High Times on the Runway

Why fashion is incorporating weed into its designs.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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The stoner typically doesn’t reside on the runway. Our stereotypical concept of the stoner usually appears in some college dorm room passed out in front of a Spongebob Squarepants marathon, wearing what at first glance looks like a gradient T-shirt, but is really just covered with Hot Cheetos dust from the belly-button up. 

That’s all been changing, though, as high-fashion designers embrace weed culture’s icons—the spiny leaf that looks like the top of a palm tree with an attitude problem—and the styles associated with it, namely the baja hoodie or as it’s so affectionately called, the “drug rug.”

“It’s all about legalization,” Katie Shapiro, style writer for The Cannabist and producer of the documentary Rolling Papers, tells Complex when asked about why we’ve seen a rise in weed-related fashion. “It’s still a sensitive subject until it's legalized everywhere, but I think cannabis itself has become very trendy over the past two years.”

The plant finally entering sanctioned waters, and the long struggle it underwent to get there, is part of the reason it's suddenly getting so much recognition from your fave designers, says Zac Cohen, founder of the branding agency Blank Space, which primarily works with cannabis-related clients. “I think with things that are powerful, it’s still a coded message,” he tells Complex. “It’s also a matter of pride. It’s been a slow, very humble move into the mainstream, and now that legalization is starting to take root and accelerate, there’s an element of pride in it. The plant leaf is our sacrament, our tool.”

Designers who have been applying this element of pride into their work aren’t sitting on the fringes of society, either. Alexander Wang unveiled an entire cannabis-inspired collection for Fall/Winter 2016. Baja East unveiled drug rugs and weed plant-shaped pins. Saint Laurent makes $1,600 Baja hoodies and Justin Bieber wears them. Jeremy Scott has been playing with the icon for years. Mara Hoffman prints the plant icon all over bucket hats, tops, and pants.

“I was excited to see the pot leaf on the runway for [Wang’s] Fall 2016 show,” Shapiro says. “The collection is a couture spin on cannabis that’s bold and statement-making, but fun and wearable.”

Fun and wearable seems to be top of mind when you talk to those that are entrenched in the fashion industry. “It’s ‘ironic fashion,’” VFILES founder Julie Anne Quay tells Complex. “I don't think it really signifies anything other than just a funny fashion moment.”

For others, like Cohen, the movement of weed in fashion signifies more than just fun. It’s about incorporating a design that is associated with rebellion. “Aesthetically speaking, the plant looks like an outlaw,” Cohen says. “It looks wacky. It looks dangerous. There’s something mysterious about cannabis. There’s something, beyond the illegality of it, it’s associated with rebels, it’s associated with smugglers, I think it’s associated with hippies in Northern California.”

The weed plant can be used to signify all these different things and therefore represents a malleable design element that can be implemented in all sorts of different fashions. It’s the plant's rebellious message that has made the weed icon such a touchstone in streetwear for over a decade.

Quay mentions the “trickle-up theory” when talking about why brands and labels have been so high on cannabis-related design. Brands like HUF have been incorporating it into their design for years—the image of its Plantlife socks is harder to get out of our minds than the weed smell every pair is presumably permeated with. And with streetwear and high-fashion’s recent love affair, it’s no surprise that the subculture’s enduring symbols have made their way over to the runway.

There are two other elements that are helping weed encroach on fashion. The first is the influx of fashionable celebrities who are open, or flat-out proud, of their cannabis use. The likes of Miley Cyrus and Rihanna instantly come to mind, and the latter’s ability to combine her love of smoking weed with her award-winning style is especially important to this trend.

“I love what Rihanna is doing with cannabis,” Cohen says. “She’s got a very specific style she’s expressing with cannabis and it’s sort of a wink and a nod. Like, 'Want to know one of the reasons that I’m so fabulous? It’s because I smoke weed.'”

The next reason is because cannabis companies are smartly playing catch-up to the fashion world. With agencies like Cohen’s Blank Space, brands are getting smarter about marketing and branding. Companies like Apothecanna, Lola Lola, Tetra, Snoop Dogg's Leafs by Snoop, and Whoopi Goldberg's Whoopi & Maya are, as Shapiro puts it, “elevating the aesthetic of the smoking experience.” Which is important in our aesthetic-minded world.

These types of forward-thinking and design-conscious weed companies will pave the way for future fashion and weed collaborations. “It’ll be Alexander Wang reaching out to them to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know cannabis like you know cannabis. I want us to work on hand towels together. I want to be part of it, I want to help brand it, I want you to teach me the science behind it,’" Cohen explains. "And there’ll be a branded collaboration, and I think that’s what you’re going to start to see.”

Cohen even teases some hilarious-to-imagine collaborations happening in the future. “When Diane Von Furstenberg wants to do a lady vape pen or Tory Burch wants to do the Hamptons line of edibles, I think that’ll be a place where they can dip their toes in the water without fully diving in.”

If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, you’re not celebrating this holiday correctly. 

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