how hoodies went haute
From Raf’s prophetic past to Yeezy’s utopian future, we explore how the hoodie became high fashion’s most potent political tool.
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans, Vetements spring/summer 16
"Sweatshirts are fucking important."
Guess who? Here's a hint:
"That might sound like the funniest quote ever. How can you say all this stuff about running for president in 2020 and then say sweatshirts are important? But they are. Just mark my words. Mark my words like Mark Twain."
You could argue that Dirk Standen's lengthy Vanity Fair interview with Kanye West -- conducted just hours after West presented Yeezy Season II this past September -- yielded far juicier soundbites than this sweatshirt sensationalism. But West seemed slightly more invested in the political possibilities of his baggy, beige creations than his presidential policies. And with good reason. We saw high fashion become far more democratic, even iconoclastic last year. Hoodies -- youth's ubiquitous uniform -- didn't just hit the runways, they crystallised 2015's bubbling cauldron of change.
I'm not just talking about the sweatshirts featured in West's presentations (those logoless hoodies might seem old news now, but remember, West only unveiled his first Yeezy designs in February). Despite its editor-in-chief's persistent aversion to hoodies, Vogue proclaimed the "stoner staple" "fashion's hottest trend" in October. And while West's own oversized sweats helped ignite the craze, 2015's cotton crown belongs to Vetements' drawstring creations. In just four seasons, the French collective headed up by Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia has become the most buzzed about brand in fashion.
After entering steady rotation in both West and Rihanna's wardrobes, one of Vetements' autumn/winter 15 hoodies -- an enormous black garment bearing the label's logo in a Metal-esque font -- is its most popular piece. And it wasn't the brand's only hooded hit; that same season, Gvasalia and company mined a variety of subcultures -- not just mall goths -- for their respective cult classics. Skaters will find the brand's flame hoodie familiar; it's a new take on Thrasher's signature graphic. Or you might recognise boxing brand Everlast's logo in Vetements' split-seam interpretation. It's elevated eBay for the post-postmodern generation -- a wardrobe for people whose Watch Lists are equal parts second hand stores and archival Helmut Lang.
In October, Vetements unveiled its spring/summer 16 collection at a Belleville Chinese restaurant during Paris Fashion Week. The season featured plastic-y floral aprons, flowing velvet dresses, bold neon boots, and yes, more hoodies. These, too, ranged in influence: out came a reimagined Champion sweatsuit and a Titanic graphic that looks as though it might have been airbrushed in Harlem. Days after this show, Balenciaga announced that Gvasalia would become its new artistic director of collections, succeeding another sweatshirt wunderkind cut from a slightly different cloth -- Alexander Wang.
As Vogue's Maya Singer argued following the announcement, Vetements' designers are "ace recyclers, sprinkling deconstructive magic dust on articles of clothing that seem as though they've been rescued from the trash." Makes sense: while they maintain anonymity, it's been widely reported that Gvasalia and his conspirators cut their teeth at a house of hoarders, Maison Martin Margiela. But while Margiela deals mostly in reclaimed objects like playing cards, baseball gloves and luggage, Vetements' upcycled "trash" is pilfered from outsider youth.
It's a subcultural lens Vetements shares with fellow hoodie-loving designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. Like Gvasalia and company, the Russian wunderkind had also had a banner 2015: he teamed up with IDEA Books to publish Youth Hotel, staged a photography exhibition at 032c's Berlin outpost, and re-issued a "greatest hits" collection that sold out almost instantly at Dover Street Market. Gosha's eponymous menswear label has found this success by exposing the world to Moscow's rich history, fusing contemporary skate rat sartorial staples -- like hoodies -- with resurrected graphic references, ranging from post-Soviet punk to 80s cult artist Timur Novikov. His outstanding autumn/winter 15 offering featured sky high-waisted sweatsuits, which included hoodies plastered with designer's name in Cyrillic alongside the Russian and Chinese flags.
But how does a street-savvy designer like Gvasalia ascend to the throne of one of Paris' oldest luxury houses on the back clothes that echo the uniform of disaffect youth? Look to a man who did the same: Raf Simons.
More than a decade before he became Dior's creative director in 2012, the Belgian menswear maverick presented his spring/summer 2002 offering "Woe Onto Those Who Spit on the Fear Generation… the Wind Will Blow it Back" at Paris' Lycée Stanislas in on July 1, 2001. The prophetic pre-9/11 collection confronted the violence of globalisation and the surveillance state through the lens of youth. Simons' barefoot boys stalked the basketball court sporting hoodies printed with phrases like "we are ready and willing to ignite, just born too late" rendered in the brutal monochromatic shock of post-punk aesthetics. Other looks were styled with full-faced hoods, creating mesmerisingly militant silhouettes that remain some of Simons' most iconic.
Sadly, "Fear Generation" feels just as relevant in 2015. This year's headlines were dominated by all too similar stories of racially motivated police brutality, terrorism, and how this violence impacts larger narratives of security and surveillance. But perhaps moreso now, we're using every tool at our disposal to make our protests heard, both on and off the runway. Singer suggests Gvasalia found such early success with Vetements because "its four collections thus far bespeak more than an attitude; it has politics and a considered philosophy, too." If high fashion is getting political, the haute hoodie is perhaps its most powerful rallying cry.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans