Last year, Chanel launched its Gabrielle bag with great pomp and circumstance: from Pharrell Williams to Caroline de Maigret, all Lagerfeld’s friends were there to play the muses. In a campaign playing on movement, the Happy performer climbs on caissons, while Kristen Stewart dances frenetically in a hangar… and an animated version of Cara Delevigne runs down the streets on her board.
Barely a year earlier, Dior Homme presented its FW16 collection. On a black podium, ramps lined with red neon lights contrasted with the usual elegance of the house, whose fitted costumes were getting thugher under long down jackets. A few months later, it even made its own skates, before Hermès followed suit.
While the biggest fashion institutions are openly flirting with board culture, how has it become so important?
Originally, skateboarding was a street version of surfing, experiencing its first wave in the 70’s. In other words, it is first of all a hobby a little bit daredevilish, invented by kids in California to enlighten their boring daily lives — some sources testify to similar objects in the WW2 Montmartre, but let’s not be too chauvinistic.
Two decades later, far from its prestigious collaborations, the brand new Supreme boutique is still only aimed at an insider audience, while Thrasher is more than just a flaming logo on a sweatshirt. At the same time, fashion weeks oscillate between the exacerbated sexuality of glamazons, heroin chic and intellectual deconstruction. In short, nothing can oppose these two universes more.
The situation changes in 1995 with Kids. Signed Larry Clark, the film follows the adventures of a group of friends against a backdrop of skate parks and AIDS. Four months later, its actress Chloë Sevigny hangs out with Kate Moss backstage at Miu-Miu. The movie is certainly not enough to make the board a must have, but it shapes the imagination of creators and help to spread interest in skateboarding. By the way, both Dior and Supreme will collaborate with the director.
A unique component of sportswear
When a culture is “promoted” to the rank of trend, the pattern is often the same: designers take ownership of its codes, thus leading to its popularization. On the other hand, the opposite tends to happen for skatewear: it is imposing itself directly on couture, without any real readaptation.
With the advent of sportswear as a staple style, it was only a matter of time before it gained momentum. However, no other sport wins so many votes — post-World Cup football jerseys do not count. The difference? Skateboard is intrinsically linked to the street, the bitumen is in its DNA. Add its ties to the 90s and it alone crystallizes all the spirit of today’s fashion.
At the same time, its preferred brands are adopting the codes of their new Avenue Montaigne rivals, further reducing the line between the two. Far from being overtaken, they rely on a well-run marketing approach, based on exclusivity and confidentiality, contributing to the first ingredient of most current collaborations: the hype. Desire and rarity are the same, but the criteria for appreciation differ. A label like Supreme, despite all the controversies it raises, undeniably redefines the notion of luxury for the millennials. The Gabrielle by Chanel costs at least €3,000. Some Supreme items resell for more than €20,000.
Furthermore, the figure of the skater represents a form of incarnation, that of cool and casual. Like in Kids, it evokes the rebellion and irreverent freedom of youth. What if that’s what the big houses were desperately trying to capture after all? •
This article is part of the #19 — A new skate of mind series.
(Cover picture credits: Arthur Elgort for VOGUE US, 2003.)