Recently, we have witnessed a proliferation of streetwear related products with the trend of bulky sneakers, oversized hoodies, and printed tees surging in popularity. The style has come a long way from its roots in California skate and surf subculture, diversifying and expanding as it absorbed into mainstream approval, and most recently injecting a breath of youthful folly into the landscape of luxury fashion. In particular, this year seems like a testament to the changing tides with the surprising announcement of Virgil Abloh as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear. After gaining a cult following with Off-White, a luxury streetwear label he founded in 2013, Abloh is bringing his unorthodox approach and fresh perspective to the major French fashion label. The fact that Off-White garments, with their signature diagonal stripes and ironic quotation marks, demand higher price tags then Vetements hoodies, only added to its ever-developing path to success.
Streetwear, in its reconfigured and deconstructed reiteration, is becoming more than a trend emulating the taste of younger and consumer-savvy generation of Millennials and Generation Z. As a reflection of fashion’s changing aspirations, the rise of Japanese streetwear label Doublet from relative obscurity to the epicenter of the fashion world in Paris is quite the case study.
Doublet’s founder Masayuki Ino was announced as the winner of this year’s prestigious LVMH award for Young Fashion Designers, becoming the first Asian designer to win the main award. This recognition of Asia’s growing influence on emerging fashion, is underscored with the second special prize awarded to Rokh, a label founded by the South Korean designer Rok Hwang and based in London. Globally speaking, Doublet still feels underground and it looks like Ino is intending to keep the conceptual note, at least for now, preferring distribution through a few selected high-end retailers over a hyped online presence. In more concrete terms, there is an air of mystery permeating Ino’s multifaceted creative universe behind Doublet, echoed in his principle to create “daily wear with a feel of disorder”.
His expressive output can be loosely labeled as streetwear, and only if reduced to the focus on wearable garments – T-shirts and hoodies infused with text and vibrant images referencing pop-art, mass media, and youth cults.
The playful lightness of the prints are countered with a dedication to innovative and experimental use of textiles, resulting in hybrid clothing that does not feel or look like you’d expected. The ambiguity between familiar and unexpected is underlined in the word ‘doublet’, an alternate name for a word puzzle, invented by Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “It’s a game in which you change one word to make another. I think my clothing is a bit like a word puzzle, I like adding one extra concept on my clothing. I see Doublet as a collection that is full of humor and logic. There should be meaning and reason when it comes to creation. When I design and create products, I first brainstorm ideas, then think how to inject my hidden messages and ideas to customers in the actual pieces,” says the designer. Despite this avant-garde philosophy, Doublet is eminently wearable, and Ino believes that holding onto meanings that are grounded in reality is a chiefly important value. You find tie-dye hoodies sit alongside 80s style shell tracksuits and traditionally embroidered silk bombers with matching tracksuit pants. Central to every garment he creates is a strong vein of both humor and logic, all as latent messages and ideas layered into the garments have to be dissected and resolved in order to grasp.
Through the processes of reshaping, stripping, shifting, and reconstructing, Doublet enmeshes multiple ideas together to create stimulating and experimentally inclined collections. “The brand’s foundations”, Ino says, “are constant and humorous reinventions of wardrobe staples like T-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers, loaded with graphic prints and symbols and references to popular culture.” What has also impressed the judges is his sensitivity towards products and packaging, like noodle pots that when water was added – turned out to have T-shirts inside. Ino’s ready-to-wear collections are formulations of his questioning of what it feels to make clothing after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“The aim of the prize has always been to reflect the major moments and shifts taking place in fashion,” Delphine Arnault, the creator of the prize and executive vice president of Louis Vuitton said, “This year was no exception.” The win signifies not only the latest recognition of streetwear by the fashion world but it also shows a readiness to embrace the notion of gender-neutral clothing, another force shaping the fashion landscape. Since the onset Ino has designed clothing for Doublet without a feminine or masculine binaries in mind, refusing the divide his collections by gender. Other fashion-forward brands like Eckhaus Latta, Vaquera, Art School London and Telfar are rethinking established fashion systems with genderless silhouettes, reflecting society’s changing attitudes around gender expression and identity. Forty years ago, the Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo began creating subversive, gender-bending clothes for men at a time when no one else was. “Men seem to have more courage to try new things now, not only in Japan but all over the world,” said Kawakubo. While it has always been easier for women to cross the dressing stereotypes and much more difficult for men, Kawakubo’s prophetic ideals seem not as far off in the gender-fluid internet age, with a rising number of high-profile celebrities embracing the so-called “feminine” fashion tropes. There’s Harry Styles in his Gucci boots, Zayn Malik in ladies’ blouses – even Justin Bieber is impartial to women’s skinny jeans. Doublet occupies that very now territory between high fashion and elevated streetwear, referencing key cultural moments. If Balenciaga under Demna Gvasalia is about subverting social culture and giving it a new, awkward spin, Doublet with its tongue-in-cheek merging of Eastern and Western influences, performs an ode to the unity of opposites.
Written by Nina Vukelic, editor-in-chief at This Is Badland.