Dec 9, 2021
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Sneakerhead Tonton Gibs takes on street style: 'Kanye West brought streetwear to the luxury scene'

Dec 9, 2021

After "Cultissimes Sneakers" in 2020, the French sneakerhead and YouTuber Tonton Gibs shares his passion for urban fashion in a new book called "Street Style."

In it, he traces the evolution of a style that has gone from the street to the catwalks of the biggest luxury labels in the space of just four decades. The book delves into the origins of streetwear, its different styles around the world, and looks at the key figures of urban fashion. ETX Studio caught up with Tonton Gibs to find out more.

Tonton Gibs - AFP

After sneakers, you're now tackling street style in a broader sense. What motivated you to write this book?
It's simply a complement to the book about sneakers. One inevitably goes with the other, so it was a logical continuation. The package is now complete.

To whom or what can we attribute the emergence of street style in the '80s?
It's mainly down to hip-hop, B-Boys, the street dancers in New York, but it's also directly related to brands. It really started with the band Run-DMC and the famous million dollar deal with Adidas. It was the first time that a brand signed artists, not athletes. We went from sportswear to lifestyle. People were walking around in tracksuits and sneakers, whereas before these were clothes only worn by sportspeople.  

You talk about B-Boy style and the East Coast and West Coast styles in the United States. Then, when it comes to France, you talk about the 'caillera' style associated with troublemakers from the country's tough neighborhoods. Does that mean that street style was frowned upon there?
Urban fashion comes essentially from the working class neighborhoods, whether in France or in the United States. And the baggy pants of New York are in a way the Lacoste tracksuits of France, even if a lot of French people also dressed in baggy pants because they followed the American wave. So I see the parallel more in that way. But for me, it's not seen negatively at all. I allow myself to use this term because I knew this era, I also come from those neighborhoods, and I precisely had this slightly 'caillera' phase. It's a word that doesn't bother me, it's normal. Today, the 'caillera' style has become a fully-fledged retro style. There was a time when most people thought it was awful, and nowadays, when you see someone in the street wearing a tracksuit and a pair of TNs, you think it's a legit retro style. It's kind of funny to see how things have evolved, and to think that even the 'caillera' style left its mark on its time.

How did we go, in 40 years, from a style with pejorative connotations to a style that people now can't get enough of, even on Fashion Week runways?
At the time, there were niches, you had to read the specialist press, follow the American clothing catalogs, etc. to call yourself a connoisseur. The arrival of social networks has turned everything upside down because today, everyone, in the four corners of the globe, has access to absolutely everything, visually. We see all the styles of all the countries, we can follow people everywhere in the world, and so we have something more heterogeneous. There are no more borders, no more limits, and that's what I like: the freedom of urban fashion, extending even to the catwalks of the greatest fashion designers.

You wrote a whole chapter on Kanye West. How is he a key figure of street style?
All the greatest have worked either with him or for him at one time or another. So Kanye West is inevitably a key figure in urban fashion. You can say whatever you want about him, but you can't take away everything he's done, everything he's revolutionized, starting with his very first collaboration with Louis Vuitton. He really brought something to the table, which other big names, like Virgil Abloh, went on to multiply tenfold.

Did this also help raise the status of the codes of the street?
Yes, completely. He brought streetwear to the luxury scene. In my opinion, all the brands we know today -- Off-White, Palm Angels, Fear of God, Jerry Lorenzo -- are the result of what Kanye West did back then.

Jogging suits, sneakers, hoodies, and even the bucket hat are more than ever at the height of fashion. Is urban fashion the style of the moment?
I think fashion has become urban fashion. On the street, 90% of people wear sneakers, even some big [corporate] bosses... I think there is a mix of genres, of styles, today. Many brands are inspired by street style.

It seems like the upper echelons are seeking to appropriate the codes of the street, while the masses swear by Gucci and Balenciaga, for example. How do you explain this paradox?
On the street, this is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Back in the day, rappers already used to put themselves out there with expensive pieces, whether it was Gucci tracksuits or gold chains. But it's true that today, everything is reversed. It has become normal, I could even say sadly normal, to spend €3,000 on a jacket to have an item of clothing that is cool. But there is also the whole approach towards resale that has changed over the years. I see this a lot in my YouTube videos. At one time, I was talking about the resale of sneakers, and people were like: "but who are these guys who pay €100 for a pair of sneakers and resell them for €1,000 euros?" Whereas, nowadays, it has become normal. I think there's also this approach towards money that has changed.

Besides Kanye West, who are your street style icons?
There are so many. A lot of current creative directors like Matthew Williams, Jerry Lorenzo... I don't have all the names in my head, but there are loads of them, actually. And then there are a lot of cool brands. I really like Sacai by Chitose Abe and White Mountaineering. I also really like the Japanese way of mixing streetwear and cutting-edge fashion. There are a lot of people who are really good at what they're doing today.

What is the perfect outfit to nail street style?
I don't necessarily have a perfect outfit, because what I like about urban fashion is the freedom to have several styles. I like to dress differently from one day to the next, by turns very on-trend, very 'caillera' or very hip-hop. I like to mix things up. What is good with fashion is to be able to have fun.

And, on the contrary, is there a fashion faux pas to avoid?
It's very free, so I wouldn't talk about any fashion faux pas. At most, in my eyes, there are brands that you don't mix. It's nothing serious, but putting an Adidas tracksuit with a pair of Nikes is like putting Olympique de Marseille shorts with a Paris Saint-Germain shirt, it doesn't make sense.

This interview has been translated from French.


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