Since the 60s, the symbiotic relationship between youth and fashion has continually broken down societal norms. Gerald Tan tracks the game-changing moments when people and clothes came together to define pop culture.
Vetements fall/winter 2017
In 1969, Yves Saint Laurent opened the second Rive Gauche boutique in London. Flanked by his muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, Saint Laurent was on top of the world. The seismic effects of Youth quake—a term coined by Diana Vreeland to describe a generation of youths revolting against convention through art, music and fashion—was rippling across the world, and Saint Laurent was fashion’s newly crowned king.
Saint Laurent was but one of the many designers who recognised the power that was spilling from the sidewalks and onto the catwalks. If fashion is an expression of the times, then it was the young who bravely wore their beliefs and attitudes on their sleeves best. In fact, from the late ’50s to the Swinging Sixties, where Teddy Boys and Beatniks stood arm in arm, rocking and bopping in their leather jackets and drain pipes to the “devil’s” music, clothing was no longer just garments— it became a code of arms, a visual language that brought together like-minded individuals to form unique communities.
The inexplicable link between fashion, youth and the various subcultures they drive is more than just a body fetish or a mental ideal. Instead, when the young question authority and challenge the status quo, they become harbingers of change. And change is essential to fashion because it allows visual terminologies to evolve.
From the moment Saint Laurent rejected the rules of the Old World, many designers stepped forward to let their clothes become mouthpieces for youth. Vivienne Westwood became the flame-haired icon of punk. For more than 30 years, the outspoken designer Walter Van Beirendonck has instilled a political bent with his over-the-top collections, facilitating discussions on race and sexuality at his eponymous label. At Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art, where he lectures, Beirendonck is shaping the minds of aspiring young fashion designers. Some of his students who have gone on to obsessively explore youth codes include the likes of Raf Simons and Kris van Assche.
However, it is fashion’s full embrace of streetwear and sportswear that has become the uniform for today’s millennials, given the recent explosion of new talents that has disrupted the fashion scene. In New York, Hood By Air’s instantly recognisable graphic t-shirts and hoodies form the core of a brand that throws expectations of what conventional streetwear should look like out of the window. Spearheaded by Shayne Oliver and Raul Lopez, it turns the Big Apple’s eclectic nightlife scene and the fearless energy of being young into a pulsating remix of gender less, deconstructed clothes. Gosha Rubchinskiy’s designs have also connected with Russian youths who are questioning their identities and building their future during this post-Soviet Union era. Similarly, the unprecedented success of the Gvasalia brothers and their collective at Vetements have proven that clothing—no matter how simple or extravagant—will always accompany a generation’s search for status and the impetus for change.
Hood By Air fall/winter 2017