RISE AND GRIND

Fashion (Canada) - - The Brief - By Sarah Good­ing Photography by Arkan Zakharov Styling by Fiona Green Cre­ative di­rec­tion by Brit­tany Ec­cles

It was a freez­ing day in New York when we pho­tographed Danielle Me­len­dez and Yas­meen Wilk­er­son for “Ex­plor­ers,” but the spunky skaters were in fine spir­its none­the­less. “We put them in short shorts and miniskirts, and they were such good sports,” says cre­ative di­rec­tor Brit­tany Ec­cles. Me­len­dez also re­ceived a spon­ta­neous hair­cut on set. “She had mint green hair that we de­cided to buzz even shorter,” says Ec­cles. No doubt these fierce shred­ders are made of some pretty tough stuff.

“I never thought I would be dressed in Louis Vuit­ton, skat­ing down the street!”

“I never thought I would be dressed in Louis Vuit­ton, skat­ing down the street!” says Danielle Me­len­dez of her shoot with FASH­ION. Although Louis Vuit­ton has pro­duced pieces in col­lab­o­ra­tion with skate brand Supreme, the New York-based skater/model more likely wears sneak­ers and tees from HUF when she rides. Aside from le­git skate brands like Ma­genta, Dime and Bronze56K, skater cul­ture is in­creas­ingly in­flu­enc­ing other RTW de­sign­ers like John El­liott, who staged his Spring 2019 show in a skate park in NYC.

This grow­ing cu­rios­ity co­in­cides with the re­lease of two of the hottest films of 2018—Mid90s and

Skate Kitchen cen­tre around the sport—and news of skate­board­ing’s much-hyped in­clu­sion in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Skate­board­ing is no longer the coun­ter­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity it once was—it has gone main­stream. But where does that leave skaters?

Me­len­dez and Yas­meen Wilk­er­son, our other model, both say that the in­creased vis­i­bil­ity is good

and bad. “The ex­po­sure sort of di­min­ishes the bad stereo­types of skate­board­ers be­ing lazy bums who just smoke weed all the time,” says Wilk­er­son. “Now, whether you’re watch­ing Mid90s or Skate

Kitchen, you start to think about pow­er­ful women, or pow­er­ful peo­ple who have strong minds, who do the im­pos­si­ble.”

But this grow­ing ac­cep­tance of the sub­cul­ture comes with a trade-off: More brands and celebri­ties are co-opt­ing its aes­thet­ics. Thrasher ed­i­tor-in-chief Jake Phelps fa­mously ridiculed stars strut­ting around in his brand’s cov­eted T-shirts de­spite hav­ing no ap­par­ent con­nec­tion to the cul­ture. But for many skaters, this celebrity co-opt­ing of their style re­ally stings. For them, it’s more than just cloth­ing with cool lo­gos; it rep­re­sents their com­mu­nity.

“A lot of skaters ac­tu­ally have di­rect con­tact with these brands, with these skate shops that we con­stantly go to,” ex­plains Wilk­er­son. “We speak to these skate shop own­ers and build re­la­tion­ships. It dif­fers from per­son to per­son, which brand they feel most con­nected to, but def­i­nitely skaters don’t like it when peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand the cul­ture try to rep­re­sent our things.” Me­len­dez sums it up: “It’s tak­ing away from the au­then­tic­ity of skate­board­ing, be­cause so many peo­ple who don’t skate are now wear­ing all the skate clothes.”

One pos­i­tive re­sult of big brands em­brac­ing the skate­boarder aes­thetic is that they’re start­ing to hire real skaters to star in their cam­paigns. Both Wilk­er­son and Me­len­dez now jug­gle time at the skate parks with modelling shoots. They’re also be­ing booked for plenty of other projects: Me­len­dez acted in Skate Kitchen, and next year Wilk­er­son is go­ing to Pales­tine to teach girls to skate. They’re both proud to be rep­re­sent­ing their cul­ture in a way that feels real. Me­len­dez ad­mits that dur­ing her

FASH­ION shoot, she bailed off her board and cut her hand, but she proudly kept go­ing. “I feel like if a model who didn’t even know how to push on a skate­board did that, they’d prob­a­bly can­cel the shoot!” she says, laugh­ing.

For Me­len­dez and Wilk­er­son, keep­ing it real also means di­ver­sity, and they’re thrilled to wel­come more women and POC to the ranks. “With the Skate Kitchen movie com­ing out, a lot of new girls who want to learn how to skate are com­ing up,” Wilk­er­son says hap­pily.

Me­len­dez says it’s changed the vibe for the bet­ter. “When I started, I was just a girl among men,” she says. “I never saw any women un­til two years in. Now I see girls shred­ding the park!” She hopes more will drop in. “Once you put your foot on the board and you feel how much it gives you and how it teaches you to be hum­ble and pa­tient and strong— it’s such a re­ward.”

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