By Emma Grillo /// Features Editor
It used to be that fashion week came twice a year, in the spring and fall, when styles were set by design houses and trends were dictated by prestigious magazine editors. While the wealthy had the means by which to consume this cultural capital, the world of high fashion has historically excluded the public majority.
This system worked well into the 70s, with street style and runway fashion existing in separate dimensions.
But in the 80s something changed: Street style began to emulate what was being seen on the runway. Perhaps it was the upsurge in consumer culture, or perhaps it was the visible widening of the economic gap between the have and have-nots. Kids in Harlem and the Bronx were craving Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, the preppy icons of the yuppie Manhattanite set, while counterculture ran wild, with grunge representing the antithesis of capitalism.
It wasn’t long before fashion world began to take note. In 1992, Marc Jacobs designed his grunge collection for Perry Ellis, a collection that fashion aficionados point to as a pivotal turning point in the street style narrative. Counterculture had gone mainstream through a designer facilitated makeover. The polyester skirts and flannels of Nirvana were replaced by silk and cotton drapings on the pages of Vogue.
Others quickly followed suit. Alexander Wang showed low-riding trousers, a riff on his perceptions of American hip-hop culture in the 90s. Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren made millions off pushing rap into the mainstream.
And yet these two stylistic influences, street and runway, still existed in different worlds. There were no invitations for collaboration or openings for a conversation. High fashion appropriated the street, which in turn imitated the runway. While street style was now cited as a runway influence — and the streets openly craved high fashion — the two did not mutually create.
Yet 2016’s fashion week feels different. Back in September, Givenchy came to America and opened its show up to the first lucky 1000 people to sign up online. The masses had entered fashion week as students and 20-somethings, armed with fast-fashion favorites from Zara and H&M. CFDA, the governing body of American fashion, hired Boston Consulting Group to float the idea of fashion week as a commercial event.
On February 11th, fashion week kicked off with Yeezy Season 3 at Madison Square Garden. During Kanye’s two hour long presentation and debut of his new album, The Life of Pablo, the plebeians mingled with fashion folk, paying a couple hundred dollars a piece for a ticket to what has only ever before been an industry event. Kanye West, a musician and long-time aspiring fashion icon, had infiltrated fashion week, brought it to a concert hall, and opened it up to high schoolers in Air Force Ones.
To really push the point home, Alexander Wang, who showed on Saturday night, presented a collection that “zeroed in on today’s youth culture and its various appropriations of high fashion,” according to The New York Times. Models in mohair beanies and captioned crop-tops marched down the runway in a replication of the internet-influenced style of Tumblr and Instagram.
Yet Wang did not appropriate a counterculture and move on. For the modern high fashion designer to remain relevant, he must now respond to the whims of the consumer. The youthful consumer is now taking part in more than just consumption.
For the first time in fashion history, the voice of the masses is being heard. While still label obsessed, street style is increasingly becoming about the individual, and what clothing represents for them. The high fashion world has no other choice but to respond to the whims of the street, and the street is as hungry for this attention as ever.
Fashion week, which in the past has been likened to a fortress on a hill — the ruling yet untouchable force of the fashion industry — has finally opened up its gates and invited in the styles of street to help compete for the consumer driven hearts of the masses.