The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. All shortlists are chosen by the in-house editorial staff at Highsnobiety, with the final result left up to you, the readers.
For every vote you cast in this year’s Highsnobiety Crowns you have the chance to win a $2,000 shopping spree courtesy of luxury shopping destination MATCHESFASHION.COM. The full list of results will be published just before Christmas.
Browse all the categories right here, or scroll down to read the entire shortlist for the best breakthrough brand of 2016.
When you’re done, take a look at last year’s results.
In 2016, the presence of A$AP Bari and VLONE were felt more than years prior. While close followers of the young lord will be familiar with the brand, which for a time was limited to friends and family amongst the A$AP Mob, VLONE made some substantial moves this year, venturing into retail and foraying into the print world, also appearing in Highsnobiety Magazine Issue 13. Summarising the brand, Bari noted “A broad statement for me to generalize everything would be just “you live alone, you die alone.” That’s it. I think it’s simple.”
The label is supported by Bari’s longtime colleague A$AP Rocky and Canadian-born actor and celebrity Edison Chen, who is also a fixture in the Hong Kong scene. In September, VLONE partnered with Italian mainstay Slam Jam to create a pop-up in Milan, marking one of the first occasions that that brand was for sale at retail, then bringing VLONE to Art Basel Miami for a subsequent pop-up. Finally, after substantial teasing, Bari’s collaborative Nike Air Force 1 saw a release in very limited numbers, paying homage to Bari’s uptown upbringing in Harlem.
We’ve learned a lot more about Samuel Ross’ conceptual menswear brand A-COLD-WALL* over the past 12 months. After graduating from university with a degree in graphic design and illustration, he began working as a freelancer, even crossing paths with Virgil Abloh, with whom he worked for some months. Today, London-based Ross draws from product design, graphic design, art direction and audio-visual media, constantly pushing the parameters of fashion, and finding new ways to communicate his ideas. Mixing influences from sportswear and workwear with experimental tailoring, A-COLD-WALL*’s futuristic vision of streetwear deserves recognition because it stands for something that goes deeper than fashion.
Earlier in the summer, A-COLD-WALL* presented an impactful installation at Copenhagen Fashion Week, which included juxtaposed furniture and clothing from the brand’s “Summary” collection. Ross also participated as a mentor in the Streetwear: Mastered program, sermonizing on creative direction and sharing his experience with building a brand
Headed up by DONDA affiliate Matthew Williams, who previously worked with the likes of Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Alexander McQueen, Alyx Studio was more of a self-contained mission statement prior to this year, when the brand truly surfaced at the retail level and started to garner wider attention. Alyx has developed a reputation for its statement pieces, and products like the Moto boot and Rollercoaster belt have nicely illustrated Williams’ fascination with translating utilitarian products into the world of fashion. For FW16, the brand juxtaposed its niche designs against the commercial backdrop of Times Square, for a slightly unsettling, 360-degree, interactive video. More recently, Alyx unveiled a partnership with Hiroshi Fujiwara’s fragment design, which included a range of more accessible menswear pieces like T-shirts and button-ups.
Widespread celebrity support for Alyx saw the brand’s products on the backs of model Luka Sabbat, Korean pop star CL, and even Edison Chen who donned an Alyx Studio x Shin Murayama face mask on the cover of Highsnobiety Magazine Issue 13. Another to acknowledge Williams in 2016 was fashion conglomerate LVMH, who shortlisted Alyx for the prestigious LVMH Prize.
Polish fashion label MISBHV was catapulted into the mainstream in 2016, with considerable help from famous faces like Rihanna, A$AP Rocky and Kylie Jenner. In years previous, the label’s edgy designs were more restricted to limited T-shirts worn by Warsaw’s circle of cool kids, but celebrity co-signs and Instagram shout-outs took helped MISBHV resonate well outside of a European audience. But the brand’s SS17 “Object of Desire” New York Fashion Week debut may have been the biggest stepping stone of the year, when MISBHV used an interdisciplinary presentation using visuals, scent and sound to show that the Polish imprint is about far more than just clothing.
A number of the brand’s key pieces also played into a familiar formula that entails the use of orange and gothic font (notably the “Hardcore” FW16 top pictured above), which was by no means started by MISHBV, but championed to great effect by founders and owner Natalia Maczek and creative director Thomas Wirski. 2016 also saw MISHBV continue its foray into swimwear and debut a womenswear collection at NYFW.
Anti Social Social Club
Anti Social Social Club is perhaps the best example of a clothing brand that lived and thrived on social media before becoming a veritable force in streetwear. Although the label’s timeline started on the web, founder Neek Lurk used careful product placement, seeding and low-key marketing to steadily stoke the embers, eventually turning the label into a huge streetwear signifier on Instagram.
One could argue Anti Social Social Club’s ascent over 2016 can be tracked in tandem with the rise of the dad cap, an early product which would go on to become a signature product for the brand. Hoodies, T-shirts and coach jackets came later – even an Air Force 1 collaboration and partnership with mastermind JAPAN – all of which flew off shelves without fail. Although Neek is no newcomer to the industry – having worn important hats for brands like Stussy and Undefeated – it’s doubtful even he predicted the brand being successful in such a major way.
Brendon Babenzien’s menswear imprint Noah could be best described as a streetwear brand for adults, which is also quite telling of Brendon’s trajectory through the industry, starting with Supreme at a younger age and growing as the culture did. More than anything, the label is a reflection of Babenzien’s upbringing, underpinned by years of skate culture with nautical themes mixed in as a nod to his childhood in Long Island, New York. Clever graphics as well as carefully picked fabrics and silhouettes are the foundation for Noah’s intelligent collections, which have resonated with younger fans as well as with the growing number of streetwear dads out there.
Late last year, Babenzien opened up a new York City storefront on Mulberry Street, which likely helped propel the brand to a strong start in 2016, a year which saw Noah fill a pop-up at Dover Street Market London and make a daring push for the return of the boat shoe.
Hailing from Korea, fashion brand Ader Error is one of the biggest up-and-comers in the Asian fashion community. Flip through an Ader Error lookbook and you’ll immediately recognize hallmark characteristics that typically revolve around vibrant color palettes and lovably geeky basics like sweatshirts and hoodies, but interpreted in a new, more playful way. “Ader” is said to derive from the Korean pronunciation of “other,” in a small way explaining the brand’s offbeat approach to design. Many critics drew comparisons between Ader and Vetements for their common approach to deconstructing and customizing denim.
Many of Ader Error’s gender neutral products will evoke the notion of a stylish primary schooler who finesses nerdy striped sweaters and awkward-fitting light-wash jeans into a statement outfit. In fact if you’re a close follower of Highsnobiety’s fashion week content, it’s likely you spotted the “Your Life is a Joke” socks without knowing they were by Ader Error. Funnily enough, the brand’s inner circle is still mostly a secret, operated by an anonymous group of Seoul-based friends, but nonetheless this is a brand to expect big things from in the future.
Few emerging labels exemplify streetwear’s current obsession with punk aesthetics better than Midnight Studios. But this isn’t the same punk rock known by The Ramones or the Sex Pistols, rather founder Shane Gonzales is more subtle in the way he manifests punk spirit within the brand. Punk ideals are conveyed in a more streetwear-centric way, through lyric-inspired slogans and logos, while thoughtful punk and anti-mainstream messages like stripes and bondage straps further punctuate the contemplative, yet dark and rebellious apparel.
Working with Virgil Abloh and OFF-WHITE, Los Angeles-based Midnight Studios brought us what was perhaps the best example of the Frankenstein T-shirt trend in their “Glitter” editorial, which showed a range of deconstructed cut and sew T-shirts and hoodies, a trend that was duplicated by many others through the year.
Although Faith Connexion was founded in the early 2000s, it wasn’t until more recent times that the brand truly hit on something. As part of a strategic rebirth around a year and a half ago, the brand’s stores were shuttered, its creative team replaced with Balmain alumni (former artistic director Christophe Decarnin sits at the helm), and the decision seems to have paid off. Far from a conventional luxury brand, Faith Connexion harnesses an attitude informed by rock’n’roll, graffiti, sportswear and vintage clothing, adhering to the belief that fashion belongs first and foremost to the streets.
Actively disrupting the business of fashion, the label is also allowing retailers and stockists to order inventory from a mobile app, and when a purchase is made, the sold item is pulled from the Faith Connexion warehouse and shipped in the boutique’s packaging. Faith Connexion is also one of a few brands that is stepping away from seasonal collections, with the aim of constantly creating new designs, rather than being limited to Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter.
Faith Connexion showed off a number of its best rockstar-appropriate silhouettes in a SS17 editorial featuring Vic Mensa and Tommy Genesis.
Occupying the space between post-punk influence, comic aesthetics, skateboarding and Los Angeles subculture, Brain Dead was founded by Kyle Ng and Ed Davis in 2014. Informed these varied interests, Ng and Davis describe the label as more of an art collective than strictly an apparel brand. The graphic-heavy garments are first and foremost an outlet to express ideas, a process whereby the journey is more important for Kyle and Ed than the destination. In 2016, Brain Dead launched their own record label, which was accompanied by a capsule collection designed around the imprint’s roster of musicians.
In general, Brain Dead is a great reminder that success in streetwear comes to original brands telling an authentic story that was lived by its founders, rather than those who emulate existing trends.
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