For many years now, skate culture has defined fashion trends thanks to the community’s laidback attitude towards, well, everything. Almost any popular trend you see today has roots within the skate industry, whether it be the sneakers we wear or the jeans we opt for day-to-day. However, we have seen a massive surge in skate style within high-end fashion in the last few years. Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton produces skate-ready sneakers, linking up with London skater Lucien Clarke for a collaborative model.
But why does fashion all of a sudden want in on skate culture? I take a look at why fashion is turning towards skate culture and the skate brands dominating the fashion industry. I also look at the fashion brands using that same culture to elevate their offerings.
WHY DOES FASHION WANT IN ON SKATE CULTURE
So, why does fashion want in on skate culture? The simple answer, really, is because skateboarders are cool. Their relaxed attitude towards life is reflected in their style. For years now, people have turned to skaters for inspiration. Thrasher magazine began the movement back in 1981, bringing to the masses how incredible these skateboarders style was whilst performing out of this world tricks that you and I could only dream of achieving. Long hair, baggie tees, ripped jeans or dickies pants, all made up a look personified by skaters. A look that is as relevant today as ever. By suggesting they didn’t care about their appearance made the look one that everybody wanted to rock. Nothing says cool more than not caring—That’s what people thought, anyway.
THE NIKE DUNK
We also credit skaters for making the Nike Dunk a desirable shoe. The masses all but abandoned the ex-basketball silhouette. Collaborations with Supreme New York and Diamond Supply would follow, solidifying the Nike Dunk as the skateboarder’s sneaker of choice.
This, in turn, caught the eye of the everyday fashion enthusiast, leading to the boom in popularity of the Dunk over the last few years. Collaborations with the likes of Travis Scott has come under scrutiny from some people within the skate community, further showing the power skaters have within fashion.
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SKATERS IN FASHION
When you think of skaters in fashion, one name comes to mind. Dylan Rieder. Unfortunately, Dylan is no longer with us after a battle with leukaemia. However, his tremendous legacy lives on through both his skate videos and his massive impact on fashion. Rieder blew up thanks to his part in the infamous Supreme skate video ‘Cherry’, but onlookers always worshipped his style. He changed the way people looked at fashion in skateboarding, opting for tucked in t-shirts and slim-fit denim. In 2013, Rieder was in Vogue alongside Alexander Wang and A$AP Rocky. 2014 would see Rieder star alongside Cara Delivigne and Rocky again for a DKNY campaign. Rieder’s effortless style and charisma made him one of the most iconic skaters-turned-models of all time, even though he often deferred away from being declared a fashion figure.
Another skateboarder that has made an undeniable impact on the fashion industry is Blondey McCoy. McCoy had a similar beginning to Rieder, starring in Palace Skateboard videos which brought the eye-catching star’s style to the masses. His relationship with Palace would lead him to a sneaker collaboration with Adidas on the Superstar. Blondey would model for Burberry and Valentino, too, showing the crossover potential of skateboarders in fashion.
Blondey signed with fashion icon Kate Moss’s modelling agency. Not bad for a London-based skateboarder whose popularity exploded after being hit by a black cab on a skateboard on the streets of the big smoke.
SKATE BRANDS DOMINATING FASHION
Although every skate brand in the world produces merchandise to go alongside their board sales, only a handful have fully transitioned into fashionable products. Below is a breakdown of the brands that have done it right from the get-go.
SUPREME NEW YORK
Supreme is more of a fashion label than a skate label at this stage of the game. That doesn’t mean that Supreme didn’t start as an industry-defining skate brand, though.
Starting in 1994, Supreme was founded by James Jebbia and opened a store in Manhattan, New York. Over the years, Supreme would move away from strictly skateboarding and broke into the Hip Hop industry. Rappers such as Kanye West and ASAP Rocky would be seen in the iconic box logo t-shirt, further boosting the brand’s popularity. Dropping products every Thursday at 11 am sharp, the website consistently sells out all of its items.
In 2017, Supreme joined forces with Louis Vuitton for a collaboration like no other. Supreme and LV debuted this collaboration in 2017 at Paris Fashion Week, marking the first occasion a skate brand had done this. Supreme continuously pushed the boundaries with daring designs and close to the mark imagery. These kinds of creations are one of the reasons the brand is so famous amongst its younger audience.
Supreme was sold to VF Corporation for a whopping $2.1 Billion in November 2020, completing the transition from NYC skate brand to fashion powerhouse.
Palace followed the path carved out by Jebbia and Supreme, with the London-based skate store even selling products at Supreme stores in the early days. Consumers would begin to see Palace as an alternative to the elusive Supreme product that dropped weekly and would help Palace founder Lev Tanju open a store in London’s lucrative Soho area.
With a logo designed by Marc by Marc Jacobs design director, Fergus “Fergadelic” Purcell, the brand has always had roots within the fashion industry. Palace also sponsors Blondey McCoy and Lucien Clarke, two gentlemen who have modelled for various high-fashion labels over the years.
The popularity of Palace has allowed the skate brand to open stores in Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles. Palace has collaborated with some huge names in the fashion industry, too, boasting a back-catalogue that features names such as Reebok, Umbro, Juventus FC, Ralph Lauren, Evisu and Moschino, amongst others.
Outside of fashion, the team at Palace have linked up with Stella Artois and Ciroc Vodka and style god Jonah Hill. The brand’s authenticity is vital for its popularity. I recommend taking a look at the product descriptions every week. You won’t be disappointed.
Stüssy was the brainchild of Shawn Stussy, a Californian with an appetite for fashion. Initially starting with Shawn etching his name onto surfboards, Stüssy began to build traction in the surf community. Moving on to apparel shortly after, a Stüssy boutique store would open in Soho, Manhattan. Funnily enough, Supreme founder James Jebbia worked at the OG Stüssy store. The Californian-style caught the eye of investors, with Shawn selling Stüssy to Frank Sinatra Jr’s (no relation to the singer) company in 1996 for millions.
The brand always ragged on high-fashion designs, which caught the eye of many of us. Stüssy flipped Chanel’s famous CC logo to include a double S instead, as well as a ‘Stucci’ tee drawing clear inspiration from Gucci.
The brand has moved on from its surf and skateboard foundation to collaboration with fashion giants like Comme Des Garçons and a world tour release that saw Stüssy partner with Rick Owens, Virgil Abloh, Takahiro Miyashita, Marc Jacobs, and Martine Rose for a limited release of t-shirts. Although Shawn Stussy is no longer a part of the company, the Cali-cool brand lives on, with current releases some of its most popular.
FASHION BRANDS EMBRACING SKATE CULTURE
Skate brands transitioning into fashion isn’t a new thing. However, it has rarely happened the other way round until now. Lux brands have finally released that skate culture is a smart way to break into a new audience. Certain labels have been pushing the skate look in-house for a while now, and with enormous success.
Louis Vuitton probably has the most clear-cut involvement with skateboarding of all the high-end fashion labels. The brand had previously sued Supreme for ripping off the LV monogram print, but fast-forward to 2017, as mentioned above, and the duo was working on a project together. This collaboration isn’t Louis Vuitton’s only involvement in skateboarding, though. Virgil Abloh’s love for skateboarding is ever-present, with the Louis Vuitton website currently stocking a £2130/$3400 skateboard covered in the legendary monogram print. Sure, the everyday skater could never afford this board, but it shows a willingness to embrace the skate industry.
Abloh also signed Palace skateboarder Lucien Clarke to Louis Vuitton as the first-ever LV sponsored skater. A move unprecedented from a lux fashion label, Abloh is, at least, taking the correct steps to bring skateboarding to the mainstream of high-end fashion. Expect a drop of Clarke’s signature skate sneaker with Louis Vuitton in the not too distant future.
As mentioned above, Gucci had links to skateboarding before, but primarily due to the ‘Stucci’ t-shirt Stüssy produced way back in the day. But in recent years, Gucci has embraced the skate culture with many projects.
Creative Director Alessandro Michele has long been fascinated with skateboarding. This is evident in the Gucci Grip watch campaign released in 2019. Alessandro would collaborate with skaters worldwide, including members of the Californian queer skate group Unity, for a genuinely inclusive skate-orientated campaign. Michele has stated his love of skateboarding comes from the natural inclusivity in the sport, something evident in this campaign.
Michele’s obsession with skate culture isn’t going anywhere. Expect Gucci to continue the push of skate culture for years to come.
WHY FASHION WANTS IN
So, there you have it—a breakdown of the history with skate culture and fashion. It is complicated to know the exact reason the skateboarding and the characters within the industry are constantly looked at as fashionable figures to follow. Rather than trying to think of an exact phrase as to why I think skaters are such vital figures within fashion, I’ll leave it to Noah’s creative director Brendon Babenzien who said it best:
”Skaters are amazing, smart and creative, and people want a piece of what they have. It’s that simple.”