dior x air jordan 1 and other thoughts on fashion's aestheticization problem

A note on fashion's blandest fruits

Fashion has long operated in rigidly separated sub-cultures, particularly between luxury and streetwear brands. Yet, that began to change two years ago and is currently operating at full throttle. Beginning with LV x Supreme in 2017, followed by the rumblings of Prada x Adidas earlier this month and now the unexpected reveal of work Dior has done with both Stüssy and Air Jordan, fashion seems to be interested in joining consumers to actively break down the lines that have divided the industry.

The principles underlying these collaborations are exciting. Whether it’s a reflection of the category-bending designers currently helming big luxury companies or changing sartorial norms, brands are challenging what it means to operate in the categories with which they have been aligned. They also seem to acknowledge the fact that people are more brand fluid than they have been in the last 20 years. These collaborations show the ways in which the traditional definitions of exclusivity and inclusivity are currently being redefined. It would be a stretch to say they're being eradicated, but they're certainly evolving.

However, the fruits of these collaborations have consistently fell short.

Rather than reflecting the heritage and culture behind both streetwear and luxury, and honoring both equally, these collaborations have revealed a greater social phenomenon—the aestheticization problem.

Before we proceed I’m going to define aestheticization because every time I type it out the red squiggles underneath suggest it’s not a word. It very much is a word and an important concept to think about in these pixelated times. Although aestheticization as a concept emerged in political theory, in this context I’m referring to its more literal definition: the idea that the value of something relies squarely on its visual form—its aesthetics—rather than the process of creating it or the cultural meaning it contains.

The Digital Age has completely changed what it means to consume aesthetics. We consume aestheticized identities through Instagram, aestheticized food at trendy restaurants, even aestheticized experiences at Coachella (which has been described, time and again, as a scam). Our interest is not rooted in the story behind a person, a dish or a musician, but rather the final visual form in which they are presented and we experience.

It’s unsurprising that fashion is the clearest representation of the greater societal movement towards aestheticized life. Because the products of fashion are highly visual they are at a greater risk of being reduced to the final form in which they exist. This changes the dynamic of creating and moves it away from being process-oriented to profit-bound. Ultimately, this is largely why today’s fashion is currently so volatile and inconsequential—the products are rooted in little more than their visual form.

The Dior x Air Jordan 1 is a consequence of this mentality.

The shoe features the Dior “oblique” monogram in a dark blue and cream jacquard, light grey leather detailing as another ode to Dior, “Air Dior” on the wings instead of “Air Jordan” and both brand names on the soles.

The design of this sneaker speaks to the current strategy of Dior. The Dior "oblique" monogram, which has become a staple in Dior accessories over the last few seasons, was actually invented in 1967 by then-artistic director Marc Bohan. Its resurgence in the brand's design lexicon is a reflection of the commercial direction Dior has moved toward since Maria Grazia and Kim Jones took the helms of womenswear and menswear, respectively. From sneakers to saddle bags, t-shirts and unisex tote bags, Dior is now entering the space of pop-cultural relevance in a way that it didn't under Saint Laurent, Galliano and Simons. Whereas Dior previously positioned itself as the last standing couture house of the luxury mega-brands, it now designs by and for the worst standards ushered in by the Digital Age—namely logo-mania and clout.

And unfortunately the Dior Men’s Pre-Fall 2020 collection, created with streetwear legend Shawn Stüssy, was ultimately just another example of the mega-brand tapping into only the very surface of something with greater meaning.

photos from the Dior Men’s Pre-Fall 2020 show at Art Basel in Miami

While Kim Jones has had a long interest in streetwear brands and silhouettes, which has been alluded to in every collection he’s created for Dior, he made the same mistake in this collection as he did with the sneaker. The Pre-Fall collection fell short of capturing the real essence of Stüssy. Many pieces leaned heavily into Stüssy’s use of script, which has been a big part of his eponymous brand, to create a new iteration of the tired concept of logo-heavy gear in luxury fashion. Items distastefully vandalized with a brand name—which is really nothing more than an arbitrary word imbued with value—is simply lazy and superficial. For those with no idea of who Shawn Stüssy is and what his brand did for streetwear, this does very little to honor his legacy beyond making him part of the Dior zeitgeist.

Another layer that makes the announcement and the show hard to stomach is that it happened during Art Basel in Miami, which is a sceney event that aestheticizes art. This setting creates another false-equivalency. In the same way that the outcome of these partnerships masks the fact that brands across luxury fashion have completely lost their identity, the ways in which Dior is trying to hide its flagrant commercialism behind the veneer of artistry is disappointing.

This collaboration raises the same questions that the Jeff Koons x Louis Vuitton line of bags did in 2017. Koons has long commodified and commercialized culture in his work, often reducing history to its aesthetics and detaching art from its history, and did exactly this when he collaborated with Louis Vuitton. Seminal paintings from Reubens, Monet, da Vinci, van Gogh and Fragonard, amongst others, were printed onto bags and adorned with small LV detailing.

left to right: Jeff Koons x Louis Vuitton, Takashi Murakami x Louis Vuitton, Yayoi Kasuma x Louis Vuitton

Without Koons, Louis Vuitton wouldn't have been able to pull off such a project. Given what Koons' work represents he gave the brand permission to once again evoke artistry with their products, as they did when they worked with Yayoi Kasuma and Takashi Murakami. Yet what is vastly different between the latter crossovers between the art world and commercial fashion, in comparison to what Koons did, is that there is no artistry backing up Koons. While Kasuma and Murakami were able to translate their work into leather, Koons didn’t have anything of his own to work with in the first place.

By nature of what a bag is, particularly one made by a luxury mega-brand, there is no space in which the history or deep meaning of the works he plagiarized can be recognized. Ultimately, he made these great works into nothing more than a commodity. And to commodify culture, so that it appears to be something that can be bought into and owned as an individual rather than something that is to be appreciated by the collective, is why reducing something into aesthetics is so hazardous.

What high fashion is doing is commodifying streetwear to its own advantage. In the same way that fashion iced out Dapper Dan until they embraced him and rejected rappers until they adored them, luxury fashion realized that they cannot win until they lean into streetwear. However, this is happening on an aesthetic, rather than a conceptually thoughtful or culturally innovative, level. Because this sneaker is reportedly retailing for $2,000, which is around $1,800 more than higher end Jordans (including Travis Scott’s wildly successful Air Jordan collaboration), and apparently will be sold at Dior stores rather than Nike, it’s clear who’s winning here.

While the Dior x Air Jordan collaboration is an important step in breaking down archaic dividers within the fashion industry, it raises alarming questions about how increasingly superficial the industry is becoming that it has made the rich culture surrounding Jordans into a luxury aesthetic. Dior and other luxury brands are leaning into the aesthetics of luxury and streetwear by completely disregarding the history and heritage that have carried these sartorial sub-cultures to the present day. It’s impossible for “heritage” brands, which have been socioeconomically and racially exclusive for so long, to become representatives of the more inclusive and irreverent ethos that has defined so many streetwear brands. And while it is absolutely necessary for luxury fashion to evolve, they need to do so in a way that doesn’t commodify the aesthetics of streetwear silhouettes to their benefit.

Perhaps these are growing pains.

My hope is that these early stages of synthesizing luxury with streetwear will open channels for more creative and thoughtful collaborations between big brands and smaller brands in the future.

The hypeadjacent take on these sneakers: save your bucks. Instead, consider supporting brands like Alyx, Bode, Pyer Moss, Rowing Blazers and Telfar all of whom are, implicitly or explicitly, raising questions about category divisions and answering those questions with creative, thoughtful pieces. Or you could just buy a sick pair of normal Jordans—a shoe that has challenged fashion all on its own since 1985.

**Images not owned by hypeadjacent**