It's been 10 years since photographer Tommy Ton took that infamous picture of Kanye West, Virgil Abloh, Don C, Taz Arnold, Chris Julian, and Fonzworth Bentley outside of the Comme des Garçons Homme show (the shot that would later inspire Abloh to tell us they were “tourists” at the event rather than mainstays). But now, it’s a new reality at Paris Fashion Week. What was once exclusively dedicated to bigger luxury houses and front rows that were teeming with A-list celebrities is now dotted with newer designers and brands that have roots in streetwear and are, more often than not, connected to the Yeezy Alumni Network.
Although fashion on the runways is moving on from the streetwear aesthetic of heavy logos, hoodies, and T-shirts, designers like Abloh, Heron Preston, and Matthew Williams, who all started out designing Been Trill, are still making a lot of noise in Paris and at retail—LVMH revenue soared last year primarily thanks to Abloh’s work at LV and Kim Jones’ efforts at Dior.
This energy has helped break new ground for a new wave of designers, including Rhuigi Villaseñor of Rhude, Everard Best (better known as Ev Bravado) of Who Decides War, and Charaf Tajer of Casablanca. Years ago, the trade shows would have likely been where they introduced their brands, but Paris Men’s Fashion Week has turned into a hub for newer brands aligned with streetwear.
“We are brands. We're not streetwear brands.”
- Charaf Tajer of Casablanca
“Showing in Paris during Men’s Fashion Week helps to amplify the brand on a global level and is also a great way for the designers to express what their brand is all about,” said Daniel Todd, senior buyer at Mr Porter, which carries both Rhude and Ev Bravado. “I don’t think it’s essential for brands to show in Paris—there are a lot of great brands that don’t and have very successful businesses—but I’m sure as two young guys, [Best and Villaseñor] felt like showing in Paris is a rite of passage.”
Streetwear might be their foundation or how they were introduced to fashion, but the frenetic energy that’s associated with the category along with serial collaborations is not what they’re aiming for. Instead, these designers want to build long lasting brands that don’t rely on hype.
Everard Best wanted to use Paris Fashion Week as a platform to debut Who Decides War, a new brand that separates him as a personality from his collection, which was previously named Ev Bravado. According to Best, Who Decides War tells a bigger story about conflict people face every day, the choices they make in response to that conflict, and faith in God—the new logo is an anti-666 graphic that’s meant to celebrate what’s good in the world instead of what’s hyped, Best explained.
At Best’s show, which took place in a small venue spruced up with AstroTurf, fake vines, and plants, the front row was occupied by the designer’s predecessors, including Jerry Lorenzo, Heron Preston, John Elliott, and Abloh, who had presented his collection for Louis Vuitton earlier that day and was still wearing the hunter green staff shirt he designed for the occasion. Guests who couldn't get in stood in a courtyard, peering through the windows.
Best, who has collaborated with Abloh on denim at Off-White, has presented in Paris before and hosted customization activations, but this was his first runway show, which was partly made possible by a sponsorship from Puma—models wore chunky Puma sneakers Best helped design. He didn’t say whether the partnership would continue or hit retail.
“Right now, it’s just catching the attention,” said Best about being in Paris shortly before his show. “I feel like you could take the noise wherever you want to take it. So we're in Paris now, but next season we could be in New York or Milan or wherever we choose to be.”
Best is known for his tie-dying, rhinestone embellishments, and custom work, but he wanted to move beyond that with this collection, titled Fall From Grace, which pulls from the Story of Creation and the Garden of Eden and features pieces he calls “sharp to the eye, but easy to wear.” Best mixed more palatable items like an anti-666 intarsia sweater, a mesh-covered hoodie, and a trench coat with more forward pieces like denim that was either embroidered or pieced together to create new shapes. Standouts from the line included the distressed denim pieces that almost resembled knitwear and a padded camo vest that interpreted the utility trend in his own way. Best has established design DNA with this new collection, but still hasn’t lost the DIY feel. At the end of the show he came out, face covered, and tagged two models wearing ivory jackets with “Murder Bravado.”
“I think customers are starting to look for product with a little more substance, whether that’s fabrication, silhouettes, or sustainability.”
- Daniel Todd, senior buyer at Mr Porter
For Todd, who discovered Best’s brand on Instagram, he said Mr Porter picked the line up because it felt original. “There is an almost artisanal level of detail and craft, which makes the brand so desirable,” he said. “I think customers are starting to look for product with a little more substance, whether that’s fabrication, silhouettes, or sustainability.”
Fashion and streetwear has always been about associations and pedigree, and while this new wave of designers are making product that merits attention with or without certain connections, it was hard not to notice how much a link to Kanye and Abloh helps. When launching Ev Bravado’s line on its site, for example, Mr Porter described Best as an Off-White alumnus who “cut his teeth under the direction of Mr Virgil Abloh before launching EV BRAVADO in 2016.” Todd said that connection helps, but it won’t sustain a brand.
“Of course it’s great for guys like Ev to benefit from the Kanye association, but [Best] is his own guy, and, ultimately, the longevity of his brand isn’t going to come from who he is friends with. It’s going to come from him continuing to make original product.”
Rhuigi, who got his start working with producer Taz Arnold, another Kanye collaborator, on Arnold’s clothing line TI$A, isn’t a complete stranger to Paris—he remembers renting out apartments to preview his collection before graduating to official showrooms. But this season he held a runway show on Saturday that morphed into a presentation in the atrium of Lycée Carnot, a prestigious high school in Paris that was also home to many of Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy shows.
Titled “Seven Falls,” a fictional town in the American West, the collection introduced the audience to Rhude’s L.A. sensibility and brand signatures, including traxedo pants, bandana prints, and strong graphics. But it built on that with leather motocross pants, racing-inspired jackets, and Rhude’s own sneakers and accessories, like crossbody bags modeled after Marlboro cigarette cartons.
He showed the breadth of the growing line and new places the brand can go, but he didn’t rely on collaborative product outside of sunglasses he produced with Thierry Lasry earlier in the year and sneakers he worked on with Puma. Villaseñor said he wants to collaborate less this year and invest energy into his own brand and showing in Paris helps that.
"I mean, the main purpose of having a show for me is to support the business. I think we’ve built a strong, strong community, a loyal community, a niche community that has followed our story. This is the next step for our brand as we continue to progress,” he said. “It changes the perception of your brand. I like the stiffness in Paris. I like that it’s not everyone, you know. And whether you take that as a negative connotation or positive, it’s up to you. But for us, we saw that as an opening to present, catch the attention. So far, it’s worked.”
Todd discovered Rhude in a showroom in Paris and thought Villaseñor offered something that Mr Porter didn’t have.
“I remember there being a real sense of excitement when we saw the first collection in the showroom. We had already seen success with our L.A. brands, but we’re always conscious not to duplicate our offer, and with Rhude, we felt like we were seeing something different,” said Todd. The brand just had a really cool vibe without being too try-hard, and I think that is symbolised by the Rhude designer, Rhuigi.”
Charaf Tajer, co-founded Pigalle with Stephane Ashpool in 2008, when he was in his early 20s, now has his own line, Casablanca. He showed the brand in Paris last season but returned to the schedule for a larger outing—growing from 20 to 60-something looks.
“I think, yeah, 10 years ago, it was a totally different setting,” Tajer said, when asked about the fashion climate in Paris now in comparison to the early days of Pigalle. “People like us weren’t really allowed to be designers. Just mentally, people weren’t there yet. And we weren’t there yet.”
The French-Moroccan designer, who started Casablanca last year with a terry cloth tracksuit, doesn’t describe the assortment as streetwear, but rather a “menswear brand that represents the cross between comfort and elegance.” There wasn't a logo T-shirt in sight at the Spring/Summer 2020 show, which took place in an idyllic Parisian setting, the Café Renoir, behind the Musée de Montmartre. Models including Nigel Sylvester and Swae Lee wore vividly printed silk shirts, bright linen suits, and matching denim sets covered in gaudy (but good) motifs appropriate for Cuba, Morocco, or Miami. There was something emotive about the playful collection, which pulls from familiar references but presents them in a cooler way.
“We are brands. We're not streetwear brands. And all brands start somewhere, and some establish themselves over many years like Vivienne Westwood and Kenzo,” said Tajer. “I don't think there is any streetwear anymore. I think it’s just fashion now. It’s just a word that belongs to something that was before. But nowadays, every brand does streetwear. Is Louis Vuitton streetwear? I don’t know. Is Chanel streetwear because they do sneakers? I don't know. I think it’s just fashion.”
However they choose to classify their brands, this new class of designers are navigating unchartered territory that’s constantly changing. And it’s hard to be completely certain about who is building a long lasting fashion brand and who is of the moment.
"The most important goal is to create a heritage brand of our time."
- Rhuigi Villaseñor of Rhude
“I think everyone is wondering what’s next,” said Todd, who added that even with the logo trend slowing down, Mr Porter is still selling a lot of graphic T-shirts and sweats. “I don’t think streetwear is going anywhere, but I definitely think we will see people mixing in more tailored styles. Brands that have their own sense of identity and a clear DNA are the ones that are best placed to maintain and further their place in the market.”
For Rhuigi, he wants to be a household name one day, but he doesn’t want to do it at the expense of catering to everyone and losing his vision along the way.
“I wake up and I think the same way I thought when I started, you know? It's been the same goal, same language—maybe just larger collections. And whether that translates to global domination or reaching the masses, I think, is that success? I don't know. But for us, the most important goal is to create a heritage brand of our time.”