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The hipster as fashion icon is under threat

I am a hipster sympathiser. Even though it’s a word I can’t say out loud, I can only type. And then only if I la-la-la over the clicking of the keys. But I am pro-beard, pro-vintage cardies, pro-nail art with faces on, because I believe the hipster to be on the side of good. On the side of inclusiveness and outsiderness, and ethics, and “investing in the arts” and all of that sort of general nice-guy decency.

Except the hipster is no more. Despite reports in this very magazine that the hipster’s “flat white economy” is the future of British prosperity, its visual identity is floundering. As a word it has been swallowed by a stamp of a moustache, chewed up in its own teeth in a terrible accident of signifier/signified, and as a concept it has been destroyed by the brands that took this aesthetic mainstream. Hour by hour, the “hipster” fashion companies that have come to define it have declined ever further, another beanie unsold, another worn-in band T-shirt left another day. Urban Outfitters, with its stores like the set of New Girl and its clothes rails like the end of an Essex pool party, has seen sales fall steadily since 2011. American Apparel has lost so much money it hasn’t made a profit since 2009; last year it was nearly “delisted” from the New York Stock Exchange. And on an even more basic level, the clothes just no longer look… cool.

Those who have aligned themselves the tightest with this trend sound practically mournful when discussing it, in eulogies to lost youths, to 12in covers yet unframed. Others find it hard to get the facts out through their noisy glee. Of course, part of these brands’ decline is in their ubiquity, in the way they’ve made it too easy for us to pretend we crawled more than 50 good charity shops to get to one stone-washed jacket. But could it be simpler even than this? Simpler even than “fashion” or “marketing”. Simpler even than: “I’ve got enough swallows now, ta. All set for swallows.” Could it be that we’ve collectively decided we’re sick of their crap?

It was with Urban Outfitters’ third or fourth controversy – the women’s T-shirt that read “Eat Less”, maybe, or the time they ripped off a young jewellery designer’s collection, or their Navajo accessory line, including hip flask and knickers, or the pink-triangled tapestry the Anti-Defamation League claimed was “eerily reminiscent” of concentration camps, or the $100 T-shirt with a badge that looked quite a lot like the Star of David that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany – that it became clear Urban Outfitters was thriving on the outrage. Was trading on its “edginess”.

Similarly, a few years ago the well-documented sleaze of American Apparel’s founder Dov Charney seemed to help the marketing of the brand. “Sex is inextricably linked to fashion and apparel,” said Charney. “And our clothing is connected to our sexual expression.” In their adverts, typically featuring girls bending over naked but for a pair of socks, they traded on their fair-labour practices, oblivious to claims that having a CEO who was said to have perpetuated a “reign of sexual terror” illustrated quite the opposite.

“I am a bit of a dirty guy,” Charney told a journalist in 2004, before masturbating in front of her, “but people like that right now.” Yeah, not any more, pal. Eleven years on, as labels and magazines refuse to work with Terry Richardson (a hipster fashion brand all of his own) following his own misogyny and downfall, it is clear that people have changed their minds. Dov Charney was finally fired just before Christmas.

The hipster look is dying because of the failures of the fashion brands that supported it. It is dying because the things the companies do has crept too far from the lifestyle they sell. It is dying because, even in business, it is no longer acceptable to be a dick. This, too, I am pro.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk. Follow Eva on Twitter @EvaWiseman

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