Valerio Mezzanotti / The New York Times

January 26, 2020

Create a Problem, Sell a Solution

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Back in December, Virgil Abloh, the Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton and Creative Director of Off-White, declared that streetwear will die in 2020. Because this statement came from one of streetwear’s stalwarts, the fashion industry has accepted this prediction without questioning Abloh’s reasoning. But considering Abloh’s history in streetwear and his ascension to high fashion, it’s obvious Abloh is seeking legitimization and believes that separating himself from streetwear is the best way to do it.

Abloh is a monumental figure in the democratization of fashion — he went from silkscreen printing t-shirts without a formal background in fashion to serving as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton in only 10 years. He didn’t study fashion in college (he holds a Master’s degree in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology instead), and his first brand, Pyrex 23, merely refashioned Ralph Lauren flannels with “Pyrex 23” screen print on the back, sold at a 700% markup. Off-White is often criticized for a lack of originality. Even after Off-White’s rapid rise to the top of the fashion industry, these criticisms have all followed Abloh to Louis Vuitton.

Streetwear is beyond burned out, and probably has been since Off-White’s The Ten collection with Nike expanded well beyond the original 10 shoes at the end of 2017.  Abloh legitimized streetwear more than anyone, but by doing so, he accelerated its decline. Streetwear is inherently countercultural, so taking it to the highest fashion houses places it in a paradox that compromises its existence. Streetwear was created as the fashion of people who weren’t shopping at Dior or Louis Vuitton. Now Dior is collaborating with Shawn Stussy and making Jordan 1’s? It all feels fake.

Maybe there’s an argument that streetwear is opening doors in fashion for people that wouldn’t be included otherwise — Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton show included Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti, Blondey McCoy and Lucien Clarke as models — but it’s likely that high fashion will ditch streetwear as soon as it’s no longer profitable. We’re only 20 years removed from Louis Vuitton sending Supreme a cease and desist letter for parodying their logo, just to collaborate with them in 2017. It now looks as though streetwear will be a brief footnote in the history of these high fashion houses, and justifiably so, because Supreme doesn’t fit in on Fifth Avenue.

All of this leads us back to Abloh’s declaration that streetwear is dead. What if Abloh said this because he wants to leave streetwear behind and have his Louis Vuitton career be viewed separately from the rest of his career? It initially seemed like he wanted to maintain his streetwear roots while he got settled at Louis Vuitton, but he now appears to be seeking a new path forward. Maybe he spent his brief hiatus reflecting on his position and streetwear at large and decided to get out before it all comes crashing down. Abloh has always received far more criticism than deserved, and this time he’s not taking action in a tongue-and-cheek way, like releasing products directly quoting his critics as a twisted form of irony, but instead choosing silence.

Something’s going to replace streetwear in the mainstream, and I’m sure Abloh will have a branded movement ready for when that day comes, likely something snappy written in his signature Off-White helvetica font and quotation marks. This is a classic business move: create a problem, sell the solution. And judging by his stature, he’s going to lead us to the next movement.

But streetwear itself isn’t going to die out and disappear altogether. This supersaturation, this burnout, is what happens when a subculture is adopted outside of its target market. Once it goes mainstream, it loses sight of its roots, excluding the very people who created it. There’s always going to be a place for streetwear, but its future existence may be far more curated than it is now, free of exorbitant resale prices and lukewarm high fashion collaborations.


Dan Moran is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as the assistant arts editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at [email protected]