Streetwear’s luxury future: The rise of the Gucci tee

The phrase ‘luxury fashion’ typically evokes images of European boulevards lined with stores that only allow two-and-a-half people inside at a time, or intricately crafted ball gowns destined for the Oscar red carpet.

Historically, it hasn’t been a term associated with sweatshirts, track-pants or bags that are not unlike an Ikea carry bag. Yet the idea of luxury fashion has gradually shifted over the last two years.

Labels that were previously considered unattainable for those who didn’t wish to spend thousands on a single item are becoming shoppable, (relatively) sensibly priced brands stocking everyday garments and accessories.

The line between luxury fashion and streetwear is blurring and it’s worth considering what this means for the industry at large.

Luxury fashion has long been seen as an almost unattainable good to be admired for its ornate opulence and embedded historical roots.

It’s a symbol of the echelons of fashion for the exclusive clientele who seek tailored garments, hand-made leather goods or simply have the disposable income to splurge on an item priced at more than $3,000 without considering the subsequent hit to their savings.

This isn’t to say luxury fashion can’t be enjoyed by any and all consumers, but that it’s traditionally been held in the light of admiration rather than in the view of a local strip mall.

The recent move into streetwear, however, opens up these labels to a broader consumer audience.

Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and – more recently – Givenchy have all embraced the rise of streetwear in fashion and the casualisation of clothing.

If anything, Alessandro Michele at Gucci championed the trend for his brand and thus in turn assisted with the explosive rebirth of Gucci while reinforcing their position as a global brand.

Fashion stylist Cimon Vozzo agrees that this can only be a good thing for the fashion industry as it continues to evolve.

“I love that streetwear has become a target for luxury brands – it’s a nice mix of luxe and street and it appeals to a larger target market,” she says.

“Growing up and buying luxury magazines, designer brands were something that I would aspire to have, and I am still the same, but now knowing designer goods can be worn day-to-day… I love seeing people get the most out of their purchases.”

The luxury element still remains, but the wearability and the cost-per-wear thought process behind each purchase is more easily reasoned. The price of luxury streetwear is still nowhere near as cheap as a regular high street store (hello $1,000 Gucci sneakers), yet it’s dramatically reduced from the typical offerings of these brands.

In 2017, the first major inclination that a collision of streetwear and luxury fashion was coming was noted between Louis Vuitton and Supreme.

The collaboration – which featured bum-bags, sneakers and sweatshirts – diversified its audience by attracting both a younger and dramatically different consumer than the typical LV shopper and its relevance was dramatically increased.

In a report released the same year of Louis Vuitton’s former overseeing company LVMH, the company had seen a 21% year-on-year growth in the fashion and leather goods category, largely attributed to the collaboration’s success.

Streetwear and luxury fashion cannot be spoken in the same sentence without mentioning one man in particular: Virgil Abloh.

While Abloh is now the Artistic Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton, his own label Off-White is at the crux of the streetwear movement.

Abloh has previously cautioned that streetwear can be a trap if not framed correctly by designers.

“It’s sort of seen as an ingredient that you just sprinkle on anything, but more what it means in the practical sense is clothing that people wear on the street,” said Abloh at WWD‘s Apparel and Retail CEO Summit.

“I think the key word is relevancy. If something is relevant it’s already occurring on the street, you see it.

“When the brand is sort of communicating relevant things, you’re going to see a major sort of engagement.”

The statement neatly surmises what streetwear has done for the luxury label industry: it’s boosted consumer engagement but only when produced with the right intentions and not necessarily simply as a means to boost profits or target a demographic.

Vozzo also agrees that the luxury streetwear trend we are currently seeing may become a more normalised element of the fashion industry at large.

“I think the natural progression is luxury streetwear will be something to which we are accustomed,” she says.

“Trends are a key part of fashion but at the end of the day, anything goes and people more than ever are setting their own trends.”

Streetwear was originally labelled as such for its versatility and the practicality of garments that fall under this label.

They’re designed to be worn when completing mundane everyday tasks or for those periods where we can relax and without adhering to an underscoring dress code.

From luxury now capitalising on the popularity of the trend and entering into the market at a rapid rate, the idea of streetwear begins to shift completely. Somewhat like activewear, for years it wasn’t intended to be expensive or to exude a sense of extravagance, rather to simply serve its known purpose.

At its core, fashion is about experimenting, exploring with one’s individual style and tempering statement pieces with elements of trending accessories or garments.

Luxury streetwear can be viewed as an extension of experimenting with fashion and as the number of brands producing this type of product continues to rise, the offerings to consumers will only increase.

Commentators continue to claim the luxury streetwear boom can’t last forever and yet it’s only becoming stronger already two years on from the unofficial commencement of the movement.

Update 20 September 2019: This story has been updated to include comments from Cimon Vozzo.

Image by Maria Dizazzo