A significant portion of streetwear in this high-powered digital climate is indebted to skate culture. But before the days of scrambling for the latest drop and cart jacking tantrums; before the Thrasher logo became synonymous with elite models on Instagram; before Vogue (yes, Vogue) ran a jarring campaign in 2016 called ‘Skateboarding Week’ — streetwear, skating and the internet weren’t so intimately entangled.
Sometime in the 50s, skating was born from surfers’ ennui with small, unsurfable waves. Its enthusiasts wore trousers and varsity jackets, or preppy sweaters. But skate style perhaps didn’t forge its own distinctive subculture until the 70s when the lax and nonchalant Cali-surf energy infiltrated skate culture.
When droughts of the mid-70s left Venice Beach swimming pools parched, the resultant culture of vertical transition skating was helmed by Dogtown locals, the Z-Boys. With it, Tony Alva rose to sartorial prominence for his woven headbands and slinky tube socks stuffed into Nike Blazers. Elsewhere, mate Jay Adams backed a signature look of thrashed Vans Authentics and long unkempt hair.
Cut to the 80s when pools were traded for ramps and the wavy aesthetic of VHS helmed by skaters-cum-videographers like The Bones Brigade (Stacy Peralta and George Powell), Vision (Brad Dorfman) and Santa Cruz ushered in more ostentatious flavours. Colours were many and varied and silhouettes more exaggerated. For the feet, OG Nike Air Jordans, Chuck Taylor's and Vans SK8-Hi were all on solid rotation. Also: World Industries.
The descriptor ‘irreverent’ is sometimes a lazy cliché assigned to anyone who doesn’t wear a suit or welcome hair brushing. But in the case of Steve Rocco, it fits. In the late 80s, the skater built World Industries with a brash DIY elixir of unbending confidence, schoolboy obnoxiousness and a very real thirst to engineer newness. The 90s were all about living large: hyper-baggy tees and baggier cartoon-y denim jeans falling over wide-set skate shoes (perhaps Etnies, Duffs KCKs or DC). It was also the year another seminal brand came into fruition: L.A. brand Fuct.
Fuct was constructed with a brazen, anti-establishment ethos that’s entirely befitting of an iconic skate company. Artist Erik Brunetti and skater Natas Kaupas birthed the seminal brand in 1990, its provocative graphic prints and pioneering modus unlike anything of its time.
Along with big brands like Nike investing a greater energy in skate, the noughties saw skating’s acute cross-pollination with high fashion. On the more calculated end of the spectrum, a Kenzo model carried a skateboard, the wrong way, down the runway for SS15. Supreme — whose life begun in 1994, a grim point in New York’s and indeed, skating’s economy — are a kind of counterpoint: a brand occupying a seemingly impenetrable high-low pocket; never dumbing down anything for the youth, the nucleus of their brand. Collaborations with Comme Des Garçons and (increasingly streetwise) Louis Vuitton happened, as did collaborations with Jeff Koons and Larry Clark; the latter and his film Kids, of course, a veritable corroboration of 90s youth.
Today, the spirit of Kids resides also in Fucking Awesome — most literally in a T-shirt featuring a young Chloe Sevigny, longtime friend of designer Jason Dill, but also in its overall gritty representation of youth and skating. Ever wanted to wear a t-shirt emblazoned with a dictator such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein? F.A. caters to such whims. Electing not to operate within the seasonal rhythm of the fashion industry, F.A. actually once ejected itself from business for a year when Jason Dill felt it was getting too popular. Dill makes stuff when he wants; when ideas are percolating. Like he told Vice, “Everybody has something and I have Fucking Awesome, sometimes.”
Elsewhere there’s the eponymous label of Mark Gonzales, or Gonz, or the guy named ‘Most Influential Skateboarder of All Time’ by Transworld in 2011. It’s quite wild to think the skater and father who hasn’t owned a smart phone in years has engineered a brand that the internet generation love so much. Or not, given his absolute pioneering street skating status, and lifelong art preoccupation.
Having outlived the dips, peaks and parched periods, skating’s influence can be seen in streetwear trends now more than ever. A culmination of 90s bravado and a move to swishier, glossier climes has paved ample space for disparate brands to share street style currency today.
Words by: Melissa Kenny