Something strange has been afoot in the world of men’s style over the past few years. The lines between what we once referred to as “streetwear” and high fashion have been becoming increasingly blurred.
Recent seasons have seen historic haute-couture houses partnering with skatewear brands. Meanwhile, hoodies and harness bags are now routinely sent down fashion-week runways by labels that, until very recently, were using the same platform to wheel out razor-sharp tailoring and trench coats.
Some say this crossover marks the final nail in the coffin for the term “streetwear”, but while there’s no denying we’re in the midst of a new fashion climate, the brands that have always championed this style are still very much doing their thing.
Here we run through the best streetwear labels on the face of the earth, and why they’re worth having on your sartorial radar.
After cutting his teeth at Fendi alongside Kanye West, Off-White founder Virgil Abloh exploded onto the scene, quickly becoming one of fashion’s most prominent figures. Now at the helm of Louis Vuitton’s menswear arm, the designer somehow still finds time to run his own label, poking fun at the industry with tongue-in-cheek branding and an ever-present sense of irony.
Streetwear, in its purest sense, may never have come to exist had it not been for Californian surfer Shawn Stussy and his line of graphic T-shirts back in the 1980s. It all started when Stussy began scrawling his surname on his handcrafted surfboards with a marker pen. The logo soon found its way onto tees, hoodies and beyond, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ask anyone to name a streetwear brand and chances are one of the first names to roll off their tongue will be that of skateboard label Supreme. The transcendent New York brand’s unique approach to the supply-and-demand model revolutionised the scene by introducing “drops” as a means of releasing new products in highly limited numbers. This created a sense of hype that sees fans routinely queuing up for days just to get their hands on anything bearing that iconic box logo – even if that does happen to be a brick or an ashtray.
If there’s one brand that could be called the living embodiment of London’s gritty skate scene, Palace is surely it. In just 10 short years the UK label has gone from an underground imprint for skateboard decks and T-shirts to one of the most respected names in men’s fashion. Head to their webstore on drop day and you’re likely to find five-panel caps juxtaposed against velvet smoking jackets and snakeskin loafers.
The basketball GOAT, Michael Jordan revolutionised sneaker culture (with a little help from Nike and legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield) with the launch of his signature line of footwear. Since the beginning of the scene, the Jordan brand has been a cornerstone of streetwear, churning out some of the most iconic trainer silhouettes in history.
There are a handful of brands that have earned respect in all corners of casual menswear. Oregonian sportswear behemoth Nike is one of them. From iconic sneakers to genre-bending sportswear, as well as knockout brand hookups with every major name on the scene – including the likes of Supreme and Virgil Abloh – Nike is one of the kings of streetwear.
For a long time, in the States, Carhartt was nothing more than a workwear brand, making high-quality overalls and apparel designed to take a beating. However, in Europe, the label took on another form. Here, you were more likely to see DJs and skaters wearing its goods than mechanics and carpenters. Carhartt’s response to its newfound fanbase came in the shape of Carhartt WIP (Work In Progress): a streetwear-orientated line that focused on ultra-cool designs, without sacrificing any of that trademark rugged quality.
BAPE (A Bathing Ape)
When thinking of Japanese streetwear, it’s impossible not to think of BAPE. DJ and fashion designer Nigo’s colourful and quirky label has long served as a gateway for teens getting into streetwear for the first time. Famous for its iconic camo print and bizarre design motifs (shark hoodie, anyone?), the brand is one of the most coveted and respected in the world of alternative fashion.
The North Face
You may be wondering what a mountaineering brand is doing in a rundown of streetwear labels. The North Face has a knack for nailing brand hookups, the products of which often go on to become “grail pieces”. A frequent collaborator with Supreme, TNF also has a habit of enlisting the help of renegade talent to create new and interesting garments for its Japanese “Purple Label” line, as well as teaming up with veteran designer Kazuki Kuraishi as part of The North Face “Black Series”.
A subsidiary of Japanese fashion house Nepenthes, the brand that spawned Engineered Garments, Needles is a streetwear-leaning fashion label that takes Japan’s obsession with Americana to the next level. The brand’s collections blend American military and old western styles, reworking and remixing classic designs in Japanese textiles, with a heavy dose of sportswear styling. Needles’ velour tracksuits have become hugely popular with everyone from fashion insiders to A-list rappers and given things have been going strong since 1988, the label’s appeal doesn’t look to be losing traction anytime soon.