RISE AND GRIND
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.”