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Will Air Dior mark the end of luxury streetwear?

The arrival point of a journey that began in 2017 with Louis Vuitton x Supreme

Will Air Dior mark the end of luxury streetwear? The arrival point of a journey that began in 2017 with Louis Vuitton x Supreme

The term "jumping the shark" comes from the world of television seriality and specifically from an episode of the series Happy Days series in which the character Fonzie jumps over a shark using water skis – an episode universally regarded as the beginning of the inexorable decline in the quality of the series. Since then, the expression serves to indicate the pivotal moment in which any cultural manifestation continued over time reaches an insurmountable climax, beyond which it can only be declined.

On January 18, 2017, Louis Vuitton's Autumn/Winter fashion show was held in Paris for a collection designed by the then-creative director of the brand Kim Jones. The first model to open the show wore a blue suit furrowed over her chest by a red pouch with the word Supreme on it. Look after look you succeeded duffel bags, trunks, clutches, pouches, baseball shirts, denim jackets, scarves. They all wore double branding of Vuitton and Supreme - the first time an American streetwear brand was on the catwalk in Paris. That show was the unofficial birth of the luxury streetwear phenomenon.

The release that followed covered every possible item of the men's wardrobe with that double branding  and ushered in a trend that never really stopped and that saw big fashion houses enter into partnership with streetwear brands in an (successful) attempt to lower the age target of luxury consumers and, more generally, to de-age the fashion market. The tactic followed was easy to realize and was based on the great media resonance enjoyed by these collaborations and the hype that these generated in the vast streetwear community, until then remained essentially confined to their own universe of reference and separated from the world of luxury properly said.

Three years later, on 8 July 2020, the collaboration between Air Jordan and Dior will officially enter the market - a new release behind which, as in the case of Louis Vuitton x Supreme, hides the creative acumen of Kim Jones and that for its characteristics and modalities, as well as for the change of the global scenario in which it will happen, seems to be the conclusion of a cycle or, in other words, the juming of the shark for the entire luxury streetwear industry. 

Why Air Dior will be unrepeatable

In many ways, the collaboration between Air Jordan and Dior, with the huge media impact it received even before the official release and thanks to the unparalleled (and perhaps unparalleled) levels of hype that it has developed also thanks to its continuous postponements due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, constitutes the highest point reached by luxury streetwear after the release of Louis Vuitton x Supreme and, presumably, its impact will be impossible to replicate for any other brand – effectively marking the conceptual exhaustion of the trend. The reasons why the importance of this collaboration will not be replicable are the combined brand value of the companies involved, the cultural iconicity of the product at the center of the release, namely the Air Jordan I OG Dior, and also the historical moment when this collaboration arrives, that is, at a time when the trend itself is so hyper-saturated that the results of many similar collaborations have disappointed both the public and the brands. Suffice it to say that this year two of these partnerships, one between Prada and adidas and the other between Valentino and Onitsuka Tiger, have been unable to raise the expected fuss, falling into oblivion in a few weeks. The saturation of the trend was well explained months ago by Virgil Abloh's famous phrase about the death of streetwear, in which the creative director of Off-White™ and Louis Vuitton wondered how many t-shirts, how many sweatshirts and how many sneakers would still make sense to buy and own. "Its time will be up," Abloh had said, and he was right.

What will it mean for streetwear?

Another reason why the collaboration between Dior and Air Jordan marks the death of luxury streetwear is the reversal of its internal dynamics. In fact, Jones and Dior have taken all the necessary steps to completely jam the mechanism of resell – a mechanism that is the very lung of the global streetwear community, which is traditionally the system within which the perceived value of a particular product is generated and which will now find itself virtually excluded from release. Nevertheless, five million people signed up for the ruffle in the whole world.The extremely limited amount of sneakers produced (only 8,000 pairs available worldwide while another 5.000 were offered to Dior's top clients), its very high prices and the way of purchase, which provide for a substantial reversal of the dynamics of traditional consumption, with the customer who chose and authorized to buy from the brand – in short all the elements surrounding the release itself are designed to push to the most extreme point all the features that define the traditional drop sneakers signaling at the same time the successful and appropriate of the mechanisms of streetwear by the luxury market, in a context in which all historic streetwear brands have already spent their credibility in a huge series of collaborations that have diluted the element of originality. The fact that this release is the first to take place in these modes, involves two titans of their respective areas of belonging and emphasizes so much their exclusivity, gives it the importance it possesses – everything that comes after will only be a lower version, and it is therefore even more likely that the same fashion brands will not be interested in walking in the groove dug by another.

The paradox of Air Dior

Air Dior is a paradox: a sneaker release that is both completely identical to the others yet completely different and separate from the others – a sneaker release that, conceptually speaking, creates a short circuit in the hype system. The unique weight that this seems to have, however, combined with the progressive loss of bite that has characterized luxury streetwear in recent years and the definitive expulsion of the streetwear community, could suggest, therefore, that the phenomenon of Air Dior will be the final point of a path started years ago with Louis Vuitton x Supreme. And if it really will be an end point, it will not be for any of its intrinsic features, but for the fact that everything that comes next will inevitably end up in its shadow. The feeling is that luxury streetwear, already dying for a few years to tell the truth, has given everything it could give, now it can only be repeated. It then becomes important, on a symbolic level, that the same designer who opened the door, could now close it. This is not to say that there will no longer be any other collaborations between fashion and sportswear in the future, but that their relevance will be so blurred that they will become a trivial practice, not being able to match the weight, prestige and delicate marketing architecture on which Air Dior rests now.