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A History of Streetwear

Wondering where it all began, we consulted Highsnobiety’s The Incomplete Guide to Street Fashion and Culture and found there’s more to a signature than meets the eye

Words by Jian DeLeon from The Incomplete Highsnobiety Guide to Street Fashion and Culture (Gestalten) available now

‘Around the time that New York sneaker culture was in its infancy, Shawn Stussy was developing a reputation on the West Coast as a talented surfboard shaper with a penchant for punk and new wave-inspired graphics. His uncle, fine artist Jan Stüssy, was known for signing his works with a signature reminiscent of graffiti hand-styles. So Shawn Stussy began putting his own signature on his boards, and eventually began putting it on a series of graphic T-shirts.

Partnering with Certified Public Accountant Frank Sinatra Jr., the two started the Stüssy clothing line in 1980. For years, the two kept their day jobs as they tried to get the brand off the ground. What they offered was
an alternative to the day-glo surf brands of the era, opting for dark primary-colored staples, like beach pants with an elasticated waist and button-down flannel shirts inspired by vintage offerings from JC Penney.

…Since its inception, Stüssy was very discerning about the stores that carried it. There were concerns about the brand getting too big, and losing the authenticity it was founded upon. What the brand realized early on was that skaters, graffiti artists, DJs, and other cultural progenitors were keenly aware of high fashion brands like Chanel, Gucci, and COMME des GARCONS, but noticed the divide between how those labels spoke to a monied consumer versus one that was culturally rich instead. Its clothes helped cross the barrier between the cognoscenti aware of luxury brands and the casual sportswear they naturally gravitated towards.

‘Its clothes helped cross the barrier between the cognoscenti aware of luxury brands and the casual sportswear they naturally gravitated towards.

Eventually, UNION began carrying Stüssy, where it was an instant hit. In fact, it was so successful that Jebbia and Fusco took their first trip to Los Angeles to convince the brand they should open a flagship store in New York City. The two stayed at the Chateau Marmont, where they happened to run into Robert “3D” Del Naja and Andy “Mushroom” Vowles of British trip-hop group Massive Attack. They expressed that they were in town to talk to the Stüssy crew, and the musicians were very aware of the up-and-coming label, and happened to be fans. Stüssy opened its first flagship store in 1990, around the corner from UNION.

Stüssy’s global influence boils down to one moment: The foundation of the International Stüssy Tribe. As the brand got more successful, it afforded Shawn Stussy the opportunity to travel the world. He met a ton of like-minded creatives, like Hiroshi Fujiwara in Tokyo and Michael Kopelman in London. Through these associations, the global streetwear community was established, and the kind of club-friendly casual gear that Stüssy made proliferated around the world, and inspired global tastemakers to start brands of their own.

In the middle of the ‘90s, Shawn Stussy left the company he started due to a combination of creative differences and a desire to go back to a simpler life. James Jebbia struck out on his own soon after, founding Supreme in 1994.’ EJ