The $1500 Sweatshirt: Why So Many Designers Are Getting Into the Haute Streetwear Game

It says something about the state of fashion today that women who can afford, or get gifted, any fresh-off-the-runway finery they desire—models, pop stars, even some fashion editors—choose to kick around in sweatshirts, track pants, and sneakers. But while it may appear unstudied, the slouchy, sporty look seen lately on influencers like Rihanna  Cara Delevingne, and models Lexi Boling and Binx Walton is anything but lowbrow. Look closely, and an ostensibly casual Baja East sweatshirt turns out to be double-faced cashmere; Hood by Air’s discreet leather backpack features an elaborate attached hood and a $1500 price tag. And Celine’s high-end skater shoes—like Vans but rendered in python—have supplanted the stiletto as the front-row footwear of choice for harried editors dashing between shows.

Sure Kanye West may have stupidly announced in a recent Vanity Fair interview that sweatshirts are really important but why are so many other style-setters springing for luxed-up streetwear? It’s been 10 years since Alexander Wang first elevated the staples of gritty downtown cool—bomber jackets, sweatpants, and the like—into high-end collectors’ items and the concept has been picking up speed ever since. The mainstreaming of hip-hop and R&B may also have something to do with it. But according to James Valeri, editor of the downtown indie publication Document Journal and a stylist for ‘it’ shows like French label Jacquemus the new laid-back luxury might also be a result of trend fatigue—and fatigue, period. “The fashion industry for these past years has been more insecure than usual, dictated by sales and numbers and not by creativity and individualism,” he says. “So inevitably there’s a rebellion to this—a need for something different, more real and less constructed, and in line with our frantic times, practical.” (Although some would argue sure that sweatshirt that costs several hundred dollars is not so practical.)  

In other words, the pace of modern life may simply be too fast to bother with getting all dressed up most days—which may explain why many of the most sought-after labels of the past few years are making clothes that defy bourgeois propriety— in appearance, not in price. Luxury streetwear brands Hood by Air and Public School are two of the hottest tickets at New York Fashion Week; the latter’s designers, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Anderson, were tapped by LVMH to reimagined DKNY. And among this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists are Baja East and Gypsy Sport two brands taking humble silhouettes to haute proportions with high-end fabrics and finishes.

And though the movement’s epicenter is New York—the birthplace of hip-hop style—some of its most exciting new brands are now coming from Paris. The French, after all, have long embraced American street culture— from jazz to blue jeans—and it’s in the capital of haute couture that streetwear is now being taken to its most luxurious extremes. Here, three high-end urban-centric lines making waves from Paris.

Photos: Getty Images

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