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Style Notes: Observing Streetwear Culture With Byron Hawes

Style Notes: Observing Streetwear Culture With Byron Hawes

Byron Hawes is a New York-based writer, designer and streetwear aficionado who contributes regularly to Hypebeast. He’s just launched Drop, a photography book documenting streetwear culture and the hype it engenders in its devotees. At a time when attention spans have been reduced to a one second Instagram scroll time, new releases mean we’ll happily spend seven hours queuing on a grey pavement just to get our hands on the latest gear. The drop queue is testament to the power of hype, and that is exactly what Hawes has captured. He took to the streets of London, Paris, LA, New York and Tokyo with a crew of photographers to shoot the ‘drop’ queue phenomenon and the result is an ultra-cool record of a scene populated by hypebeasts and defined by tribal brand affiliations and limited supply. Queues may seem like a pretty niche subject, but as Hawes notes, the proliferation of streetwear culture and the multi-billion dollar revenue that the industry generates globally mean it’s a crucial feature of the youth and fashion zeitgeist. We caught up with Hawes to find out more.

Drop is available from Powerhouse Books

A photograh from Drop by Byron Hawes of a man wearing a Supreme balaclava and jacket in a streetwear queue
A photograh from Drop by Byron Hawes of a man wearing a Supreme balaclava and jacket in a streetwear queue

For those that don’t know, tell us what Drop is about.

Drop is essentially a photographic exploration of streetwear ‘drop’ culture. We shot product launches and events across the globe, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and more, from brands including Off-White, Supreme, A Bathing Ape, Patta, Yeezy, Anti Social Social Club, Vetements, and others.

Why did you choose drop culture as your subject?

It actually started as a casual conversation with a homie from Adidas. We were walking down Lafayette looking for a drink, passing the queue at ‘preme, and started talking about drop culture. An hour later I shot a cold-call pitch to Powerhouse (publishing), and they responded within 20 minutes.

There is an entire culture surrounding these launches, or ‘drops’. Streetwear aficionados travel intercontinentally to attend them, almost like concerts, and wear their rarest shoes and gear, flexing for each other while chatting, comparing, and hoping to cop one-time only limited pieces. Kids rock grails and geek out, like an OG subreddit come to life. These lines comprise some of the most interesting fashion events in the world, and are fast becoming streetwear’s equivalent of the fashion shows that haute ateliers host each year at fashion weeks in Paris, New York, Milan, and beyond.

What interests you about streetwear?

I went to high school in Tokyo twenty years ago, at a time and place when the blend between street and high fashion was already taking place, a good ten years before the rest of the world really caught on. Walking around Aoyama you could already see that blend of high and street; 20 year old dudes wearing Dunks and their mom’s 1970s LV crossbody. These days, for better or worse, there is no real distinction between high fashion and street fashion, bar some of the proto-conceptualist designers.

How was the book shot?

I shoot, and have had photos in a variety of media outlets, but I don’t think I put a single shot of my own in this book. I worked with a bunch of photographers from across the globe, who are regulars in publications including Hypebeast, HighSnobiety, Vanity Fair, and Vogue China. I went on, and directed, a large percentage of the shoots, but on this project I’m more like the author or director than the actual photographer.

A photograh from Drop by Byron Hawes of two men in streetwear

Can you remember the first photographs of streetwear culture you ever took?

The first serious one I can recall was these two Japanese kids at a gallery opening in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district ages ago, well before it became gentri-hip. They were on some Kid N Play House Party Avant Garde. Each wearing one of one pair of AF1s in white with black laces, and one of another pair in black with white laces, with mechanics jumpsuits rolled down to the waist and different Supreme bogo hoodies. Sounds like it shouldn’t work, but at the time it felt like a revolution.

When did you first begin to notice that the barriers between streetwear and luxury were being broken down?

I touched on that earlier, with regards to Japan, but obviously the OG of street meets luxe is Dapper Dan. Ironic, since at the time Gucci issued him a cease-and-desist. Now they pay him. I never really thrilled to the battle between the high and low; so the delineation between various ‘types’ of fashion doesn’t, strictly speaking, make sense to me.

What do you make of the hype surrounding Virgil Abloh’s Off-White and his appointment to Louis Vuitton?

It remains to be seen how that translates, but I think it should be incredibly interesting. Culture shifts so quickly these days, and the big houses, like everyone else, are just trying to keep up. Whether you personally like Virgil’s output or not, it’s impossible to argue with the fact that he has a voice that resonates with a significant group of people.

Why do you think Kanye West’s Yeezy inspires such devotion in its fans? What’s its streetwear appeal?

I get asked that specific question literally every couple of days. The Yeezy’s slavish devotion is more of a testament to Ye himself, and to an extraordinary marketing strategy and understanding of the supply and demand of this industry, than of the products themselves. Objectively, most Yeezys are not attractive, from a design perspective. But they’ve got a zeitgeist factor that can’t be impugned. I’ve literally heard kids in NYC poking each other and saying ‘Yeezy Alert’ when someone is walking by wearing them.

There is a picture of a man wearing a Stone Island sweatshirt on page six – can you tell us a bit about that shot?

That’s a Vetements launch in Seoul, South Korea. I actually really loved that juxtaposition; the über highbrow, conceptual brand pop-up launch, and that dude in a butter plain crewneck sweatshirt. Just unflappable. There’s just something so purely indifferent and anti-fashion about him that, considering where he is at the time, I find priceless. Context is always king.

A photograh from Drop by Byron Hawes of people queueing in a streetwear drop queue in the rain
A photograh from Drop by Byron Hawes of a pair of Yeezy boots

All images: Courtesy of Byron Hawes