Once upon a time, in the dim and distant past – around 2010 – you were no one on the front row of a fashion show unless you were dressed up to the nines.
Eveningwear was quite acceptable at 9am, couture was alpha-wear and 5in heels were the minimum requirement. Fastforward to the autumn/winter 2013 shows. Fashion editors sprang from one event to another wearing hightop trainers, while the humble sweatshirt was preferred over any ballgown. Fashion, you see, has loosened up. Forget extreme heels and cocktail dresses. Trainers (Air Max) and sweatshirts (Givenchy) are now the waiting-list items and the tomboy – as interpreted by Cara Delevingne – has replaced glamourpuss as the feminine ideal.
Filling the style space left vacant by glitz comes skater style. Fashion rode a wave with surf a couple of seasons ago – now it's skaters who are having a moment. The trend can be traced back to the unlikely high-fashion makeover of the skater shoe – a slip-on first created by Vans – courtesy of Phoebe Philo at Céline last year. Designers Thomas Tait and Richard Nicoll draw inspiration from the street culture that surrounds skate this season – with sportswear shapes, pops of neon, boxy tees and skater-style shorts featuring in their collections. On the high street, Topshop and Asos have embraced the look and Sandro has collaborated with Hugh Holland, the photographer who immortalised 70s California skaters in his book Locals Only. The look is likely to travel into autumn, too – Hood By Air, a label that has roots in New York's skate scene, was the hot show at New York fashion week while Stella McCartney featured a print of skaters doing tricks on silk separates, and Giambattista Valli, that most ladylike of brands, had skater shoes, albeit in the prettiest pink, to match the gowns.
While baggy silhouettes, hoodies, trainers and bold logos have been the uniform of skaters and their ilk for years, it's the first time since the 90s (when an androgynous aesthetic was in favour) that high-fashion womenswear has adopted them. "I have all these beautiful Alaia dresses in my closet but I haven't pulled one out in a while," says Yasmin Sewell, retail consultant and fashion blogger favourite. "I'm much more drawn to great trousers and an oversized T-shirt." The fashion way of wearing skate style differs from the way skaters wear it, of course. Sewell's is worn with a heel while Vogue's style editor Emma Elwick-Bates wears Vans for evening "with skinny tux trousers or a long sequin skirt. To paraphrase the Dogtown boarders," she says. "I like to 'cultivate an air of unpredictability'."
Sewell has really embraced the trend – she opened pop-up Beach in the East in a warehouse in Shoreditch, London, last weekend. She was inspired by Dogtown and the Z-Boys, the 2001 film referenced by Bates about California skaters in the 70s, to recreate one of the empty swimming pools and turn it into a shop. It is a stark contrast to the slick spaces she has created for the likes of Liberty, and features skate-style pieces from T-shirt brand Cecile, Thomas Tait and hot new shoe designer Sophia Webster. Graffiti on the walls and skate videos on a loop complete the picture – one that is less haute fashion boutique and more cool hangout.
Niche skate brands are also part of this new wardrobe – which is handy because their prices tend to be lower than the catwalk versions. Carharrt is being worn again, while Palace, the UK skate brand, is a favourite of Rihanna's. Supreme, the New York brand that started in 1994, has worked hard to stay under the radar – Tyler the Creator said the brand was "like a secret society" in a New York Times article – but is now almost as "fashion" as a catwalk brand. It speaks volumes that Kanye West, a man who micromanages every sartorial decision, wore the label to watch a Céline show last year.
Why now? Along with the reaction to high glamour, skateboarding holds an allure because it's one of the few authentic subcultures that still exists for young people. Wherever you live, you'll be familiar with the grind of wheels on pavements followed by the blur of a twentysomething in hoody, jeans and Vans. "Fashion has been so obsessed with lady style of late that it's inevitable that there would be a shift," says Richard Nicoll. "I think reality is always more inspiring than fantasy."
Thomas Tait staged his spring/summer show at the now-threatened Southbank Centre's skatebank. He finds the subculture inspiring for its feeling, rather than direct aesthetic. "It wasn't like 'I'm doing skate, here's a bermuda short'," he says. "It's more about a general energy of that scene, a certain freedom."
While skaters themselves may be suspicious of fashion biting their style, the increase in visibility has come at a useful time – coinciding with the fight for skaters to keep the Southbank undercroft, rather than see it turned into retail units, something both Tait and Bates lament. "I sincerely hope the renewed interest of skate culture will have timely consequence in the quest to save the South Bank," says Bates. That's something that skaters, and those who style themselves to look like them – this season, at least – can agree on.
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