CLOTHING & THE YOUTH:
A FINE LINE BETWEEN BALANCE AND CHAOS
Written by casino_riv
March 12, 2020
Those standing at the upper
echelons of society yearn for even as little as a droplet from the fountain of
Despite attempts at looking down on the generation of tomorrow through
condensation, they struggle to keep their youthful spirits in their grasp, constantly
searching for solutions. One mean for obtaining adolescent freedom is through
clothing: an inherently fluid medium through which designers can transfer youthful
energy into physical form and effect even the wearer’s outlook towards life
itself. But as these designers grow older in age, they become less capable of accomplishing
such extraordinary feats, while others who claim to represent the upcoming
generations only do so out of greed. Will the youth cease to have an accurate
representation of their world through clothing?
We first need to go back, back to a time when designers performed extraordinary feats of combining youth culture with fashion, thereby taking center stage. Out of the sheer number of designers who represented the youth through clothing, none did better than Jun Takahashi of Undercover and Raf Simons of his eponymous label. Growing up in the underground punk scene of Tokyo, Jun Takahashi began incorporating his own rebellious experiences through clothing. This, combined with his formal education at the Bunka Fashion College and friendships with NIGO and Hiroshi Fujiwara, fused together into a force the world was not yet ready to experience. From his DIY approach and initial work influenced by Vivienne Westwood, to his creative takes on fashion runways via horror movie inspirations, Japanese superheroes and fictional rock bands, Jun Takahashi brought his youthful take on clothing to the world of fashion with full force.
Heavily influenced by Japanese superhero ‘Masked Rider,’ Jun Takahashi made an ode to his youthful days by creating a collection encapsulating the energy of the time. In addition to the creation of everyday street clothing with a hint of rock sensibilities, the collection also included miniature action figures of the Underman concept, not to mention a photo book detailing the saga of Underman.
While Jun Takahashi was making strides from Japan, on the opposite side of the world emerged Raf Simons, who many claim to be the purveyor of youth-incorporated clothing. Born and raised in Belgium, Simons grew up within the foundations of the music scene and eventually studied industrial and furniture design at the LUCA School of the Arts. Arguably a result of fate, Simons was given the opportunity to intern under legendary designer Walter Van Beirendonck of the Antwerp Six, forever changing his perception of fashion. Through his experience of designing for Walter’s brand and being exposed to the work of the Antwerp Six and Martin Margiela, Simons soon realized that expressing his ideals through fashion was, in fact, most ideal. From that point onwards Raf Simons was determined to bring to light the culture of the youth – not the youth portrayed in mainstream media, but the real youth – through his eponymous brand. Take for instance his SS00 Collection ‘Summa Cum Laude,’ drawing graphics and inspirations from Belgium’s club scene, or SS97 Collection ‘How to Talk to Your Teen,’ a showroom video presentation depicting the carefree lives of teenage friends. Time after time again, Raf Simons was able to accurately portray youth culture while not only translating it into the clothing itself, but also transcending the clothing through an energy felt only by its wearer. As said by Simons himself, “I'm more interested in the language that comes out with the things I'm doing than making clothes for a hanger in the shop. I don't give a fuck actually. If it would be about that I would already have stopped seven years ago.”
So what happened?
Over the past few years there’s been increasing disdain for these purveyors of ‘youth fashion,’ as their work just doesn’t seem to align with today’s generation. Take for instance the work of Jun Takahashi. Although people were hopeful of his resurgence through Undercover’s AW17 collection ‘Brainwashed Generation,’ the energy felt through his work seemed to have dulled over time, constantly reusing the same clothing motifs from previous seasons. One quick side-by-side comparison of Undercover’s collections from the early 2000s and the past few years and you can almost feel the difference in cultural potency. The same can also be said of Raf Simons, where overall praise from the youth has stagnated due to his arguably watered-down themes and narratives. Where collections such as SS02 ‘Woe Unto Those…’ and SS03 ‘Consumed’ expressed youthful yet rebellious undertones through both the clothing and presentations, his recent work has not resonated to the same degree. It can be argued that his AW18 collection did in fact portray the youth in a truthful – albeit melancholic – light, taking inspiration from Uli Edel’s Christiane F., a movie depicting the tragic life of a teenage girl who slowly succumbs to the crippling influence of drugs. The clothing was well-constructed as always, the runway presented its inspirations in an authentic manner, and yet the emotional connection with the youth was lacking.
As formerly praised designers become more and more likely of getting removed from their thrones, many self-proclaimed visionaries dare to take their place. On the surface they state that their only wish is to express youth culture through their clothing and steer the next generation in the right direction, but in reality their ulterior motives might just boil down to greed and social capital. Look no further than the likes of Heron Preston, Enfants Riches Déprimés and Sicko. Indeed, each has contributed to the overarching fashion culture in various ways, but are they even worth mentioning when compared to the accomplishments of Jun Takahashi and Raf Simons? Perhaps the only youthful qualities that they express through their clothing are narcissism and a false sense of superiority amongst the masses. These qualities do pertain to a small portion of the youth at large, but surely cannot be applied to the youth as a whole. Emotional turmoil, confusion, the desire for independence, spiritual freedom. These are only but a few concepts in the totality of the adolescent experience, yet they are overlooked the midst of this superficial medium called fashion. Profit reigns at the expense of authenticity.
Amongst the clutter of superficial noise, however, stands a brink of hope that might just bring the true youth to the forefront of fashion once again. From the rise of internet culture to greater access to raw materials, the youth now have the means to equip themselves with an abundance of knowledge and resources, giving them a voice like none other. Look no further than the overwhelming influence of Instagram, where young designers are taking matters into their own hands, crafting and reconstructing garments that truthfully portray the culture that they are truly a part of. Although there are many that share the same motives as their seniors like profitability and clout for clout’s sake, this current movement will nonetheless bring about representatives of the youth of which the likes have never seen.
As time passes before one’s very eyes, the youth will make the world their own for the taking. We learn from the legends of the youth on expressing our inner selves to the masses, slowly accumulating the means to the show everyone what we’re really about. Conversely, by separating the real from the fake we become evermore keen on what to brush aside and what to admire as true authenticity. And as we continue down the road to authentic representation of the youth, maybe, just maybe, we’ll affect the lives and spirits of tomorrow’s generation.