This is why alternative fashion is transforming the mainstream
From Prada to COMME des GARÇONS and beyond, the fusion of fashion and alternative culture is about way more than just Hot Topic.June 24, 2021
For a while now, what used to once fall under the term “alternative” has been pushing its way into the mainstream. Once fringe areas of creativity and artistry now sit comfortably alongside their more traditionally popular forms.
And this holds particularly true when it comes to music and fashion, each feeding off the other in a feedback loop that gets louder and louder, more and more confident with each and every cycle.
This isn’t necessarily about Hot Topic—a subcultural mainstay that has been the refuge of oddball teens (and adults) for decades and which has now found itself a more front-facing role in style of late thanks to Gen Z’s fascination with ’00s emo aesthetics.
Instead, this is more about a wider sea change that’s been taking place over what now amounts to years and which was neatly encapsulated in Prada’s Spring/Summer 2022 presentation at Milan Fashion Week last weekend: the slow and steady merging of subculture into culture at large.
It’s not something that can be pinned to any one designer or event—although I’m sure most would agree that, from a fashion point of view, Rick Owens and his penchant for the pentagram has a whole lot to do with it.
More realistically, it has to do with the dripping infusion of alternative music and art into the everyday lives of people who might otherwise have shied away from that. Ten years ago, it was unthinkable that you’d hear bands like Architects or Bring Me The Horizon on a radio station that wasn’t a dedicated rock channel—or at least on a channel’s token, post-9 p.m. alt show.
Now, we hear goth-tinged music in places we never heard it before and see subtle nods to that mainstreaming arise elsewhere. Most notably in fashion.
In terms of the Prada collection, the skort—a combination, for those not in the know, of a skirt and shorts—feels not only very 2000s-era Jonathan Davis of Korn but also very much an homage to the cybergoth aesthetic. The bulky silver jewelry and black-on-black clothing also very much fit the bill.
— PRADA (@Prada) June 24, 2021
But the Prada collection is just the latest in a long line of alternative infiltrators: Jean chains, once very much a marker of outsider style, have been popping up in fashion for some time now—from the mass market to more high-end versions like the one by Swedish brand Our Legacy.
Studs, too. They’ve lived on the belts and jackets of dedicated goths and emo teens for time immaterial, but now you’ll find them adorning wallets by such major high fashion names as COMME des GARÇONS.
While household names like Alexander McQueen have long embraced gothica, covering their clothes in skull motifs and other macabre iconography, it’s the subtle details that are more interesting. Without black-metal aesthetics, we’d have no VETEMENTS. Without Demonia or creepers, we’d have nothing like the exaggerated sole found on Balenciaga’s Triple S sneaker or Prada’s Monolith silhouette.
These may be a somewhat smoother version of the looks that inspired them—a softening of their edges. Their influence is plain to see.
That it comes alongside not only the mainstreaming of genuine, full-throttle alternative music by daytime radio but also the infusion of that music into the DNA of pop makes perfect sense. Acts like Rina Sawayama borrow from pop punk and nü metal, and these ideas become part of the fabric of everyday life.
The reveal of Matthew M. Williams’ debut collection for Givenchy featured details, which—though familiar to a lesser degree for fans of the designer’s 1017 ALYX 9SM label—lean heavily on a bold, pseudo-gothic style language. From enormous silver neck chains to monotone leather vests, all the way up to horned caps. Which is probably a step too far even for most goths.
It’s a slow-burn effect, which feels less like a change and more like a part of something bigger: the erosion of traditional cultural divides in favor of a less compartmentalized appreciation of creativity.
One isn’t replacing the other, but the dialogue is stronger than ever. And it’s a conversation that only gets more interesting the longer it goes on.