Bell & Ross White Camo and Gucci shows hints that Luxury Streetwear has gone “Silent”

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs declared a global recession underway in March. The coronavirus recession is the first since 1870 to be triggered solely by a pandemic said World Bank President David Malpass in his foreword to the latest edition of the Global Economic Prospect report released this week. The global economy will shrink by 5.2% this year due to the massive shock of the coronavirus pandemic and the pause on economic system resulting from trans-national lockdown measures to contain it.

In May, Risk Managers responding to a World Economic Forum survey, expected a prolonged global recession with half of them forecasting bankruptcies and industry consolidation, the failure of industries to recover and high levels of unemployment, particularly among the young.

“The crisis has devastated lives and livelihoods. It has triggered an economic crisis with far-reaching implications and revealed the inadequacies of the past,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum.

This has prompted soul searching among the “haves”, who during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, returned to quiet luxury so as not to flaunt shows of wealth in the faces of the “have-nots”. This trend has convinced some critics to declare the death of streetwear, which came into recent luxury mainstream appeal riding the “more is more” bandwagon of Louis Vuitton-Supreme collaborations and Alessandro Michele’s “larger than life” Gucci  aesthetic.

Virgil Abloh is not just founder of hypebeast label Off-White, he's also Kanye West's creative director and Louis Vuitton's new Artistic Director.

Virgil Abloh is not just founder of hypebeast label Off-White, he’s also Kanye West’s creative director and Louis Vuitton’s new Artistic Director.

Streetwear began as an expression of personal identity which coincided with street activities. Right up till 10 years ago, it was a term used to describe urban subcultures – a dress code for the street adopted by street artists, musicians and skateboarders. Today, it’s a buzzword for logo-ed haute-beast couture resulting from the luxury fashion industry which co-opted hype beast for its culture of exclusivity. As a result of becoming a mainstream commodity, Virgil Abloh famously said, “streetwear is dead.”

But far from it, streetwear isn’t dead. It’s just gone quiet, prompting some observers to describe a new era of silent streetwear. Nick Paget, senior menswear editor at trend forecaster WGSN (an analytics and forecasting consultancy which predicted everything from athleisure to oat-milk) heralded a return to “familiar menswear language, like the mantra ‘god is in the details” as ‘loud’ designs, logos and colours continued to decline, renewing focus on “Fabrics and washes [will] become more important, as will trims and clever features relevant to a consumer’s lifestyle. Hand-craft and considered [details] will be key once again. The patina of age, too, will become more attractive.”

Lanvin Introduced the Bumper Sneaker for SS20 with a vintage “aged” design with faux patina inspired by ’70s running shoes.

Post Pandemic Luxury Trends Forecast

Indeed, silent streetwear: a nascent trend which potentially replaces the loud and proud distinctiveness of hautebeast, has been something already seen in Gucci Spring/Summer 2020 as the pioneering Alessandro Michele re-introduced muted palettes and classical silhouettes. Even with the departure of Phoebe Philo from Celine over 10 years ago, aficionados haven’t been content to leave the Queen of minimalism to her devices, resurrecting her old lookbooks from her tenure at Celine on social media.

“Speak softly, carry a big stick.”

These are trends are as relevant in fashion as they are in post-pandemic watchmaking. That’s not to say that designs are not as distinctive but simply, they’re muted with splashes of calls to attention, a visual interpretation of Theodore Roosevelt’s “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

Young-ish marques like Bell & Ross and Casio’s G-Shock are riding on a wave of subtle luxuries where details rather than outright screaming “look at me” make a far greater impact than the usual execution of horological swagger. Utilising the form of the brand’s BR03 series, a well designed square evocative of aeronautical and aviation instrument panels, the new BR 03-92 White Camo is a Limited edition timepiece designed according to the principles of industrial aesthetics but with a decidedly “street” aesthetic – a splash of white camouflage on the dial. What’s remarkable is the constraint expressed here in white on grey hues in contrast to a previous Bell & Ross BR03 rendered in camouflage for streetwear purveyor – BAPE.

BR 03-92 WHITE CAMO 999 Limited edition – S$5600

BR 03-92 WHITE CAMO 999 Limited edition – S$5600

Even “louder” renditions of the series like the BR03-92 HUD Limited Edition are a demonstration of restraint on the part of the Swiss brand headquartered in Paris. Taking an innovation known as the Heads Up Display, a glass panel placed in the pilot’s line of sight that displays vital information so the pilot can maintain situational awareness, the green “computer screen” tint on the sapphire with 90-degree markers reminiscent in a real cockpit HUD is muted by virtue of a matte-finished black 42mm ceramic case. That’s not to say that Bell & Ross isn’t mindful of a return to ‘normal’ post-pandemic, since the new limited edition BR 03-92 White Camo does come with a white camouflage strap edition which instantly dials the hype back up to level 10.

BR03-92 HUD Limited Edition – S$5900

G-Shock too, the OG wristwatch of choice for skateboarders and men of the streets, also sees a return to a more inconspicuous presence on the wrist. Following its retrotastic take on the new metal G-Shock Grid, Casio has presented a fresh take on the popular street motif with a Digital Camouflage series.

Where Bell & Ross went with a traditional woodland pattern, G-Shock embraced a pixelated design that fits right into the modern “Space Force” environment. The digital camo motif is focused on the metallic dials of the collection unlike the GMW-B5000TCM-1, a metal G-Shock with the full digital camouflage treatment across the case and bracelet:  black camouflage pattern laser rendered in digital, gives it a distinct pixelated look against a backdrop of black DLC coating; and then completing the streetwear look are gold accents on the dial and gold-coloured pushers. None of those elements from late last year are present in this year’s collection.

Creating a retro 8-bit appearance, the digital camouflage is understated even on the largest, most conspicuous member of the family, the GA-140DC-1A with the almost fluorescent face. The bold combination of fluorescent yellow accents and black resin cases provides a sporty streetwear vibe, backed by the superior shock resistance and 200-meter water resistance characteristic of all G-SHOCK watches.

Streetwear is far from dead, it’s just more evolved. If streetwear takes its cues from the folks in the street, then main street is clearly reflecting a more dissonant voice against the exuberance currently enjoyed in Wall Street. That said, even in post-pandemic conditions with plummeting retail segments and generally dour consumer sentiments, anyone proclaiming the death of streetwear isn’t looking closely at reality. What we call “streetwear” today, at least for luxury consumers, has been influenced by media and as the luxury fashion landscape grows increasingly homogenised, folks in the street have often pushed back with their own perspectives and opinions on design aesthetics, in short, its ultimately influential consumers who drive the trends.

Then there are brands like Bottega Veneta who shape the discourse and tenor of luxury streetwear design, by virtue of genetic subtlety and inconspicuousness. Bottega Veneta’s Intrecciato bags have not only been historically logo-free but in these modern times, led creatively by Philo disciple Daniel Lee, Bottega is once again ahead of the curve with streamlined designs.

Consumers’ new focus on sustainability also echos Michele’s when he gave a statement as Gucci’s went seasonless, writing on the brand’s Instagram page: “Above all, we understand we went way too far. Our reckless actions have burned the house we live in. We conceived of ourselves as separated from nature, we felt cunning and almighty.”

Consumers’ new focus on sustainability also echos Alessandro Michele’s when he gave a statement as Gucci’s went seasonless

Speaking to Business of Fashion, Francesca Muston, Vice President of Fashion at WGSN said, “In the age of anxiety, consumers are looking to strip back and focus on what is really important — being mindful extends beyond meditation to being mindful about how we spend our time and money.”

Brands like Christian Louboutin, which became en vogue for their bright red soles, have also doubled down on neutrals like beige tones in a feat of historic irony. At some brands like Yves Saint Laurent, black have become dominant colours. The modern, post-pandemic streetwear wardrobe isn’t necessarily simple or basic, but when exaggerated motifs or colours are paired creatively with neutral tones, silent streetwear results: creatively resonant and culturally appropriate.

Though streetwear at its core has always been characterised by loud graphics and cultural commentary, it’s not hard to see that the word on the street has been quite literally a conversation on what the real foundations of our social and economic systems are – covid-19 has essentially lifted the veil on what is truly essential and streetwear purveyors are starting to realise that the time for hiding behind outsized silhouettes and gregarious motifs is over, everything will be stripped back to its bare essentials and quality, construction, and details will have to stand on their own.