Fashion and the Youth: Is Youth Representation in Fashion Dead?
Those who stand at the upper echelons of mankind yearn for even as little as a droplet from the fountain of youth. They struggle to keep their youthful spirits in their grasp and are constantly searching for solutions. One way of obtaining adolescent freedom is through fashion: an inherently fluid medium through which designers manifest youthful energy into clothing and can effect even its wearer’s outlook on life itself. But as these designers grow older in age, they become arguably less capable of reaching such extraordinary feats, while others who claim to represent the upcoming generations only achieve such feats 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 combined youth culture with fashion effortlessly, 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 his fashion legacy by incorporating his own rebellious experiences through clothing. This, combined with his formal education at the Bunka Fashion College and his intimate friendships with NIGO and Hiroshi Fujiwara, fused into a force like none other. From his DIY approach influenced by Vivienne Westwood to his narrative twists on the fashion runway inspired by horror movies, obscure artists and the likes, Jun Takahashi brought his youthful take on clothing to the world of fashion in full force.
Undercover: SS96 'Under The Cover' .
While Jun Takahashi was making strides from Japan, on the opposite side of the world emerged Raf Simons, a man who many claim to be the purveyor of youth-centric clothing. Born and raised in Belgium, Simons grew up within the foundations of the music scene, followed by pursuing his studies in furniture and industrial design at the LUCA School of the Arts. Perhaps as a result of fate, Simons was eventually given an opportunity to intern under legendary designer Walter Van Beirendonck of the Antwerp Six, forever changing his perception of fashion in the process. By designing for Walter’s brand and being exposed to both 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 shed a light onto the culture of the youth – not the youth portrayed in mainstream media, but the genuine youth of the world – 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 accurately portrayed youth culture not only by translating it into the clothing itself, but also by transcending the clothing through a unique energy felt 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.”
Raf Simons: 'Teenage Summercamp' for SS97 Collection 'How to Talk to Your Teen.'
So, what happened?
In recent 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 to the same degree. Take for instance the work of Jun Takahashi. Although I was personally 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 feel a difference in cultural potency.
The same can also be said of Raf Simons, where overall praise from the youth has declined due to his arguably watered-down themes and narratives. Whereas collections such as SS02 ‘Woe Unto Those…’ and SS03 ‘Consumed’ expressed youthful yet rebellious undertones, his recent work has not resonated to nearly 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. As always the clothing was well-constructed, the runway presented its inspirations in an authentic manner, and yet an emotional connection with the youth was lacking.
Raf Simons: AW18 Runway Show, via FF Channel.
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 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 worth mentioning when compared to the accomplishments of Jun Takahashi and Raf Simons?
Perhaps the only youthful qualities that are expressed 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, a desire for independence, spiritual freedom. These are only but a few concepts experienced throughout the adolescent experience, yet most are overlooked the midst of this superficial medium that is 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 wider access to raw materials, the youth now have the means to equip themselves with an abundance of knowledge and resources, granting 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 none have ever seen.
As time passes before one’s eyes, the youth will appear without warning and make the world their own for the taking. We’ve learned from the legends of the youth how to express our inner selves to the masses. We’re slowly accumulating the means to the show everyone what we’re really about. By separating the real from the fake we’ve 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.