Posted on April 24 2019
The evolution of streetwear is a fascinating one. The subgenre of casual fashion has gone through a metamorphosis over the years, with no period more eclectic and diverse than right now. OGs like Stüssy, Undefeated, and Supreme are still among some of the most recognizable brands today. Others that once reigned supreme—no pun intended—like The Hundreds, Crooks and Castles, and Diamond Supply Co., helped push streetwear into the mainstream in the late 2000s, when Fairfax Avenue was the epicenter of the culture. But there’s a new crop of brands currently pushing the needle.
Today’s definition of “streetwear” might be a little looser than before thanks to the marriage of street fashion and luxury, which has birthed brands like Fear of God, 424, and Rhude. There might be no better example of this than Virgil Abloh’s appointment as men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton or legendary street artist Kaws working with Kim Jones on design elements for his inaugural spring 2019 collection for Dior Men—two things that would have seemed unlikely a decade ago.
With the evolution of streetwear in mind, we rounded up the 15 Best American streetwear brands around today. Check out the full rundown below.
Image via Undefeated
As one of L.A.’s true streetwear OGs, there’s little to say about Undefeated that hasn’t been said. While co-founders Eddie Cruz and James Bond are well known for sneakers, their in-house line, which was launched over a decade ago, helped Undefeated become a lifestyle brand. Season after season they’ve produced streetwear basics and managed to bring as much energy to their apparel drops as their sneaker releases by partnering with the likes of Timberland, Bape, and Union on capsule collections. And the core line is more than graphic T-shirts. For example, they are currently selling a pullover and short set constructed with nylon gingham fabric, and track pants updated with pleats for a more refined look. Their offering has led to them creating a retail empire outside of L.A. with recently opened stores in Kyoto and Shanghai. The distinguishing factor for Undefeated is probably its ability to adapt and remain relevant whether that’s through entering the performance category with a popular Adidas capsule or aligning with the gaming world by creating jerseys for the New York Excelsior, New York City’s first professional eSports franchise. You need to bow down to the power of the “five strikes” for helping put L.A.streetwear on the map and remaining top of mind for consumers season to season even as it expands globally.
14. Carhartt WIP
Image via Carhartt WIP
Carhartt’s trendy streetwear sub-label Carhartt WIP (Work In Progress), which started in Europe in 1989 and expanded to North America in 2011, offers modern takes on Carhartt’s workwear staples, which have been around since the late 1800s. After Carhartt WIP opened up distribution to North America, the brand has been consistent in providing streetwear basics with subtle design details that update the pieces. The chore coat, for example, is made from a lightweight denim and features contrast stitching and a more tailored fit, while work pants are constructed with a cotton twill that’s more relaxed than Carharrt’s core pieces. Updating the clothes in a cool way is a feat, but it’s an even bigger task to build a creative community around a brand, and Carhartt WIP has managed to do that with its radio show and sponsored music activations—it’s dressed artists including Bad Bad Not Good and MorMor for their world tours. It’s been able to balance integrity and hype by working with everyone from Heron Preston, Stussy, and Nike to Fela Kuti, Comme des Garçons, and Bape.
13. Aimé Leon Dore
Image via Aimé Leon Dore
Aimé Leon Dore is a New York-based streetwear brand that’s a modern embodiment of Polo Ralph Lauren’s preppy garb filtered through ’90s hip-hop. Founded in 2014 by Teddy Santis, the label is delivering elevated sportswear pieces that are rooted in New York City culture. In a time when premium sportswear is so readily available through numerous brands, Aimé Leon Dore still manages to set itself apart with a greater focus on finer materials and intricate details that can be fully appreciated when holding the product. For example, Santis has reworked the classic Yankees cap with materials like tweed and suede and updated Timberland’s mock toe boot with a deep green Horween leather. Colorful hoodies and T-shirts with minimal embroidered branding serve as core pieces, and Santis produces more creative options like wool fisherman’s vests, corduroy jackets, and pastel color-blocked oxfords each season. All in all, Santis’ products just feel a little more luxurious than basics from your average streetwear brand. For anyone who grew up in the streetwear scene but is looking for a more mature option now that they’ve “grown out” of their favorite brands, Aimé certainly needs to be on your radar. It also boasts an impressive list of collaborative partners including Kith, New Balance, and Woolrich.
Awake is yet another New York-based label started by a former Supreme employee, Angelo Baque, who was previously the brand director before leaving the position in 2017. The similarities are there, too. Since 2012, Awake NY has dropped seasonal goods inspired by the cultural diversity of the Big Apple. The centerpiece is its basic logo T-shirt, and, as to be expected, Baque flips the logo from collection to collection. Sometimes it’s as simple as making the lettering reflective. Other times, Baque shows off his branding in a more playful way by plastering it onto a basketball or a piece of flan. Iconic women of history have also recently become a common theme in Awake’s collections, with designs showcasing Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and former First Lady Michelle Obama. The graphic T-shirt formula might be common, but Awake makes it seem fresh rather than recycled. It also helps that the projects are personal to Baque, whether it’s giving free meals to South Bronx locals while releasing a Black History Month capsule or dropping a “God Protect Robert Mueller” T-shirt in support of political justice. And Baque’s Social Studies initiative, a pop-up that combines product with educational panels and workshops, hints at a new generation of streetwear mentors who want to help the youth and not just sell to them. Awake is not currently available at many retailers, but its influential list of stockists, like Dover Street Market, Union Los Angeles, and Slam Jam, speaks volumes.
Back in 2012, young designer Rhuigi Villaseñor managed to get a paisley print T-shirt on Kendrick Lamar (before he was that Kendrick Lamar). Shortly after that, Rhude amassed a cult following for its distinct yet comfortable pieces, but it might have experienced its most significant rise in 2018. The West Coast brand, which takes large inspiration from vintage styles, can be seen on everyone from Ben Simmons to Future these days. Its T-shirts are emblazoned with bold graphics like screaming eagles and unicorns, while other options show off a classic streetwear go-to, logo flips of iconic branding like Marlboro and Honda Racing. Aside from the graphics, Villaseñor has also introduced the Traxedo pant, the brand’s signature garment that fuses the casual appeal of a track pant with the more dressed-up look of a traditional tuxedo pant. Villaseñor said it best in a 2017 interview with Complex: “I’m about to take over the world.” With an upcoming collaboration with Vans and expansions into women’s and footwear, he might be right.
Guillermo Andrade, who opened his 424 Los Angeles boutique in 2010, is one of the designers expanding what streetwear can be. With his shop, which is stocked with brands including Helmut Lang, Greg Lauren, and Henrik Vibskov, he helped bring luxury and craftsmanship to Fairfax Avenue, which is known for stores that mostly sell graphic T-shirts, sneakers, and hoodies. Andrade, who has no formal design training, first started making sneaker crowns, tiny pendants inspired by cufflinks that adorn sneakers. This offered a glimpse of Andrade as an innovator with an acute attention to detail. Those accessories developed into a 424 jewelry collection and finally an apparel brand that launched in 2014. From the start Andrade, an immigrant from Guatemala who was raised in the Bay Area, has used his personal experiences to inform the line. This is typical in fashion, but Andrade tells deep, nuanced stories with eye catching designs and graphics. The red 424 armband, for example, represents police brutality, while Google Maps graphics used in his first collection marked the places Andrade wanted to go outside of the U.S. once he got his citizenship. These pieces resonate with fans including Kendrick Lamar and YG—who performed in front of 424 on top of a car with Big Sean—and high end retailers. 424 is currently stocked at shops including Barneys New York and Selfridges. Each season Andrade pushes himself to better the collection and move into new categories like suiting, work with new fabrics, or scale up on his footwear production. But even as the line evolves, Andrade remains rooted in the community he’s fostered in L.A., where he makes a lot of his collection and collaborates with smaller lines like Born x Raised and bigger companies like Hummel, a traditional sportswear brand.
In its infancy, GOLF acted as a merch line of sorts for a young Tyler, the Creator and his Odd Future crew when their influence infiltrated the legendary Fairfax Avenue in the early 2010s. Known for its bright colors, cat logos, and sometimes controversial graphics, Tyler’s early clothing reflected him: an off-the-wall, cockroach-eating teenager who captured the rap community’s attention back in 2011. As his music transitioned to a more mature space with his 2017 album Flower Boy, GOLF evolved with it but remained very authentic to Tyler. The bright colors and playful graphics are still present, but have been dialed down and improved upon. Collections have also grown to include cut-and-sew pieces like cardigans, corduroy jackets, and floral-covered puffers. Given that, it would be a disservice to simply consider GOLF a merch line at this point. Tyler is doing more than cranking out his name and face screen-printed on blank T-shirts. His partnership with Converse, which features the vibrant Golf Le Fleur sneakers, his take on the One Star, has also helped cement the line as a bona fide brand whose drops attract lines outside of its Fairfax Avenue store in Los Angeles and usually sell out.
Noah, the brainchild of former Supreme creative director Brendon Babenzien, was originally founded in 2002 before it shuttered only five years later. Since making a comeback in 2015, following Babenzien’s departure from the box logo’d empire, Noah has remained at the forefront of New York streetwear. The brand focuses on niche areas of skate and surf culture, with its fair share of graphic T-shirts and hoodies, but blends these more casual offerings with traditional menswear pieces like rugby shirts and merino wool sweaters.
In the trying political climate of today, Noah is known for making statements and being transparent about its business practices. Taking a stance is ingrained into the fabric of streetwear, but there is arguably no brand doing it more consistently than Noah, or with such vigor. Special capsules have shed an important light on everything from forest fire prevention to human rights, with proceeds being donated to various nonprofits, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Henry Street Settlement, an agency in the Lower East Side that provides social services to New Yorkers of all ages. How serious is Babenzien about his views? Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, he offered full refunds to Trump supporters who didn’t agree with the brand’s political leanings. Customers might come to Noah for some new threads, but they should always be prepared to support a little something extra in the process.
We don’t know much Cynthia Lu, the founder of Cactus Plant Flea Market, because Lu, a former Complex intern who worked with Pharrell Williams on Billionaire Girls Club and i am OTHER, has kept a very low profile. But from the looks of her weird and trippy line, we get the sense that Lu has a unique perspective, which is always welcome in streetwear. Lu makes T-shirts and hoodies featuring bold puff print lettering, melting smiley face logos, off kilter placements and large embroidery that distinguishes her pieces from other lines. These psychedelic and unconventional graphics have appealed to some of the most influential men in style, including A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, Kanye West, and of course Skateboard P. Lu even produced merch for Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s 2018 collaborative album, Kids See Ghosts—a hoodie from the collection that retailed for $175 last sold on Stockx for $405. The popularity of the busy designs has led to collaborations with Human Made, Stussy, and Nike. Lu has designed her own version of the Air VaporMax 2019 and covered it in CPFM signatures including a smiley face and “Just Do It” splashed across the shoe in her typical font of choice. Her aesthetic has helped make trippy, tie-dye-infused design language trendy, a space also occupied by other brands like Advisory Board Crystals and Online Ceramics. To this point, the product has remained elusive to some because it’s released in very small bursts and sells out quickly, but it’s certainly worth keeping up with if abstract, rare styles pique your interest.
While Supreme has taken the mantle as the biggest and most notorious American streetwear brand, it wouldn’t have anything without the innovation and foresight of Shawn Stussy. As ’90s contemporaries like Mossimo came and went, Stussy stayed the course, with the brand’s earlier days focusing on keeping tight control on product—using a retail mentality akin to Supreme’s current model. As the brand grew slowly over the decades, it became a blueprint for how to operate a massive business, while still maintaining its roots. Collections always include Stussy graphic T-shirts alongside paisley coach jackets and tie-dye fleece pullovers. This has led to collaborations with some of the best retailers, including Très Bien, Slam Jam, and Dover Street Market. Stussy also continues to make noise with clever initiatives, whether that be opening a store full of archival product in Santa Ana, California, or releasing bomber jackets and T-shirts modeled after the popular but short-lived Issey Sport line; a subbrand of Issey Miyake. Stussy defined streetwear well before it was ever an industry. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Ronnie Fieg has been cautious with how he’s built Kith. He started out by collaborating with off-the-radar brands like Asics and New Balance on limited edition sneakers that he sold out of David Z, the New York City sneaker chain where he worked from at 13 as a stock boy to his late 20s as head buyer. He broke out on his own in a big way with Kith retail stores in 2011, one in Brooklyn and one in Soho that were both attached to Atrium flagships. His apparel line began with a few pairs of “Mercer” jogger pants, but he’s steadily built the collection to be a full fledged assortment that focuses on high quality basics that are on-trend but classic. A denim bomber, for example, is lined with a Morrocan printed fabric and features a removable chest pocket, and parkas are made from Italian sheepskin. As the line has grown, so has Kith’s network of stores that sell labels like Fear of God, Off-White, and Acronym and also feature Kith Treats, an ice cream and cereal concept. The formula has been so successful that other high end retailers including Fred Segal in Los Angeles, Hirshleifers in Manhasset, New York, and Selfridges in London have adopted it and opened Kith shop-in-shops.
John Elliott is another brand offering a new take on streetwear. Rather than plaster his pieces with bold graphics and logos like traditional streetwear brands, this eponymous line based out of Los Angeles is providing well executed takes on essentials like hoodies and sweats. Consider it a sportswear line heavily influenced by streetwear. The brand’s Villain hoodie is one of its popular designs: a classic hooded sweatshirt with zippers running up each side that’s perfect for layering. Its tailored sweatpants were another revelation that made it possible to walk around in comfort without looking like a lazy slob. Japanese-sourced custom denim is another signature offering from the brand that has been around since day one. But at its core, John Elliott is still the go-to option for a premium take on the “cozy boy” aesthetic that’s enhanced through his use of textiles. Hoodies and sweats are constructed from heavyweight French terry fabric with durability in mind. Other pieces feature Japanese sashiko stitching and treatments like sun bleaching. Elliott always goes the extra mile with his details that propel his pieces above your run-of-the-mill fleece garments. The brand’s collections have remained consistent from season to season, catching the eye of LeBron James, a big supporter who has tapped Elliott to design an original Nike Icon sneaker silhouette that debuted last year—Elliott used to mail sneaker sketches to Nike’s Portland headquarters as a kid. A co-sign from one of the biggest athletes on the planet indicates you’re doing something right.
Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God has been at the forefront of merging streetwear with luxury. Lorenzo is adept at understanding what the streetwear consumer wants but also giving them something they didn’t know existed. He creates new silhouettes and details that are frequently flipped and copied. For example, boxy-fit T-shirts, track pants with long drawstrings, and denim embellished with zippers at the hem are all but guaranteed to be spotted at the nearest fast-fashion retailer. Fear of God’s designs exemplify streetwear’s signature style at the moment.
Lorenzo, who is heavily influenced by vintage, also helped start the band T-shirt trend a few years ago, before it was beaten into the ground. He began to stamp his branding on Metallica and Nirvana T-shirts from the ’80s and ’90s and sold them on eBay to help raise money for his father’s charity, the Jerry Manuel Foundation, back in 2015. The T-shirts, and this aesthetic, would become yet another signature garment in the Fear of God catalog that heavily impacted the market. The brand’s list of supporters is just as impressive as its influence: JAY-Z, Kendrick Lamar, the Migos, and Justin Bieber, to whom Lorenzo gave a legitimate fashion voice when he worked with him on Purpose World Tour merch. Nike understood Lorenzo’s influence and lent him the rare opportunity to not just update a sneaker colorway, but design his own original Nike basketball sneaker and apparel collection, released in late 2018.
If there is one brand to consider the face of modern-day streetwear, it has to be Virgil Abloh’s Off-White. Founded in 2013, Off-White was the Chicago-born renaissance man’s more formal follow-up to Pyrex Vision, a brand championed by the likes of Kanye West and Travis Scott that infamously flipped Ralph Lauren flannels with trademark designs for an exorbitant markup. With Off-White Abloh has created recognizable graphics including X-shaped crossing arrows, a construction-inspired diagonal line pattern, and ironic Helvetica “BRANDING.” Its black and yellow Industrial Belt has also become one of the hottest accessories on the market. The pricey graphic T-shirts and hoodies are the brand’s most popular offerings, but for Abloh, the point of Off-White is to sit in between streetwear and luxury and he’s brought his aesthetic to more traditional menswear pieces. At his fall 2019 show, for example, he presented oversized blazers with labels sewn onto the sleeve that were paired with baggy, stone wash jeans. Abloh, who has said he’s not a designer, understands what customers from both the streetwear and luxury worlds want and applies that to his collections. His efforts have helped broaden streetwear’s reach over the last few years and bring it into spaces it’s never been. Abloh was nominated for the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year in 2018 and 2019, and took home the British Council of Fashion’s Urban Luxe award in 2018. He’s also become a presence in the art world, holding shows with Takashi Murakami at the Gagosian in Los Angeles and working with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on a retrospective of his work that’s set to open this July.
Larger brands have taken notice. Nike commissioned Abloh to design the “The Ten” collection, a very successful sneaker collaboration that reimagined 10 different silhouettes from the brand’s archive. Since that assortment debuted in late 2017, its design language has been seen all over the sneaker world and the shoes still command high resale values. His take on the Chicago Jordan 1s, which retailed for $160 and dropped in 2017, recently sold for around $3,200 on StockX. All of this culminated with his appointment as men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton in 2018, where he’s made a big splash with elaborate, highly produced runway shows, statement-making accessories, and some beautifully made clothing athletes and artists can’t get enough of. He’s taken full advantage of the LVMH resources and we’re sure he’ll use some of those learnings to make Off-White even better.
There are a lot of brands that, if not included here, would cause a public outcry (perhaps there’s an omission that’s inspired that vitriol, regardless). But not having Supreme on a list of the greatest American streetwear brands? That would be a travesty.
It’s not the originator of the style, but when you’re trying to define what a streetwear brand is (and what it could be), NYC’s Supreme is the template. The brand makes sellout collections season after season, each with new ideas or reworked concepts inspired by everything from politics and music to high and low art. Outside of Nike and Jordan, it’s a brand that’s almost single-handedly created and fostered the online reselling culture that’s so pervasive today. Supreme has become all about hype, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t creating good product. The spring 2019 collection features a D-ring trench coat, a leather blazer, and a silk shirt covered in a Guadalupe pattern. This is interspersed with covetable collaborations with The North Face, Stone Island, and unexpected novelty items like a hand-painted porcelain cupid made by Meissen.
As streetwear infiltrates more layers of the fashion industry, the box logo is more prevalent than ever before…and it’s only getting bigger. Supreme’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton, which led to founder James Jebbia winning a CFDA Men’s Designer of the Year Award in 2018, was a pinnacle moment for streetwear, and the brand recently dabbled in the luxury world again with a Jean Paul Gaultier capsule. And that’s not to mention lines on this list including Awake, Noah, and Undefeated that were founded by Supreme alumni. In 2017, the brand solidified its status as a powerhouse label when it was valued at a billion dollars after the Carlyle Group reportedly purchased 50 percent of the company for $500 million. Love it or hate it, Supreme's here to stay—get used to it.