Streetwear is the kind of term that could rile an older generation, largely because most of the last century’s fashion has sprung from streets in some way or another. “People used to keep telling me that fashion came from the streets,” Diana Vreeland said in 1973. “I didn’t go much for this street-up business, because it seemed to me that I’d always seen it at Balenciaga … the first vinyl raincoats, like the gendarmes wear in the winter in Paris. The cape and the boots and the short skirts and the elaborate stockings.”
In London, Vivienne Westwood would bring the subcultural verve of the punk movement to her catwalk, and in New York, Marc Jacobs shook things up at Perry Ellis with a grunge-themed collection that resulted in his dismissal. Perhaps most significantly, one only has to look at the long career of the late Bill Cunningham to realise that the street has been central to fashion long before it became synonymous with the current generation of t-shirt, sweatpant and sneaker labels that are dominating the sartorial charts.
Today, it is precisely these labels that are most coveted by ‘generation iPhone’. If the 1990s and 2000s are the rose-tinted belle époque for this generation, then the eras’ casually dressed stars are its perennial muses, with an emphasis on ease and a sort of louche swagger. Heron Preston, the eponymous label of the San Francisco born former Nike marketing man, is one of the buzziest names taking the fashion world by storm. With experience working with Yeezy and Off-White, Preston’s utilitarian military-meets-sportswear garb is catnip for today’s youth.
“There was a computer in front of every student in every classroom,” Preston says of his high school years. Speaking on the phone, his voice has the energetic quick-fire pace of a true millennial. “That’s where I learned Photoshop and how to code websites. Those two disciplines of graphic design collided and kind of opened up a whole new world for me.”
By the time Preston was a student at Parsons School of Design, he was making graphic t-shirts. “When thinking about naming my t-shirt line, I wanted it to sound almost, like, luxury,” he says. “I thought that the dynamic between street t-shirts and a luxury sounding name had this kind of stickiness to it that was really attractive to me.” He was quickly snapped up by Nike to help bring street cred to its marketing strategy, and before long had an array of consulting gigs for the likes of Kanye West. “After three or four years, I kind of resurrected Heron Preston and brought it back,” he says.
One gets the impression that Preston isn’t the kind of designer to slave away over a toile for hours, but instead takes a broader approach to branding, merchandising and styling. One of his signatures is a t-shirt with a graphic of a heron bird, which he says relates to his interest in environmental waste, as well as his name. Earlier this year, he became the first-ever designer to collaborate with New York’s Sanitation Department (DSNY) with a collection that riffed on the uniforms of its workers. Without an ounce of irony, he explains that “people who use their hands, people who sweat, people who do hard work have one of the most honest ways of working”.
Aesthetic aside, what really makes Heron Preston unique is the business strategy that centres on a ‘retail tour’—like a concert tour, but instead launching the line in various markets with major parties—and supreme style ‘drops’ that forgo the traditional wholesale schedule and put the power in direct-to-consumer social media platforms.
“I remember talking to Virgil [Abloh] about it and I was like, ‘Yo, Virgil, look at this next drop I’m gonna do. It's gonna go crazy this summer,’” he recalls. “Virgil’s like, ‘That’s all you’re dropping, Heron? You’ve got to graduate from just doing a one-off drop, and you should merchandise it out and add a hat to it and add some sweatpants, and you need a jacket, and you should add some socks, and you need a belt.’”
That’s when New Guards Group came to the rescue. The brainchild of Marcelo Burlon, the group is a Milan-based mini-conglomerate that oversees the production and distribution for Off-White, Palm Angels, Unravel, County of Milan, Hood by Air, and of course, Heron Preston. “Streetwear is the flavour of the month at the luxury level,” says Preston. “This is our DNA over here at New Guards we’re all kind of pushing this, like, street edge at the luxury level, and the world is responding positively to it.”
Preston’s ethos appears to be methodically democratic. “Luxury has always been so exclusive and isolated in its own world. Whereas now, it’s all about being open-minded and being inclusive, and recognising the differences in people, and being more accepting of everyone.”
As part of his heavy emphasis on social media, Preston says that he is more engaged with his customers around the world, and always tries to respond personally to comments and messages. “There’s not just one touch point or one kind of way to market your product anymore,” he explains. “There’s just so many different ways and it goes back to breaking rules and tradition, and being experimental in how you communicate your ideas.”
For more visit www.heronpreston.com