References are a hallmark of streetwear. In the late ’90s, brands like Stussy, Fuct, and reigning juggernaut Supreme, printed reinterpretations of Polo and Tommy Hilfiger patterns and works of art in the MoMA onto T-shirts and other products. The graffiti and skate cultures these brands emerged from have long been adept at this sort of repurposing, turning the mundane, be it a blank wall or a set of stairs, into a canvas for expression. Today, labels such as Noah and Palace similarly flip references rooted in iconic eras and imbue them with new life: For Palace, the explosion of ’80s U.K. rave culture manifests in cheeky T-shirts and track suits; for Noah, classic Americana becomes preppy blazers with a surfer’s flare.
While streetwear was born out of niche subcultures sharing in-jokes with one another, the visibility offered by social media has allowed outsiders, often megastars, to leach off those communities. For example, this month Kendall and Kylie, the Jenner sisters’ eponymous brand, released T-shirts with a supposed voicemail phone number printed on the front that bear a distinct similarity to shirts released since 2014 by pro skater Alex Olson. It’s not a flip; it’s a copy.
The visibility offered by social media has allowed outsiders, often megastars, to leach off [niche] communities.
This new dynamic is exemplified by Ian Connor. The 22-year-old stylist got his start ripping off skaters’ outfits for an audience on Tumblr, which led to relationships with members of A$AP Mob, which in turn led to his introduction to Kanye West’s creative team. Connor, who continues to work in public despite recent allegations that he has sexually assaulted several women, is behind the new brand Revenge X Storm.
It’s ostensibly a sneaker company, selling a knockoff Vans Old Skool that replaces the Vans wave with a lightning bolt. A rubber tag on the back of the shoe reads “Off the shits,” a reference to Vans’ “Off the Wall” slogan. The Vans Old Skool has lately become the sneaker of choice in the fashion world, making the Revenge X Storm shoe a well-timed ripoff. The brand’s website is itself a mish-mash of familiar aesthetics. The homepage autoplays what sounds like a stock sample of a rock song. Elsewhere on the site you can find the vaporwave feel of the New York skate company Bronze and the lo-fi graphics of Palace. The shop page features the sneakers rendered in the style of rudimentary 3D video game graphics. Oh, and the shoes cost $200. (A pair of Vans Old Skools cost around $60.)
I first saw the Revenge X Storm sneaker in a sponsored post on Instagram, a fitting venue for a brand rooted primarily in its proximity to famous people. The post features a naked black woman having what appears to be canola oil applied to her butt. She’s wearing a pair of the shoes, as is the kid rubbing her with cooking grease. It and a handful of similar images from the Revenge X Storm campaign reminded me of merch sold by A$AP Rocky at the Miami music festival Rolling Loud earlier this month: a series of T-shirts created in collaboration with Ian Connor and illustrator Cedric Grandberry which featured various cartoons of a Rocky and members of his crew having sex with caricatures of black women. Both rely on a juvenile use of nudity and the subjugation of black women.
On Revenge X Storm’s Instagram, similarly outlandish images appear alongside photos of celebrities including Kylie and Kendall Jenner and Young Thug wearing the sneakers. Seeing as Revenge X Storm likens itself to a skate shoe, the brand’s Instagram page includes one clip of a single skate trick, filtered to look like a VHS, an aesthetic popular in skate videos three years ago, and currently beloved by the likes of Kanye West.
Allegations of Connor’s history as a predator are, of course, more important than his clumsy design ideas. That celebrities like A$AP Rocky and the Jenners validate his career and publicly support him, especially in the context of a call-out culture that easily and eagerly ends the careers of people accused of far less objectionable behavior, is honestly surprising. On Twitter last year, a number of women shared screenshots of threats made by Connor in response to the accusations.
But even if you belong to the fan club that makes excuses for Ian Connor at every turn, these are still bad, overpriced ripoffs. Why buy these stupid sneakers from a known abuser when you can get a pair of Vans, real skate shoes, for a third of the price?