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Peak irony: the rise and evolution of anti-fashion

It all began when rapper A$AP Rocky took the streets with a “Comme Des F*ckdown” beanie in 2012. The shirt, designed by Russ Karablin of SSUR, became the straw that broke high fashion horse’s back — it was an explicit merger that spliced Comme Des Garçon’s logo with the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that defined contemporary streetwear.

ironic fashion
The ‘Purple Swag’ rapper in his Comme Des F*ckdown beanie.

“Comme Des F*ckdown” spurred a street takeover, and soon, the slogan was plastered across shirts, caps, and iPhone cases flaunted by Hypebeast devotees. What came after planted the seed for anti-fashion, completely redefining trends of fashion at present.

What is anti-fashion?

Fred Davis, the author of “Fashion, Culture and Identity”, defines anti-fashion to be “oppositional dress, i.e., that which takes place in response to the currents of fashion change and does not just lie outside them”. While quoting an author verbatim seems pedantic, Davis’ definition was at the heart of “Comme Des F*ckdown” and the wave of ironic fashion fakes that followed soon after.

ironic fashion
Ironic fashion fakes by homegrown label, That Damn Good Shop.

Counterfeiting in fashion has always been immensely frowned upon. Because your fake Prado and Louis Button bags are not entirely illegal, labels have taken to employing defences against an ever-growing market of copycat goods. Fashion houses like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and more have taken to placing hard-to-duplicate hologram stickers and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on their products in the name of anti-counterfeiting, especially against Grade AAA fakes that are too close to call. The only kind of fake that’s not immediately frowned upon is faux fur.

With the switch of a letter however, fakes were suddenly a thing. Instead of Balmain, we got shirts blazoned with Ban Mian, Prata in place of Prada, and Céline was twisted into Cénile (senile, geddit?). It was a sign of wit, a too-cool-to-care status symbol that one-upped the severely brand-conscious while still being on trend.

The meteoric rise of these ironic fashion fakes have since tapered off, and yet the irreverence that set the stage on fire in the first place has mutated into something greater at the hands of labels like Vetements and Gosha Rubchinksy.

The band of outliers

ironic fashion vetemets
The cult favourite hoodie of the season, as seen on the Vetements runway.

Demna Gvasalia’s succession of Alexander Wang as Balenciaga’s creative director was the moment Vetements got flung into the spotlight. Gvasalia is the head designer at Vetements, and the creative brain responsible for their blatantly subversive collections.

Common associations of high fashion include luxe fabrics, exquisite details, and hefty price tags, not a canary-yellow DHL T-shirt. Yet Vetements’ SS’16 runway took off with a model strutting the runway in exactly that, paired with Dr Martens boots, black trousers, and an oversized black shirt that was far from couture. The resounding positive reception that the show garnered saw the S$414 DHL logo tee become one of the most sought-after garments of the season, sealing Vetements’ position as fashion’s effortlessly cool black sheep that could do little wrong. The workaday tee was the staple of many a fashion influencer, celebrity, and even the DHL Chairman, Ken Allen.

As seen at Fashion Week. | Credit: Tyler Joe
As seen at Fashion Week. | Credit: Tyler Joe

In an interview with the Guardian, Gvasalia cheekily explained the label’s creative rationale. “We give existing pieces new life. It’s ugly, that’s why we like it.”

So Vetements continued propagating their identity as the purveyors of anti-fashion, infusing affected anti-establishment commentaries in their garments. For SS’17, the brand collaborated with 17 other labels, including favourites like Commes Des Garçons and Manolo Blahnik, alongside outmoded companies like Juicy Couture. Never did a fashion snob envision they would hanker after a fire-engine red velvet jumpsuit with diamante “Juicy Couture” embellished across gloved sleeves, but Gvasalia and Co.’s Midas touch made the dated Valley Girl staple desirable again.

From Russia, with love

With Vetements tackling the Parisian frontier, Muscovite designer, Gosha Rubchinsky was shocking the Italian crowd with his presentation of sportswear brands past their glory days at Pitti Uomo — a menswear-only fashion week that champions quintessential Italian tailoring and Milanese style. Rubchinsky walked models down the runway in athletic gear from Fila, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini, each piece injected with the designer’s signature post-modern Soviet accents.

A throwback to your secondary school days at Gosha Rubchinsky's SS'17 show | Credit: Hypebeast
A throwback to your secondary school days at Gosha Rubchinsky’s SS’17 show | Credit: Hypebeast

Though the collection was the odd piece to the Pitti jigsaw, Rubchinsky’s collection flung those lo-fi sportswear labels back into mainstream attention, and made them trendy overnight.

“Commercially the Gosha collaboration has been a real step in the right direction for Kappa,” explains Jane Wright of Kappa UK in an interview with Dazed, “The resurgence of sportswear on the catwalk through collaborations works really well for us. It raises our profile and creates an awareness that we are back, with retailers wanting now to get involved with the brand. The Archive pieces have been brought back seeing the re-introduction of the classic popper pant and track tops.”

The future of anti-fashion 

Anti-fashion’s rapid ascent has morphed into the new haute couture. As ironic as that statement appears, anti-fashion has become the nouveau chic creative approach of the industry. The flippancy of anti-fashion isn’t just an up-yours to the traditional blueprint of luxury brands and garments, but a carefully calculated attempt at garnering widespread appeal.

Purists might lambast the fact that some of Vetements or Rubchinsky’s most coveted items are logo tees with zero craftsmanship warranted, but to regard it that way is to be one with the elite model that these labels are here to shake up.

anti-fashion vetements
Kanye West and Rihanna rock the now sold-out Vetements hoodie.

In an interview with Business of Fashion, Gvasalia explained his strategy: “Today, the reality is that there is so much stuff available from which you have to choose, the biggest challenge is to make something that people choose… Not to create a fairytale — that’s not reality — but to make that hoodie they want to wear or that dress they need to have,”

What anti-fashion markets is an energy, a vibe and not the unattainable daydream of thousand-dollar suit jackets. Whether this sacrilegious outlook gains traction long enough to permanently change luxury fashion remains to be seen, but may the bridges they burn light the way.

Peak irony: the rise and evolution of anti-fashion

Beatrice Bowers

Features Editor

Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.

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