How Menswear Garnered a Cult-Like Following and Why It’s Important to Women

As streetwear continues to infuse the high-end, fashion is facing a monumental shift

Words by Torey Cassidy
September 26th, 2018

There is menswear, and then there is womenswear; a complete divide in the industry like that of a school disco, girls stay to one side and boys stay to the other, all giggling in between, daring one another to cross over. It’s without a doubt that womenswear has always been fashion’s vanguard, but nowadays, the relationship between the male and female wardrobe is becoming ever more fluid.

“I think the combination is more real. It is more today. Otherwise, it looks like we are in classes, in the time of my grandfather, women divided from men. The shows divided are so unreal, and I think that it is when you put them together you get a sense of what is meaningful,” says Miuccia Prada.

With exclusive streetwear drops, vastly anticipated collaborations, and more-than-five-times-the-original-price resale culture, it’s a major business. And most of all, menswear designers are ones with a vision powerful enough to formulate a cult-like following. A cult-like intensity that once, a riot developed on 46 Rue Cambon in Paris due to Off-White fans just attempting to catch a glimpse of the new collection.

This following unfolds an almost subculture in this post-internet climate that glorifies and delights in the avant-garde, with the creative director posing as their leader. Think Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Demna Gvasalia, Gosha Rubchinsky, Jacquemus and Virgil Abloh. These designers are above the system, creating a hunger around their collections that no marketing powerhouse has yet had the capability to recreate. They know how to communicate their aesthetic without it feeling unnatural or forced. But what’s all the fuss about? How did they manage to find their niche, and to be considered with such a high degree?

These designers introduced luxury and streetwear to each other and a romance blossomed, turning the industry on its head. They’ve created concepts that have won over the kids on the street but also that fashion critics can understand and appreciate.

People hold as much gratification today wearing Chanel as they do Vetements – they now retain the same value. But when purchasing high-end streetwear, you’re not getting a high-quality, took-hours-to-make intricate garment, you’re probably simply buying a logo-emblazoned T-shirt, produced in a factory. However, you’re buying into a subculture. The community element of streetwear has fermented the high-end and knocked it off its high horse, taking it down a notch to make it relevant to the people. That’s why Demna Gvasalia can get away with selling a Balenciaga sweatshirt for €1195.

Raf Simons AW15

There’s a spanner in the works in fashion when considering the relationship between luxury and street and what it means for the fluidity of women’s and menswear. A lot of the dialogue surrounding it is directed back to Virgil Abloh of Off-White, Louis Vuitton and Yeezy. A reoccurring theme in his career is the belief that exceptional design should be accessible to everyone and it’s this sensibility that makes his work feel approachable and maintains the hype. A brilliant communicator who’s collaborated with brands such as Ikea, Champion, Vans and Moncler simply turns traditional basics into small masterpieces by paying close attention to the detail.

But there ain’t no Virgil without Raf. He has talked about his respect for Raf Simons a number of times, even to the point of carrying out an entire interview on the topic with Vogue. But it’s not all light-hearted, rather than just taking some inspiration, there are pieces that look like a complete reduplication.

Arguably the most substantial designer in menswear, Anna Wintour denoted Raf Simons as a “rock star in his own right”. The fleeting scene of menswear fashion week was revisited when it was announced that he would be showing a collection, something that was not to be missed and a necessity for anyone in fashion. Vogue just recently uploaded an archive of his most famous shows. Simons won the CFDA award for the best menswear for his own line and best womenswear for Calvin Klein. Ingenius tailoring and intelligent experimenting have scoured through each collection but it’s the tapping into youth culture that has grasped his loyal fanbase. He captured the spirit of a generation and infused that concept into his collection.

Gosha Rubchinskiy AW18

Cultural curation looks to be the bulbs of a successful brand within the industry, Gosha Rubchinskiy cares little for trends or fads but rather took a quintessentially Russian take on urban streetwear. Something that had not been done before as streetwear derived and was always inspired by American culture. But Gosha proved that it was now a universal language, a planetary sense of community. Drawing influences from his own post-Soviet culture, he revealed a part of Russia we seldom see in the Western Hemisphere. Authenticity is at the heart of his ugly but attractive ironic garments decorated with oversized metal buttons, shoelaces for belts and inconsistent patchworks. He produced this odd but friendly aesthetic that was undeniably Russian and positively street. It caught the attention of major retail outlets like Dover Street Market and Tres Bien, and also of Comme des Garcons, which now backs his production.

The unifying agent for all these designers is that they embody greater ideals that are more than the garments they create. It’s about their attitude, their approach, and their perspective. The kids wearing their clothes today are not much different from the ‘60s British Mods or the New Romantics of the ‘70s. There’s not much ability for subculture anymore thanks to the internet, therefore these designers act as a catalyst for people to feel that sense of belonging. The collections supply a cultural shorthand to express and communicate and define the generational aesthetic for both men and women alike.