At the Starting Gates of the Racing Trend
At the Starting Gates of the Racing Trend
- Words Leslie Zhang
- Date May 4, 2017
The past few seasons have witnessed a surge of motorcycle racing-inspired fashion: Alyx’s primary-colored, pleathered resort 2017 collection, Hyein Seo’s reflective sets from Fall/Winter 2016 and 032c magazine’s recent crop of flame-emblazoned merchandise are but a few examples. Below, we explore the trend's origins and discuss the greater ramifications of fashion's fixation and appropriation of racing culture.
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This fixation on motorcycle racing nestles snugly into the larger ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s revival movement in fashion. While motorcycle racing has perhaps always been a niche interest, the sport permeated mainstream consciousness and youth culture with Nintendo’s ‘80s racing game franchise Excitebike. Amidst current geopolitical tensions and uncertainty, this seemingly abrupt fascination with racing aesthetics can be attributed to wistful nostalgia for the very emotions the sport embodies: freedom, dynamism, adventure and a touch of boyish rebellion. Simultaneously, racing uniforms mesh seamlessly with the modern-day appeal of bold color palettes and blatant branding.
It is important to recognize that broader motorcycle riding culture has a lasting imprint on fashion that stretches beyond the recent captivation with racing. This is most evident through the co-option of the double rider leather jacket. The notorious silhouette has evolved from being sold alongside Harley Davidsons in the early 20th century to outfitting punks and rockers to, finally, the piece's now widespread acceptance as a wardrobe staple for the style savvy.
While the racing trend is clearly a phenomenon that ballooned in the mid-2010s, the sport’s influence in fashion can be traced a decade earlier to Yohji Yamamoto’s collaboration with Italian motorcycle gear company Dainese for his Y’s Fall/Winter 2004 collection. In addition to presenting the expertly cut and tailored garments he is known for, Yamamoto also sent models trotting down the runway in a slick assortment of colorful leather jackets boasting the Dainese logo and references to his own name and collections.
The sheen of bright red leather may seem out of place among the loose monochrome silhouettes expected of Yamamoto, but the collaboration with the motorcycle gear maker came on the heels of Y-3’s debut a year earlier. Yamamoto was simply experimenting with sportier looks, pushing the boundaries of what his audience expected. His toying with racing aesthetics can be framed as the beginning of fashion’s appropriation of the sport and its corresponding styles. However, Yamamoto could freely flirt with mock logos and broad blocks of color as Dainese’s role in production kept one foot squarely in pragmatism.
Dainese, founded in 1972 by a motorcycle enthusiast, is known for being among the first to add color to traditionally all-black racing uniforms. The company is even more so known for its technical design that exponentially advanced safety in motorcycle racing. From its new D-AIR® airbags built into the neck, shoulders, collarbones and ribs of racing suits to its Aragosta (lobster) back protectors and “aerodynamic humps” developed in the ‘80s, Dainese has a track record of incredible engineering that would sit among, if not above, the powerful technical design behind cult labels like Stone Island and Acronym.
The current racing trend can easily be perceived as pure appropriation–and even bastardization–of a lengthy history of careful innovation, ripping design elements from context and stripping them of their intended functionality. Supreme’s motorcycle helmet made in collaboration with Simpson is a glaring example: The $448 helmet required European buyers to sign waiver forms that released Supreme of liability for any injuries and encouraged customers to use the helmet as a display piece.
Yet do fashion designers, the ones responsible for spearheading an industry revolving around surface presentation, have any responsibility to preserve the integrity and "soul" of what inspired their collections? Many may argue they, in fact, do not. On the other side of the coin, Dainese has diluted its own designs into street-ready apparel and shoe lines to connect with a broader audience.
In the context of the motorcycle racing trend, some can argue that co-option is a form of subtle subversion. With a few exceptions, the trend has primarily dominated the womenswear industry, contradicting the sport’s traditional hyper-masculine energy. Furthermore, with increasing emphasis placed on material development and functional garments, there is room in the current landscape of fashion for designers to merge both the flashy visuals and the technical background of racing gear into singular, cohesive collections. Start your engines.