in controversies for repurposing and reselling Ralph Lauren shirts post which, Off-White was launched in 2013. It steadily became popular for its creative and avant-garde take on classic designs, frequenting the Paris Fashion Week runways and even incorporating the streetwear aesthetic in workwear. Abloh heading the Louis Vuitton menswear division 2018 onwards also added to Off-White’s hype.
Over the years, the brand has collaborated with some renowned labels including Nike, Levi’s, IKEA, Moncler and Jimmy Choo. Be it the iconic 200-centimetre-long yellow and black industrial belt or pieces inscribed with the product type in quotation marks (Nike shoes with ‘AIR’, shoelaces with ‘SHOELACES’ and caps with ‘CAP), such details lend the brand and the wearer a different sort of exclusivity.
Next on the top luxury streetwear brands list is Heron Preston’s eponymous label, a relatively new entrant on the block that was founded in 2016. However, Preston had already been contributing to the streetwear scene since 2012 when he, along with Abloh, Matthew Williams, Justin Saunders and Ye launched a fashion and music collective, Been Trill.
The brand found its footing in the luxury fashion world owing to its border-pushing creative take on streetwear. While hardware-like accent details, quirky cuts and oversized fits are often highlighted throughout its collections, the bright orange branding is a signature.
Apart from its industrial and unconventional street aesthetic, the label also garnered attention for its collaboration with NYC Department of Sanitation on a low-waste collection. Additionally, it has also partnered with Mercedes Benz, NASA, Levi’s and Calvin Klein previously.
Established in 1994 and founded by James Jebbia, Supreme is a skate and clothing label that started out from a boutique store on Lafayette Street, Manhattan. Embodying the then downtown and skate culture, it was a hit amongst the neighbourhood kids and the skating community. While the brand continued to explore streetwear and make a mark over the years, it also kept garnering a devoted fan base that loved their apparel and accessory offerings.
It was a few years back when the label partnered with Louis Vuitton and took street style to the global fashion scene. The buzz around the collection created a strong demand for the pieces thereby making this collaboration an instant success. Not only did it put streetwear at the forefront of luxury fashion, it also got found the brand a permanent footing.
Over the decades, Supreme has expanded into a global community of people who resonate with this style of skaters, punks and hip-hop. It went on to collaborate with other industry leaders including Nike, The North Face, Undercover, KAWS, Jean Paul Gaultier and others.
Another Japanese streetwear brand that brought the style of the streets to the forefront of fashion is NEIGHBORHOOD, founded by Shinsuke Takizawa in 1994. Largely drawing inspiration from biker culture, American military and punk rock, the label birthed a nuanced aesthetic with references to the then Japanese streetwear scenes.
Relatively unknown outside the country initially, the brand gradually started flourishing in the west for its unconventional designs, high quality and detailed craftsmanship. What further helped the label place itself on the western map were its various collaborations with some of the leading brands. While it launched limited edition Adidas Originals Superstars in the early 2000s, the brand also partnered with streetwear pioneers Supreme in 2007.
Without deviating from its biker and punk rock essence, NEIGHBORHOOD has managed to constantly reinvent itself and incorporate any emerging cultural moment to stay relevant through changing times.
Ambush is a Tokyo-based luxury streetwear brand founded by Yoon Ahn and her husband Verbal in 2008. It started as a dedicated jewellery brand and was famous for its oversized and attention-grabbing pieces inspired by pop-art with references to classic Tokyo aesthetics. The label created their first apparel collection during their accessories’ 2015 Paris debut for the models to wear as part of the entire look. It was in 2018, when they introduced their first runway presentation at the Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo and the rest is history.
Now a cult favourite among celebrities including Rihanna, ASAP Rocky, Lady Gaga and some of the biggest names in K-pop, Ambush is famous for its edgy designs, dynamic use of colours and statement-making denim and ready-to-wear pieces. Having collaborated with some of the most popular brands in the industry, the label enjoys an fame in the luxury streetwear space like no other. Some of its most notable partnerships have been with BAPE, Levi’s, NBA, Gentle Monster, Nike, Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton, Off-White and Moët & Chandon
Founded by Jun Takahasi in 1990, while he was still a student at Bunka Fashion College, Undercover is one of the most prominent and influential names in the streetwear space. Heavily inspired by the UK’s punk scenes and Tokyo’s underground ethos, the label harnesses the beauty and the appeal of the unusual with an innovative approach.
A constant fixture at Paris Fashion Week, the label is famed for blending elemental streetwear with traditional design (deconstructed sweats and suits combined together) marked with unabashed use of hues and patterns. While Takahasi’s ‘Scab’ show at Paris Fashion Week SS03 put him on the global map of luxury streetwear, the collaborations with brands such as Nike, Supreme and Off-White too fortified the label’s success.
Edgy and bold designing combined with a poetic vision often defines Undercover’s drops which has constantly ensured its status among fashion enthusiasts over the years.
A-COLD-WALL* was founded by Samuel Ross in 2015. Imbibing London’s street culture and the tone of the working class in its weaves, the brand is inspired by material innovation and industrial design. Toeing the line between wearable streetwear and experimental haute couture, the label made a space for itself in modern luxury in a relatively short span.
Asymmetrical design and silhouettes, graphics and geometry combined together and use of fabrics such as nylon, canvas and technically-developed materials are a few elements that define the label’s collections. Having collaborated with other luxury brands such as Converse, Eastpak, Timberland and Retrosuperfuture, A-COLD-WALL* became popular for its innovative, functional and genre-bending design that was appreciated and accepted by all.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Streetwear is primarily targeted towards youth. Its audience is mostly under the age of 25 but not restricted to it. People up to the age of 30 and even beyond can channel this aesthetic into their wardrobe because at the end of the day it’s all about what resonates with your personal style.
Answer: Luxury fashion today is prominently marked by many popular brands that have blurred the lines between high-end fashion and streetwear impeccably. These brands stand out for their non-conforming (to standard streetwear) yet creatively authentic designs and styles. Some of these brands include Off-White, A Bathing Ape and Vetements.
Answer: Streetwear has its roots in the skateboarding communities and hip-hop and underground scenes of California and New York. As it slowly got introduced in Japan in the 1980s, it soon started taking over other major countries and cities across the globe.
Answer: Streetwear entered the luxury market when luxury design houses lifted the style of the streets and pop culture, incorporated it in their collections and took it to the runway. While streetwear saw its initial glory in the 1980s, when designer Dapper Dan created pieces for hip-hop artists, it was highly popularised when brands like Supreme, Off-White and Stussy released their drops.