The Future of Streetwear: with Paul Heavener and Caridel Cruz
In a 2017 blog post for Complex, Bobby Hundreds wrote that “design-wise, streetwear boils down to baseball caps, sneakers, hoodies, and most of all, tees.” While this is true, the streetwear trend today has expanded beyond the streets where it was born, and has attracted a variety of luxury designers and fashion houses to its rebellious attitude. Members of the fashion community have chimed in to give their opinion on the future of streetwear for well over a decade now. Matt Irving of Delphi expressed to Steven Vogel in 2007 that his “gut instinct is that it’ll maintain a level of originality for a number of years and then slowly be infiltrated by outsiders who have had their attention sparked in this direction because of the freshness and the untapped opportunity. It’s up to the people who are creating streetwear to dictate where it goes and that is based on what is authentic to them at the time.” And on April 26, the Fashion Business Association at New York University brought together Paul Heavener and Caridel Cruz to convey their opinions on the subject.
Paul Heavener is the North America Creative Director at HYPEBEAST, and focuses on concepting and creating content with their brand partners. Paul happens to be an NYU alumnus (class of 2009), and has been with HYPEBEAST for three years now. And although he hasn’t always worked in the fashion industry, Paul explained that he has been interested in streetwear for a long time. Like many others in the community, he admits to cutting classes to line up in order to score the latest BAPE or Supreme drops. On the other hand, Caridel Cruz is the current Brand Manager for Heron Preston, who has been with Heron for a year now. Before joining Heron, Caridel worked as a Producer at Moda Operandi, which is a luxury online retailer. Caridel is a Bronx native who quit her old job and started from scratch in the industry in order to follow her childhood dreams of being in fashion. She even started her own brand over the last couple of years, called SHE THE PEOPLE.
Both Paul and Caridel agreed that ‘streetwear,’ as the name suggests, has emerged from the streets and youth cultures. But Caridel rightly points out that many of these designers, who have been an important part of the culture, are now growing up and this reflects in the evolution of their designs as well. “Personally working with Heron, I know that is an overarching theme with him. The fashion is growing up with him,” she says. She continues by saying that, “he was interested in streetwear when he was in his twenties, but now as he is getting older he needs a blazer,” which then leads to the question of, “well then what is a Heron Preston blazer?” On the publishing end of things, Paul notices that streetwear began as a mens fashion that was not luxury, something that you could afford and still feel cool in. But over the last few years streetwear has exploded onto the fashion scene and is no longer defined by a handful of designers from Japan and America. “To me right now it is anything that isn’t luxury, and maybe if it has a little bit of that exclusive factor.” However, Paul continues, “the lines (between streetwear and luxury) are blurring so much now that it is hard to tell.” Streetwear was an excuse for men to be interested in clothes, twenty years ago, whereas now it has become more common for men to be more inclined towards fashion, he pronounced with a giggle.
When it came to expanding on the blurring lines between streetwear and luxury fashion, Paul put forth the example of Dior. Yoon Ahn, from Ambush, is designing the accessories for Dior Homme, creating a bridge between the two markets. Dior currently also offers “Converse-looking sneakers for close to $1000.” All these examples, however, revert back to Caridel’s point about ‘growing up.’ Paul explains further by saying, “I could buy a $20 T-shirt from Supreme when I was in college and feel good and feel exclusive, but now I’m growing up and I have a proper job and maybe I can get into luxury a little bit now. I am still looking for something that feels like what I grew up with, to an extent, but maybe the next level of that.” Brands such as these are catering to a certain demographic that has grown up and is able to step into that world of luxury for the first time. Contrary to Paul, Caridel thinks that “it’s so tragic; so culture vulture-y of fashion houses like Chanel.” And in my personal experience, this is an opinion that resonates with many who are a part of street culture. “There are obviously certain designers with the talent to back it up, like Virgil (Abloh) at Louis Vuitton, at least it’s not like a bunch of people who are disconnected putting sneakers out there. I think it’s old people trying to be young, and I think it’s lame.”
While the streetwear aesthetic has been around for decades, its mainstream alteration has created a new type of consumer. On being asked about the use of the term ‘hypebeast,’ Paul explains that a hypebeast is a consumer of street culture, “a consumer in a very specific way, positive or negative.” Paul elaborates that, “it's the kind of person that historically (reflecting back to when HYPEBEAST was founded) cares more about a brand, cares more about how hard something is to get, cares more about the price tag than what it actually represents.” But Caridel believes that the term ‘hypebeast’ is just like any other stereotype; there is going to be some truth to it, but also a lot of exaggeration. “To me ‘hypebeast’ is just an enlarged caricature of someone who can appreciate what streetwear is.”
Sarina Mittal, the student moderator for the discussion, then steered the conversation towards the drop culture and unattainability that streetwear thrives on. Nobody wants to wear what someone else is wearing, which is why the exclusivity factor is such an important part of the streetwear culture/industry. Paul reminisced about Supreme’s earlier days and how exclusivity was always in their DNA, even if things were not flying off the shelf like they are today. The culture, especially today, is more of a brand-based culture than a design-based culture. Caridel rightly observes that “there are multiple designers doing the same thing, so it’s more about brand loyalty than the actual design.” Is it as cool if you buy a belt that looks like a seatbelt from Forever21, or do you need to have the Off-White one? And Caridel thinks that this exclusivity will always be in our human nature, to want things that we can’t have. And there are two ways to do exclusivity, one is through the quantity produced and the second is through the price tag. Streetwear to Paul was a quantity produced game, and luxury is a price tag exclusivity game. But he also thinks that it’s smart for brands to get consumers in the door younger by offering lower price points and becoming more attainable, such as Fear of God’s Essentials line through PacSun.
Street culture, like any other culture, is not made up of just one facet. “Cultures are food, and people, and music, what you wear, and how you talk,” and so Caridel thinks it is natural for everything to be inspired by each other. There has always been a music x fashion crossover, and people look up to musicians as style icons, and this cycle tends to repeat itself. But for industry insiders like Paul, the challenge is to take a culture that has become somewhat mainstream and keep looking for the niche elements of it. He says that if he just dwelled on brands like Supreme, BAPE, or Palace for the rest of eternity, it would eventually fizzle out, which is why he is always looking for the next big musical act, or a niche brand that he can then put on a pedestal. But because streetwear has been fully embraced by mainstream fashion today, are consumers losing that rebellious do-it-yourself attitude and the need for individual expression that has been the core of street culture since its inception? Paul responds by saying that in the age of the Internet and social media, “if we are all following the same 500 amazingly cool tastemakers, we are all bound to start looking the same. Good or bad. So (even as designers) we are all trying to design like each other and look like each other. It’s about your perception in front of other people, and how many people can see you and interact with you.” But Caridel thinks that the reason we are seeing such an influx of microbrands is because that spirit of personal expression is still alive.
The contemporary streetwear market is slowly becoming, or in fact has become, saturated. And as any counter culture becomes mainstream, it loses its perspective. Financial profits outweigh the creativity driven by the history. However, even though it has been adopted by the mainstream and luxury fashion industry, there are still tastemakers out there that are staying true to the culture that streetwear is rooted in. So while there are consumers who want to spend their money on the pseudo streetwear produced by luxury houses, there are also consumers who appreciate the obscurity of niche streetwear brands. Maybe Paul Heavener is right, that if the culture keeps dwelling on top two or three brands, it would eventually fizzle out. The future of streetwear is not in Louis Vuitton or Gucci; the future of streetwear is where it should be, in the streets.