Saturday 16th March

| BY Richard Gray

From Issue 49 of Ten Men: Enter The Wondrous Streetwear World of Atip W

You define yourself with what’s inside your shopping bag. I know this because you wear fashion. And you’re human. And you live in the 21st century. It’s what “we” do more than any other generation before us have done,  and we do it well. Ask Atip W, Highsnobiety.com’s fashion director – a man with a front-row seat to the streetwear phenomenon.

Shopping a designer is making a claim and then projecting it. You claim: “I’m this today.” But also: “I’m heat-sealed. And Gore-Tex. I’m Shinjuku, or Shibuya. I’m not like… some other people.” Fashion is fun and egotistical, and streetwear isn’t exempt from any of that. It’s expensive, it’s tricky and elitist and can be snide. “You over there [G.] – it’s not for you.” We all look for the definition in our reflection. Runway fashion is the most elite of all the fashions and can be a bit of cow. It’s also whore-y. “She” will sleep with anybody. Runway fashion has whored itself around town for years, getting into bed with trends and tribes and street styles. It’s hopped in and out of the sack with the music scene since Yves was a lad. And runway’s current squeeze? The street. All kinds of street: sport (1990s), music (1990s), skate (Jonah Hill’s mid- 1990s’ 1990s “now available on Blu-Ray”*, *ironic Naughties) – surf, even. She gets around.

Not three years ago (a century in fashion), runway pursued a lazy and hackneyed understanding of what streetwear actually meant. The resulting fusions were, well, not the prettiest. In fact, they were pig ugly. How can we forget the half-pleated-trouser half-basketball-short thing? Satan’s child! Or the inverted cross that was the brown lace-up shoe with cod-Vibram sole unit? Say the Lord’s Prayer! Dear fashion designers, with the best will in the world, some things really just don’t belong together. Thankfully, time has vanquished these closet chimaeras to the depths of hell and things have (generally) got better. Formerly disparate worlds – their garments and aesthetics – have come together, with one complementing and informing the next. One skill set complementing the other and bettering it. Generally.

If the Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the year” for 2018 was “toxic”, fashion’s very same award has to go to “collaboration”. Who’s not collaborating now? It’s a whole new grouping within retail and, when it works, it’s magic. Sacai’s epic fusion with Gloverall is surely up there as one of the best. Like, incredibly, epically, brilliantly awesome. Like, kill me now and sell my kidney to pay for it. Then bury me in it. Kind of thing. But this is fashion and we’re fellas, and we really do make the best and weirdest obsessive fashion nerds. If the Yeezy trainer lived in a house, we’d be peeping through the nets, watching her in her panties. Says self-confessed “streetwear perv” Atip: “I’ve gone to bed dreaming of sneakers. I’m obsessed! I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I really want those. I really want those.’ Remember two years ago, when Adidas dropped the Boost NMD? I literally wet myself, going, ‘Oh God, I’m gonna get back into sneakers.’”

At 45 (he looks younger), Atip has been wetting himself over sneakers and streetwear since his early days, chasing trends and shopping around London. Those old enough to remember Flip are nodding their heads right now. Atip would walk around Ken and Camden markets in his best looks and his streetwear heroes include, “Rei Kawakubo – absolute genius”, and of course “Shawn Stussy. Oh God, yeah, Shawn Stussy, Paul Mittleman and Alex Turnbull. You know, they were all at Kim’s first Dior show and nobody stopped them! Not one person stopped them and took a picture.”

Established in 2005, Highsnobiety is now at the knife’s edge of reporting, informing, discovering and selling what’s next, now and very soon in the world of streetwear, footwear, music and contemporary culture. The website’s founder, David Fischer, with a team of 100 staff, reporting from offices in London, Berlin and New York to an audience of more than 23m across its platforms, which include a biannual glossy mag. It was “Highsnob’” that reported on runway’s new dalliance with streetwear first.

What does Atip think about runway’s current sexy coupling with street? And all those trainer rips? “I was talking to a friend of mine recently about this – he’s a former Nike product developer. His exact sentence to me about luxury houses doing trainers, especially trainers, was ‘they have no history of or references to sneakers’.”

Trainer people – the trainer experts and designers and developers, who live and breathe the things – do they know best? “They innovate,” says Atip, “in terms of sole technology, upper technology, you know, fabrications, the usage and the styling. Me and my trainer-designer mate broke down this certain designer shoe. I can’t say who it’s by, this is just for the sake of the argument. Anyway, he pulled out this expensive designer trainer and said, ‘That’s an Adidas NMD.’ And it was. But this is my argument – they [certain under-equipped fashion designers haven’t got anything to build upon, so they have to build from something that’s already out there and sitting on the market.” And what a market: the streetwear lift is fuelling retail. Last year, Nike Inc – arguably the emperor of sports streetwear – reported a fourth-quarter revenue increase of 13% to $9.8 billion, up 8% on the previous quarter.

The big-player department stores are investing heavily in streetwear, the new hybrid brands and the look. The new menswear floor (with skate bowl) at Selfridges is part of an eye-watering £300m investment by the store – and it’s something else. If there’s one place that embodies the kids and the kit and the (forgive me) vibe, it’s this place. The old retail word “adjacencies”, meaning where and how one brand sits to the next, have been turned on their heads. What was “wrong” five years ago is very “right” now. Back then, the big runway brands, who dictated where and how they sit in any store, saw themselves only retailing next to the like-minded. Well, that’s out the window. Here, Gucci sells next to Off-White next to a pile of vintage Levi’s (some wicked flares) near another bit selling Palace skate decks – and is that a vintage Supreme hoodie? These are the new “adjacencies”.

“This place – everything you see – is dictated by our customers.” This is Jack Cassidy, buying manager for the Designer Street Room and street-meets-runway mix at the store. “The customer isn’t shopping and thinking about ‘luxury and street’ – those are just marketing terms,” he adds.

“This is a reflection of how this young customer puts clothes together and shops. It’s a new type of luxury – a mix that won’t be dictated. Whatever the price. You have to realise that luxury and streetwear now read as one.” Not everybody at the heart of streetwear is happy with the approach of designers and parts of the industry to the formerly insider world of streetwear. Highsnobiety’s Atip: “The corporatisation of sneaker culture – that scares me a little bit. And the love for products, the love to seek out products, has now become mainstream. It’s not like talking to your mates and saying, ‘Psst! Where did you get those?’ ‘Psst! How did he get hold of those?’ I think the inclusivity was always there in the past because you wanted to be a part of something, but now-now it’s like the high street.” The formerly hush-hush and need-to-know of streetwear was part of its appeal for many. Streetwear wasn’t runway nor was it high street. It was, well, for us.

Abloh to Vuitton, Jones to Dior, Slimane to Celine: last year saw a luxury Game of Thrones, and menswear was at the centre of a pitched battle between groups and houses as to who had the hottest name. There’s no surprise the menswear market is on fire. Young men queue outside shops for product. Women don’t. Says Euromonitor on the trend, “Men’s lines will outperform women’s between 2017 and 2022, with sales expanding by a compound annual growth rate of 2%.” “It is now perfectly normal for fashion designers to put the archetypes of streetwear, such as hoodies and tees, on the catwalk,” says Eugene Rabkin, the founder of Stylezeitgeist.com. “Every design house from Louis Vuitton down is busy making sneakers. For its part, the audience has grown comfortable with high-fashion-level prices and is willing to plunk down serious cash previously reserved for cashmere sweaters and dressy shoes.”

But is there an end to the influence of streetwear? Fashion by its nature needs to change. Do we know everything we need to know? Will it become just another trend spat out and picked back up in 10 years’ time? “It’s never gonna die,” argues Atip. “Streetwear, athleisure, this mixing of two worlds, it’s never gonna go anywhere. It’s here to stay. People need to feel comfortable. It’s kind of like when you get on a plane and you see all these people in tracksuits – you used to go, ‘Ooh really, hmm… Why are you not…?’, but it’s for comfort. And now that comfort has been accepted, everyone feels comfortable with themselves.” He pauses and adds: “Surf, surfwear, skatewear… vintage army. I mean, this is all the stuff we grew up with. This is the stuff we were seeking out because of influences that came from certain peers of ours. I mean, we talk about streetwear as if it’s this dirty word and some people think it is, but it’s a lifestyle, it’s a culture, it’s tribes – different tribes of people, of youths, all like-mindedness coming together and appreciating each other’s swag. ‘Ooh, where did you get those?’ or ‘Ooh, that’s nice,’ or ‘Hey, you’re just a great person.’” And it’s ever-evolving. His latest spot: an underground trainer tribe from a deprived area of Cape Town. A group of kids who have never had their story told, a group who “dress to the fuckin’ nines”.

“They’re the bubbleheads,” says Atip, “a collective who have embraced Air-soled Nikes, or ‘bubbles’, as they call them. This is what fills these kids with pride, dressing so well. This is what makes them feel good about themselves. And this is just one of half a dozen new cultures coming through in streetwear right now. The bubbleheads of Cape Town. Remember that name.”

Photography by Elliot Morgan.

Instagram: @atipw