Kanye West’s love of fashion has seen him become a regular on the front row at catwalk shows. But it’s also had an effect that is perhaps less predictable: West has become the standout style icon for young men in 2014.
The uptake of the longline sweatshirt at high street retailers is the latest example of the Kanye effect. An extreme version of the classic sweatshirt, it comes with long sleeves and a slouchy longer fit, often reaching the top of the wearer’s legs. It’s a style that is a favourite of West’s, one that he co-opted for his Airport sweater designed with French fashion brand APC this year.
Asos, where the demographic is mostly under 25, has seen a massive increase in the demand for these designs. It sold 300,000 longline pieces in November compared with none in the same period of 2013. It even plans to increase availability by 90,000, with extreme longline designs – reaching a wearer’s knees – being introduced, a move that shows the influence of A$AP Rocky – the rapper also regularly wears these almost dress-like designs. Cult labels like Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester and Hood By Air are favoured by both musicians.
The longline sweatshirt is a long way from the retro-tinged heritage trend that dominated menswear for five years, showing increased interest in streetwear, which dominated 2014: “As a business we have definitely seen a huge transition in customer shopping habits over the last 12 months. Heritage was the key trend of old,” says John Mooney, the menswear design director at Asos. “Our customer appears to have a newfound confidence and is buying far more daring product than we ever expected or could have predicted.”
Sportswear has been growing as an influence in mainstream fashion. The longline version works in a West-approved way because the length adds something edgy, and works with the slouchy cool of other parts of his uniform, such as skinny distressed jeans and those leather joggers. “With the advent of a slimmer more fitted jean and an emerging sportier silhouette, this is the essential item that bridges the two,” confirms Gordan Richardson, the design director of Topman, another high street store where the longline sweat has also been popular.
Max Pearmain, the editor of men’s magazine Arena Homme Plus, believes West will continue to exert an influence in 2015. “He’s a bastion, he’s made a whole host of fashion acceptable for young men,” he says. Pearmain points, as an example, to how contestants on X Factor, the most mainstream of contexts, are styled. “The X Factor is a barometer of something going from exclusive to general, and it’s been on there since last season,” he says. “The longline sweatshirt was pushed by Rick Owens and Kanye is the viaduct between Owens and the X Factor.”
While a tastemaker like Pearmain is unsure whether this is an entirely good thing, he does concede it is definitely new. “We’ve only really seen this properly in womenswear before – he influences other men to shop,” he says. “High street retailers are becoming very savvy to that.” The success of the longline sweatshirt is certainly evidence to that effect.