New York Times – “When the Runway Is Paved”

By - December 22nd, 2006

nyt styles New York Times   When the Runway Is Paved
Reed Space / Photo: Joe Fornabaio

If anything could said about 2006 is that street-wear became part of mainstream fashion culture this year. Best example is this: the number of articles appeared in the quintessential news source, the New York Times. About a dozen articles were written about the once unconventional industry, including a first-hand shopping account at Flight Club, a trend spotting on all-over patterns and hoodies, and and a cover story devoted to the street-wear culture in the New York Times Magazine.

New York Times revisited the scene again on Thursday, with an article titled When the Runway Is Paved, and examine the industry’s growth in 2006. Some mentioned labels such as Orchard Street, 10.DEEP, PHENOMENON, Crooks & Castles, BBC, BAPE, and EPIC FIRM. Shops like Reed Space, Supreme, and Union. Even our friend Mikhayel Tesfaye, of Greedy Genius, got quoted.

> The New York Times

Full story after the jump

By RUTH LA FERLA
Published: December 21, 2006

SCOURING street-wear shops in downtown Manhattan on Saturday, Dimitri Viglis zeroed in on a hoodie he hoped would put some cool in his wardrobe. Mr. Viglis, a 23-year-old construction worker from Brooklyn, chose a black and purple style with a kinetic computer-graphic pattern by the label Orchard Street, a garment splashy enough, yet insulating enough, for a night on the town.

“Wear this,” he said contentedly, “and I won’t have to put on a heavy jacket while I wait on line at the clubs.”

He paid about $150 for his hoodie but would have parted with twice or even three times the price, he said. “Look at the quality,” he said, turning the cuff inside out to show its meticulous construction and stitching. Better yet, he said, he felt reasonably assured that he would not be seeing it on every Tom, Jamal and Harry.

Mr. Viglis and his cohort, style-conscious young men with an aversion to mall culture and a professed maverick streak, are hot on the scent of the new, the colorful, the inventive and the rare. Their quarry: street-inflected clothing, footwear, caps and jewelry from new little-known labels like Two Black Guys, PHENOMENON, 10.DEEP and Crooks & Castles. It’s the latest in surrogate bling, less costly than a mink-lined toggle coat or a Jacob the Jeweler diamond pendant, but just as luxurious to their way of thinking.

Their enthusiasm has engendered a growing niche market, one that visibly thrives on distinctive styling and hard-to-replicate details and boasts a fruit fly’s abbrevia:ted lifespan.

Devotees of this new luxury street wear, much of it a quirky and none-too-subtle sendup of gangsta hoodies and the like, can be seen on any weekend queuing up outside Reed Space, Supreme and Union in New York and Los Angeles, C’monwealth in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, and Leaders 1354 in Chicago. These trendsetting stores are street wear’s answer to fashion outposts like Barneys.

The shoppers also swarm the Web, hunting and gathering at sites like hypebeast and highsnobiety.

“This movement has kind of snowballed,” said Wanda Colon, the vice president for merchandising for Barneys Co-Op stores, which stock more trend-driven, less expensive items than the parent fashion store. Upscale sneakers, hoodies and track pants have trickled up into the Co-Op shops, including popular labels like Billionaire Boys Club and Kidrobot.

“People will come into the store specifically looking for these labels, things that they have seen on the Web or heard their friends talk about,” Ms. Colon said. “These pieces tend to move without marketing or advertising. We don’t even put them in our windows. We can’t keep them in the stores that long.”

Josh Fishel, a partner in 10.DEEP, a label known for its graphic T-shirts and hoodies that riffed on the pattern of an Hermès scarf, has also noted a spike in interest. “The word is out,” he said. Talk of coveted new merchandise races like a current, he said, through alternative magazines like Mass Appeal and on fashion blogs.

“A fast turn used to be measured in months,” Mr. Fishel said. “Now it’s laser-light quick. The instant something goes up on a site, these goods are yesterday’s news. ”

This week shoppers may be gravitating to goods like a $700 green and cream-colored varsity jacket by PHENOMENON at Union and a $400 nylon yacht windbreaker from Billionaire Boys Club, the brand owned by the musician Pharrell Williams and Nigo of the Japanese cult label A Bathing Ape (BAPE) .

Much of the inspiration comes from old school hip-hop, Spike Lee movies like “Do the Right Thing” and the do-it-yourself urban aesthetic of the early ’80s, as documented in “Back in the Days,” a book of photographs by Jamel Shabazz.

The newest companies are reinterpreting the hoodie, introducing variations with brashly vibrant and often menacing imagery: all-over prints with bullet-hole graphics, chain-link fences and basketball netting, guns and roses, cobwebs and flamboyantly irreverent reinterpretations of Vuitton, CHANEL or Gucci logos, each a graphically subversive comment on those corporate fashion behemoths.

“Everybody is mass market OD’ed” said John Favreau, a fashion consultant for companies like Epic Firm, a four-month-old street label built on mink-lined epaulet hoodies and denim-and-cashmere track pants. The luxury street phenomenon is fueled by “a cultural need for self-expression and self-invention,” Mr. Favreau said, one that places a premium on novelty and rarity.

Prices as high as $700 for a varsity jacket at Union on Spring Street and $650 for an angora hoodie at BBlessing on Orchard Street may well be part of the draw. But for shoppers who converge on these stores from the boroughs or from cities as far-flung as Milan and Singapore, luxury is not about price.

“It’s about owning something you had to hunt down,” said Mikhayel Tesfaye, the head designer and a partner in Greedy Genius, a footwear and apparel label that has recently been offered at Urban Outfitters.

“In this market it’s all about exclusivity,” said Wilkins Frias, the manager of Union. “The element of uniqueness is really important. We all know what Ralph Lauren does, what Tommy Hilfiger does. What we want is an artist’s piece. It has to have an image, but at the same time not look ostentatious.”

That demand has been a wake-up call for a handful of active-wear giants. “It’s a David and Goliath situation,” Mr. Fishel said. “Mainstream companies like Rocawear and Phat Farm are starting to see that the small guys have an edge.”

Nike, for one, is looking over its shoulder. This year it introduced Nike White Label Elite, a line of trainers that mix materials like black patent leather and simulated pony skin, and windbreakers and sweatshirts that are upscale variations on their sports designs.

Most up-from-the asphalt labels originate in urban centers like New York and Los Angeles, but new interpretations are springing up lately in London, Tokyo and Copenhagen. “The design impulse is global,” said Steven Taranto, the owner of First Among Equals on Orchard Street. But wherever they are made, the inspiration for these looks dates back to the late 1980s and early ’90s, “when club kids wanted to look special,” he said. “They made their own clothes and went out at night to show people what they were wearing.

“All that doesn’t exist anymore,” Mr. Taranto said. But as he pulled from the rack a sumptuous wool hoodie from Triko, a Peruvia:n label, dressed up with wood toggles and embossed leather epaulets, he added, “It well may be coming back.”

Alan Eckstein, 21, a self-styled artist entrepreneur and a partner in Epic Firm, relishes the chance to turn his lifetime of painting, clubbing and casing-out stores into an upscale brand. Mr. Eckstein, who boasts that he has never attended a class in fashion design, is inspired by the clothes he sees at stores like Union. He was quick to show off one of his designs, a white and silver hoodie with a Fendi-like logo, a style manufactured in China by his partner’s mother, who runs a pageant-wear factory there. “The craziest thing about this industry is, with the right backing, anyone can get involved,” he said.

There is a downside, of course. “Everybody is aspirational,” Mr. Fishel said. “Everyone wants to be the next Pharrell or Jay-Z.” The peril, he said, is that bootleggers and designers may flood the market with look-alike wares before a small company has a chance to stabilize.

In the realm of upscale street wear, scarcity is, after all, the draw. And designers accordingly keep a tight rein on production, operating on the model of luxury brands like Hermès. “If a store wants 100 hoodies, we’re going to give them 10,” Mr. Fishel said.

Those tactics light a fire under passionate shoppers. Mr. Eckstein told of a friend who learned through the fashion grapevine that a particularly hard-to-find hoodie would be offered for sale on the Web at precisely 10 a.m. on a day last week. “This guy went online at 9:59,” Mr. Eckstein recalled with an incredulous shake of his head. “By the time he clicked his size in on the screen, the shirt was gone.”

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