Something strange has been afoot in the world of men’s style over the past few years. The lines between what we once referred to as “streetwear” and high fashion have been becoming increasingly blurred.
Recent seasons have seen historic haute-couture houses partnering with skatewear brands. Meanwhile, hoodies and harness bags are now routinely sent down fashion-week runways by labels that, until very recently, were using the same platform to wheel out razor-sharp tailoring and trench coats.
Some say this crossover marks the final nail in the coffin for the term “streetwear”, but while there’s no denying we’re in the midst of a new fashion climate, the brands that have always championed this style are still very much doing their thing.
Here we run through the best streetwear labels on the face of the earth, and why they’re worth having on your sartorial radar.
Streetwear, in its purest sense, may never have come to exist had it not been for Californian surfer Shawn Stussy and his line of graphic T-shirts back in the 1980s. It all started when Stussy began scrawling his surname on his handcrafted surfboards with a marker pen. The logo soon found its way onto tees, hoodies and beyond, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ask anyone to name a streetwear brand and chances are one of the first names to roll off their tongue will be that of skateboard label Supreme. The transcendent New York brand’s unique approach to the supply-and-demand model revolutionised the scene by introducing “drops” as a means of releasing new products in highly limited numbers. This created a sense of hype that sees fans routinely queuing up for days just to get their hands on anything bearing that iconic box logo – even if that does happen to be a brick or an ashtray.
If there’s one brand that could be called the living embodiment of London’s gritty skate scene, Palace is surely it. In just 10 short years the UK label has gone from an underground imprint for skateboard decks and T-shirts to one of the most respected names in men’s fashion. Head to their webstore on drop day and you’re likely to find five-panel caps juxtaposed against velvet smoking jackets and snakeskin loafers.
It was arguably the Americans that invented streetwear, but if anyone’s serious about it, it’s Japan. Neighborhood is one of Nippon’s proudest exports when it comes to dark, moody streetwear, and has been a frequent collaborator with heavyweights such as Adidas, Converse, Dr. Martens and even affordable watch brand Timex.
After cutting his teeth at Fendi alongside Kanye West, Off-White founder Virgil Abloh exploded onto the scene, quickly becoming one of fashion’s most prominent figures. Now at the helm of Louis Vuitton’s menswear arm, the designer somehow still finds time to run his own label, poking fun at the industry with tongue-in-cheek branding and an ever-present sense of irony.
The basketball GOAT, Michael Jordan revolutionised sneaker culture (with a little help from Nike and legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield) with the launch of his signature line of footwear. Since the beginning of the scene, the Jordan brand has been a cornerstone of streetwear, churning out some of the most iconic trainer silhouettes in history.
Dutch brand Patta began life as so many streetwear brands do – as limited line of graphic T-shirts. The tees were originally sold out of a multi-brand boutique, but as demand grew for them Patta began to morph into a streetwear label in its own right. Now with a string of high-profile collaborations with everyone from Carhartt to Nike under its belt, the brand has cemented its name as one of the finest around.
There are a handful of brands that have earned respect in all corners of casual menswear. Oregonian sportswear behemoth Nike is one of them. From iconic sneakers to genre-bending sportswear, as well as knockout brand hookups with every major name on the scene – including the likes of Supreme and Virgil Abloh – Nike is one of the kings of streetwear.
For a long time, in the States, Carhartt was nothing more than a workwear brand, making high-quality overalls and apparel designed to take a beating. However, in Europe, the label took on another form. Here, you were more likely to see DJs and skaters wearing its goods than mechanics and carpenters. Carhartt’s response to its newfound fanbase came in the shape of Carhartt WIP (Work In Progress): a streetwear-orientated line that focused on ultra-cool designs, without sacrificing any of that trademark rugged quality.
Polar Skate Co.
Skate culture and streetwear have always gone hand in hand, to the point of often being indistinguishable. Polar Skate Co. is a solid example of this. A skatewear company at its core, the Swedish brand has found favour among the streetwear community too. Expect graphic tees, cool outerwear and, unlike a lot of streetwear, prices that won’t leave you with a hole in your pocket.
BAPE (A Bathing Ape)
When thinking of Japanese streetwear, it’s impossible not to think of BAPE. DJ and fashion designer Nigo’s colourful and quirky label has long served as a gateway for teens getting into streetwear for the first time. Famous for its iconic camo print and bizarre design motifs (shark hoodie, anyone?), the brand is one of the most coveted and respected in the world of alternative fashion.
The North Face
You may be wondering what a mountaineering brand is doing in a rundown of streetwear labels. The North Face has a knack for nailing brand hookups, the products of which often go on to become “grail pieces”. A frequent collaborator with Supreme, TNF also has a habit of enlisting the help of renegade talent to create new and interesting garments for its Japanese “Purple Label” line, as well as teaming up with veteran designer Kazuki Kuraishi as part of The North Face “Black Series”.
Combining military influence, workwear styling, utilitarian design and plenty of street appeal, WTAPS is a brand that’s as hard to pin down stylistically as it is to pronounce (it’s “double taps”, in case you were wondering). This Japanese favourite has earned something of a cult following off the back of its unique style and instantly recognisable aesthetic. Boxy cuts, baggy cargos and loose-fitting hoodies are all par for the course, but don’t be surprised to find the odd typically Japanese Ivy-League nod in amongst it all.
Today, Japanese label Undercover is probably best known for its Nike-collab sneakers and joint Gyakusou sportswear line. However, this brand’s roots stretch much further back than that. During the 1990s, Jun Takahashi’s renegade streetwear brand was a big part of the ultra-cool Ura-Harajuku scene in Tokyo and was one of the first labels to really make the crossover between streetwear and what might be considered “proper” fashion. Takahashi was heavily influenced by the UK punk scene, which is something that can still be seen in the label’s output today, particularly in some of its more out-there designs.
You might not remember a time before streetwear and high fashion were both one and the same, but The Hundreds does. This LA original sprung up in 2003, making it, we suppose, a second- or third-generation streetwear label. One that came from a time when graphic tees and hoodies were what it was all about, and the idea of a Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration would’ve been just as unfathomable as Donald Trump becoming president. Yet here we are, and in spite of all the unprecedented madness, The Hundreds is still very much doing its own thing on its own terms. That is, making no-frills, old-school streetwear that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.
Spearheaded by New York sneaker-scene legend Ronnie Fieg (it’s pronounced “faig”), KITH is a retail space first and foremost. But the store’s in-house label has become a streetwear phenomena in its own right thanks to a constant stream of high-profile collaborations, along with the odd weird one, too. KITH has hooked up with everyone from sneakerhead favourites like New Balance and Nike, to less obvious brands such as Bugaboo and Disney. But it’s not all trainers. In addition to footwear, KITH boasts a successful apparel line, featuring box-logo hoodies and crews as well as all the other usual streetwear crowd-pleasers.
After cutting his teeth at scene stalwart Supreme, Brendon Babenzien left his post as creative director armed with a vision for a streetwear brand with a difference. The result is Noah, a curious label that’s perhaps best described as what might happen with Supreme and Polo Ralph Lauren were to have a baby. Yes, you’ll find all the usual suspects – hoodies, caps, logo tees, etc. – but you’ll also find plenty of the unexpected, too. Preppy pieces like sports jackets, rugby shirts and loafers are just as likely to crop up in seasonal collections, and with a focus on sustainability, you don’t need to feel quite so guilty about making a purchase.
To fashion types, Comme des Garcons is best known for its boundary-testing, avant-garde collections and often bizarre runway shows. To everyone else, it’s all about bug-eyed heart logos on crew-neck T-shirts and Converse All Stars. This is all down to CDG PLAY: the streetwear-leaning offshoot of Rei Kawakubo’s hallowed Japanese label that takes stripped-back wardrobe basics and reimagines them using offbeat design motifs and bold branding. Expect classic pieces like hoodies, T-shirts, Breton tops and more, all infused with a pinch of CDG personality.
With clothing that looks like it might have emerged from some sort of streetwear time machine from the future, Cav Empt is probably one of the most unique and interesting streetwear labels around. Brought to life by SK8THING – the guy behind the iconic graphics of Nigo’s Human Made, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream – and music industry veteran Toby Feltwell, this Japanese heavyweight produces streetwear for the thinking man. Something to move on to once the box-logo hoodies and Supreme x The North face collabs have lost their allure.
A subsidiary of Japanese fashion house Nepenthes, the brand that spawned Engineered Garments, Needles is a streetwear-leaning fashion label that takes Japan’s obsession with Americana to the next level. The brand’s collections blend American military and old western styles, reworking and remixing classic designs in Japanese textiles, with a heavy dose of sportswear styling. Needles’ velour tracksuits have become hugely popular with everyone from fashion insiders to A-list rappers and given things have been going strong since 1988, the label’s appeal doesn’t look to be losing traction anytime soon.
Pop Trading Company
Amsterdam’s Pop Trading Company began life – as so many streetwear labels do – as a skate shop stocking multiple hard-to-find brands and various cool things. It was only in 2016 that the store’s owners introduced their own clothing line, making Pop Trading Company one of the youngest entries on this list. Still, while it may lack the heritage of some of its contemporaries, the Dutch label has quickly established itself as one of the most interesting new forces in the scene. Is it a skate-influenced menswear brand, or is it a menswear-influenced skateboard brand? We’re not quite sure – and by their own admission, neither are its founders – but one thing we do know is that whatever it is, we’re all for it.
Palace may be the big British streetwear brand of today, but here in the UK we were making our mark on the scene way before the London skate label was even a twinkle in Lev Tanju’s eye. Case in point: Maharishi. This camo-loving, Asian-inspired, hip-hop-influenced melting pot of a brand marked Britain’s first real foray into streetwear and in the 1990s it was everywhere. But Maharishi wasn’t just trailblazing in terms of style, it also had – and still has – a focus on fair trade that is central to everything it does. Maharishi was “woke” before woke was even a thing and in the here and now, its ethos and styling are more relevant than ever before.