How Skaters Really Feel About Fashion's Appropriation of Their Culture

Spoiler: they're not too stoked on it.
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Spoiler: they're not too stoked on it.
Photo: Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

Photo: Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

It's tough to tell where the fashion world's current obsession with skateboarding originated, though the industry has been steadily drooling over skaters and their sport for a few years now. Some would argue it began when pro skaters like Dylan Rieder, Ben Nordberg and Alex Olson crossed over as models for major labels like DKNY and Louis Vuitton and won over the hearts of fashion bloggers with a soft spot for smelly, sweaty skaters in "cool clothes." Others would argue that it began with the release of Supreme's first full-length skate video, "Cherry," which exposed the world to a crew of teenage boys from New York and Los Angeles with a more defined sense of personal style than half of SoHo, which is chock-full of Kardashian and Kanye West knockoffs these days. The skateboarding fixation has blown up so much that now even modeling agencies are putting out their own "skate videos," complete with models styled in contrived "skater outfits," having what appears to be a private session at Manhattan's Lower East Side Skate Park. Whatever the catalyst may have been for all of this, fashion is all in on skateboarding right now, from the Thrasher T-shirts and hoodies (a version of which appeared in the fall 2015 Vetements collection) to the ripped-up Vans.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone in the skateboarding space is happy about models and bloggers poaching their style — and receiving praise for being on the cutting edge — when skaters have dressed like this for decades. There are, of course, the select few who are profiting off of the status quo, such as those who run the boutique skate brands found in Dover Street Market, and are happily smiling all the way to the bank. Skate labels like Palace, Bianca Chandon, Quartersnacks, Bronze 56K and Alltimers have all found their way into the elite retail space, and are being pushed as the newest and hottest thing out in "skate style." Skate shops, which are obviously the lifeblood of every local skate scene across the world, are also reaping in some of the benefits as they see and influx of first-time customers every day rummaging the racks for something new. The obsession culminated a couple of weeks ago with Vogue.com's very own cringe-inducing "Skate Week," complete with styling tips and how-tos that will help you to nail that "I haven't showered or had a real meal in two days" look. Interestingly, no fashion outlet has taken the time thus far to ask professional or avid skaters how they feel about their culture being appropriated by the fashion world, which is where we come in.

KCDC is a skate shop located in the heart of Williamsburg that receives a lot of foot traffic from some of New York's most trend-conscious and wealthy young adults, as well as a great number of tourists from around the world. They've unintentionally become one of the city's primary providers of Thrasher and HUF goods for those who want the "skater look" as of late, without the bumps and bruises attached. I asked Nathan, one of the shop's employees, how he feels about the phenomenon of models in skate gear, to which he sighed and replied, "I think the people who get mad about it are those who try to 'own' skateboarding, but you can't own skateboarding. It's for everyone and you can't try to claim it as your own. I think it's flattering to skateboarding that it's reaching other areas and other lifestyles, but it sucks if they don't do it properly or get the right people involved." The fact that actual skaters have been cut out from most of the conversation during this whole skate-obsessed period we're seeing is what seems to be the most annoying aspect of it all. "But that's out of skateboarders' hands as well," he continued with a noticeably defeated tone. "If someone wants to get involved in skateboarding and they have the money to do it, then they can — and you can't really blame them for trying."

Another shop employee, who works at one of Manhattan's most popular skate shops and spoke on the condition of anonymity, echoed Nathan's sentiment. He said his shop has recently seen a huge influx of trendy female shoppers who first came in looking for Thrasher gear and Dickies, but have since returned to explore the racks further, discovering smaller brands like 5Boro and Doom Sayers. He said he "can't be mad at the brands [like Palace, Bianca Chandon, and Dime] that are 'doing it big' [in fashion]," but has some issues with the way it's presented in the "fashion space," with little or no authenticity to it. Regardless, he recognized that those brands "reached the clientele they aimed for," whether it's Palace getting on the backs of celebrities (Jonah Hill recently starred in a commercial for the label) and Londoners deep in the club scene, or Bianca Chandon reaching models and fashion girls who adopt a tomboy style. To him, this is just another revolution in the cycles of mainstream popularity that skateboarding has seen throughout its history. "When Independent and Spitfire first ended up at the mall, it was whack for people who feel like they bleed for this shit," he argued. "But it was definitely cool that a [niche] brand like that got the visibility and success they have now. Skateboarding will come out of popularity sometime soon, but right now is just its time again."

For every skater who has this seemingly passive opinion of fashion's obsession with skateboarding, there's another who's annoyed — and possibly offended — by the current state of things. One New York-based skate filmer, who also asked to remain anonymous, claimed to have been contacted by Vogue to do some consulting for its "Skate Week," and came out of the meeting feeling irate. "I think Vogue is fucking dumb and knows nothing about skating, and their approach was ignorant and stupid," he said. The filmer told us that the involved staffers did little more than ask bland, generic questions about skating, making him feel as if they were "brain dead" to skateboarding and its culture as a whole. He said he suggested that the publication be careful, and not to go about its coverage in a corny way, as it would end up looking bad on them to all real skateboarders — and in the end, if reactions over social media were any indication, that's almost exactly what happened.

Photo: Imaxtree

Photo: Imaxtree

In fact, one of the brands featured in Vogue's "Skate Week" took note of its not-so-honorable mention and came back with a quick response on Instagram, posting a screenshot of the article with the caption: "Suck our vaginas @voguemagazine." (Pretty safe to say they weren't stoked on the shout-out.) Quartersnacks, a New York-based online skate magazine whose products are sold in DSM, dedicated a rebuttal post with a listicle of its own; the tongue-in-cheek "things we learned" story outlined the "hottest takes" from "Skate Week," including a list of skater models who are mastering their "flip kicks" — a butchering of the trick's actual name, kickflip — and a countdown of the "coolest hippest hottest new brands out!!!!"

Sure, skateboarding's current relationship with fashion is a rocky one. It's no secret that skateboarding is a culture vehemently opposed to posers, but it's also an industry that is currently running on fumes as far as money is concerned. If fashion wants to keep buying into the culture, there are surely going to be just as many folks who are happy to see the extra recognition and cash flow as those who want to gouge their eyes out over it. Whether anyone wants to speak up about his or her opinion it is another question: A number of professional skaters, writers and shop workers contacted for this story declined to comment on record, or opted for anonymity. There will always be the "just shut up and skate" crowd that would rather get on a board and film a line rather than get caught up in the silly "skate fashion" minutia, but for as long as there are models photographed in Thrasher hoodies, skaters will continue to debate these issues on curbs and park benches across the world — regardless of whether they want to admit it.

Homepage photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images