Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Kanye West and Sully-Wong: Changing the Urban Fashion Industry

The urban fashion industry has been incredibly successful in penetrating outside of its market in recent years (especially in Toronto). With the increase in quality of design, and a major push by celebrities and artists showcasing smaller labels we have adapted to our icons on our own streets, but has the line been blurred between what’s defined as “urban dress” and what’s just trending because of these factors? Have we come to a point where High Fashion and Urban street style have finally come hand in hand. Things are changing in the industry and lets find out why!

It's unarguable that the influence of style from the Hip-Hop community is big, and has been since the early 80’s. When Run DMC was rocking Adidas tracksuits and thick gold chains, to Salt-N-Peppa rocking bright colours and skinny jeans. The community was able to stand out with its music and mostly its style. Given the opportunity to talk with Canadian designer George Sullivan of Sully-Wong, respectably one of Canada’s leading urban designers working in with shoes and accessories, he has come a long way and has had his eye on this industry for many years. So one could say the least, he is an expert in this field. He, and his partner Henry Wong (hence, Sully-Wong) have managed to take the typical urban sneaker and turn it into something that even a “suit” could wear…. To work!  
(Karim Rashid for Sully-Wong)

           This dynamic duo is a powerhouse of innovation and marketing. They have done collaborations with Karim Rashid, who's prints essentially put the brand on the map and blew them up in Japan where they do a tremendous amount of business, Vitaly, and Amanda Lew-Kee. One of the more exciting collaborations was the recent one for TIFF in which Ciroc (which is owned by Sean “P-Diddy” Combs) had Sully-Wong create a shoe for the launch of the vodka in Canada. This is a big win for the team, to have one of the urban wear Guru’s collaborate with them for one of his brands. The Sean John empire is one to be reckoned with. Although, when I asked George if he felt like the urban Guru’s like FUBU, Phat Farm and Sean Jean still have a major impact on the current designers that are designing for the urban market his response was,                 
Sully-Wong for Ciroc
 “Not sure if they impact the industry from a day to day trend perspective as much as they have set the course for all wannabe successful brands to follow, and that says it all, in respects to their relevancy and accomplishments. They created a master template to follow, making it easier to navigate an ever shifting industry.“

And a path they made is one that has been followed but there has been a major shift in style. It seems as though there is a more smooth transition between what’s on the runway at Fashion Week and what’s in the closets of some of Toronto’s street kids. Now is this smooth transition something that’s so sought out? George seems to think so. With the influence of Kanye West, as George said,

“Love him or hate him, Kanye West has single handedly flipped the fashion world on its head.”

Kanye is a perfect example of how urban style has transitioned its way in to a harmonious love with High Fashion. Not only have we watched the evolution of Kanye West style change from what would be called “gangster” to “urban chic” it has been an amazing transition which is also why his own line Yeezy which has been a major hit where this sort of Urban bum wearing $600 duck boots looks dope. [1] Kanye has continued to defend his controversial sportswear collection. Why? (Kanye says) Because “sweatshirts are f**king important.”

            Even prior to Kanye starting the line he has his foot way in the door, and not just because he was privileged with the means to do so, but because he was eager to learn the ins and the outs. Which is part of why his music career was such a huge success. [2] Kanye spent ample time researching and learning from the best of the best in the Fashion business. He Moved for Rome to intern for Fendi for four months and also claims he snuck in to Giuseppe Zanotti’s factory and learned to make shoes. The craftiness was necessary not because of how successful he was, but partially because of his contract with Louis Vuitton. Kanye dropped a capsule collection of sneakers in 2009. The all-red "Louis Vuitton Don" sneaker became a cultivated classic, and immediately linked the bold color way with Kanye West. Five years ago the amount of rap fans buying Givenchy or Alexander Wang was slim to none. [3]“Now, gothic-inspired graphics and minimal, dark hoodies run rampant on Instagram and Tumblr—often alongside rap lyrics. West’s penchant for luxury brand and avant-garde designers paved the way for guys like A$AP Rocky”

            Now for our fellow Canadian George, he has his finger on the pulse. More collaborations are to come in the future for the Sully-Wong brand and the urban style scene is only getting more and more popular by the day, especially in Toronto. With stores like Untitled & Co, Get Fresh and Community 54 showcasing the best of the best, the urban closet will never be dull. One word of advice from George to those trying to step into the market,

“New brands often make the mistake of promoting something they don’t have much of, Plan ahead make sure you can deliver!”

[1] http://hollywoodlife.com/2015/09/24/kanye-west-defends-clothing-line-yeezy-2-fashion-sweatshirts/
[2] http://www.gq.com/story/5-reasons-the-fashion-industry-should-take-kanye-west-seriously
[3] http://www.gq.com/story/5-reasons-the-fashion-industry-should-take-kanye-west-seriously

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