Subculture, Sub-culture. American fashion.


The greatest take away from Fashion Cultures is the realization of the strong influence of subculture and other cultural input into American mainstream fashion.  Companies like Ralph Lauren continues to sell the theme of Americana for their specific customers, but the other companies who are following contemporary and cutting edge fashion are looking at subcultural reference for a design direction. There also is huge influence from international talents in American fashion, opening ceremony being the connection for America to the world.  Moreover it is important to recognize the international designers who are studying in American fashion schools, and their influence in the near future.


It was a clear metaphor when Rachel Lifter, during Fashion + Politics symposium – Fashion Praxis, stated American musician Beyonce’s latest fashion is much like her younger sister Solange. Beyonce is not only one of the most influential people in the world as Times recently announced, but she also is a musician in the mainstream. She is exposed on MTV, VOGUE, and many other mainstream medias and commercials for a company like Pepsi. Long blond hair is her signature look, which presents American beauty. On the other hand, Solange embraces her dark curly hair, the natural beauty that associates and with young and organic underground culture. Underground culture organically involves the surroundings and has the characteristic quality of DIY that represents raw, fresh and creative ideas. It makes sense for the mainstream to adopt from the subculture scene for the freshness to impress the big audience.


Beyonce and Solange at coachella 2014

Solange recently performed at Coachella, one of the most well know American music festival in the west coast. It was interesting when Beyonce came up to the stage for short dance collaboration during Solange’s hit the song, Losing You. It felt like for the first time Solange was the main character on the stage and Beyonce was the sub character. I can only assume living under the shadow of a sister like Beyonce. I didn’t know about Solange until recently. However, Beyonce didn’t take away all the attention on the stage, it rather seemed like they were having a good time together while respecting each other’s boundary. This again was a great example for me on how mainstream learnt to adopt and collaborate with the subculture to create different dynamic and fresher performance.


Another example could be DKNY, a contemporary line of Donna Karen New York. As I mention on my previous writing on the current fashion phenomenon Opening Ceremony, American fashion industry is open to appreciate the raw and youthful subculture. DKNY would be a great example to explain how the American mainstream fashion house adopted the subcultural spirit into their branding. The brand is presented by a twenty-one-year-old British model and media persona Cara Delavigne who has tattoos and tomboyish character. The brand is also represented by a twenty-five-year-old contemporary hip-hop musician A$AP Rocky who also has tattoos and dreadlocks. Both Delavigne and A$AP Rocky represents raw and rebellious character. They both are stylish and well appreciated on social media like Instagram, where young people nowadays share their daily life or creative talent. DKNY is also carried in New York SoHo store of Opening Ceremony which best represents the combination of subculture and fashion to the media.

ImageDKNY Advertising campaign featuring A$AP Rocky (in blue suit) and Cara Delevingne (in blood orange dress)


DKNY Advertising campaign featuring Cara Delevingne


It was a clever direction to brand the contemporary line DKNY with more graphic and edger hip-hop culture associate silhouette. The branding of DKNY feels young and more relatable for the younger customers due to that. Shelley Foxx during Fashion Praxis symposium, grouped Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Michael Kors into mainstream American designers category. Out of the three design houses, Donna Karan feels much more current with her smart business decision on DKNY.


On the other hand, as well as subcultural influence in American mainstream fashion industry, there also is a sub-cultural influence. Sub-culture in this article states the literal meaning of supportive role in the industry that is now becoming the main role. American fashion used to be dominated by the celebration of Americana, by such designers like Karen, Klein, and Kores. However, like the founders of Opening Ceremony, immigrants from Asia and younger generations from Asia are much involved in the industry already and every year more talents are trained and studies fashion to be a valuable element the industry.


Donna Karen’s smarter decision on business apart from DKNY was to educate young designers in America at the same level as European designers with a Master of Art degree. Karan has been involved in MFA Fashion Design and Society program at Parsons the New School for Design over three years now. She supports the program for about thirty designers every year and they are from all over the world, New Zealand, Finland, Egypt, Norway, Korea, England, and Japan, and more.


The majority of the student in the program is from China.  It is interesting, because China is used to being recognized in the sub relationship to the mainstream fashion industry as the manufacturer, which best recognized by Made In China rebel. Now the younger generations from China are in higher education system learning about conceptual fashion.


A first year student in the MFA Fashion design and Society, Pency Cai graduated from a fashion institute in China, and has an exceptional technical skill for draping and construction. High level of technical skill is like the fluent level of speaking a language. Technical skill could also be the sub, supportive matter for fashion design, but a crucial part of the design process. The technical training process in Chinese fashion institution are much more intense that It is easy for technically well-trained student like Cai to process his ideas into the garment because he has the skills to do so. He has a great potential to grow as a designer since he could cooperate the skills with the conceptual design development from MFA program. The program itself is extremely costly that other Chinese students come from a wealthy financial back ground, perhaps parents are involved in fashion manufacturing business. I’m curious to know the influence of young Chinese Fashion designers’ input to American fashion. Their talent and international financial support both are important factors to be a game changer in fashion industry.

One response to “Subculture, Sub-culture. American fashion.

  1. It is the extrasomatic information that makes up what we understand as culture. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychology professor, explains creativity with the existence of domains. We step beyond the boundaries of biology when we learn the rules of domain, thus entering the realm of cultural evolution. Domains are often chosen by people steered with their desire to get a well-paid job. Then there are individuals- most often creative- who chose a domain due to a strong calling to do so. Some chose domains in order to leave something behind after they die– to make a difference amongst mankind. Creative innovations thrive amongst domains where knowledge is better structured, more central and more accessible (metropolises). Csikszentmihalyi goes on to say that the most creative performances in some domains are the work of young people. DKNY’s branding and advertisements recognizes the power young artists and media personas such as A$AP Rocky and Cara Delavigne who utilize the space of Instagram—a site that is structured, central and accessible to a global audience– to share their creative talent. DKNY clearaly demonstrates David Gilbert’s point in Urban Outfitting: The City and the Spaces of Fashion. Gilbert explores the connection between geographies of fashion culture and the modern city in an era of globalization. He explains cities as the objects of fashion, as well as the physical context for fashion. Gibson explores how the fashion industry seeks to mark and market clothing, through media, as ‘urban”, rather than ‘metropolitan’. Using young talent who are products of their urban environment—A$AP a product of NYC and Cara a product of London—demonstrates how the fashion industry is marketing their brand as ‘urban’. In today’s global age, I think that it is also inherent that brands follow in Donna Karen’s footsteps and recognize and support the talent from major metropolises around the world, as these are the sights that foster creativity.

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