The mixed martial arts industry has been inspiring more than just mohawks and tattoos the past decade. This culture has actually been inspiring fashion designers for years. Actual fashion.
As soon as apparel companies introduced fighters and MMA fans to what was perceived as “fashion” in the late ‘90s, a new wave of splattered graphics and gothic-inspired T-shirts emerged in popularity and could be seen on just about every fighter who walked into the cage. The fashion exemplified what MMA was known for—masculinity and aggression.
Though popular among fans and fighters, this style was criticized for the lack of…well, fashion. Jacob Bannon, who many consider The Godfather of this aesthetic, agrees with critics.“Most of these companies and their visual approach emulated the look and feel of what I helped develop, but it lacked substance,” Bannon says. “When something lacks substance, it becomes a parody of its influences, and the fledging MMA fashion community is a perfect example of this.”
He wasn’t the only one who felt that MMA’s best elements were portrayed inadequately in its fashion options. “The current MMA scene is a fashion disaster… I have seen one too many skeletons, and that trend is getting closely identified with douches, so a shift to a new look is eminent,” says Cliff Frese, president of Alpha Dog clothing.
Although harsh, Frese may be on to something when he said a shift in a new look is eminent. In just more than a year, RVCA, Ecko, FORM Athletics, and Tokyo Five have joined this fight and aimed to take the best of MMA—such as the athleticism of the sport and the bold colors—and fuse it with design elements to make it more than just a splattered T-Shirt.
“Ecko has done an amazing job getting involved in MMA,” says Mike Pokutylowicz, editor-in-chief of the online MMA fashion guide FighterXFashion.com. Ecko did it the right way by placing products on key fighters, testing the waters, and then slowly growing the Ecko MMA apparel collection.”
Unlike other sports and lifestyle brands that tapped into MMA, Tokyo Five actually started as a jean company. It is probably one of the best examples of how a brand has taken the masculine elements of fight culture and molded them to conform to fashion standards. The company offers jeans, polos, and jackets in their collection and has already been featured in men’s fashion magazines, including Details.
HITTING THE RUNWAY
Far beyond sports and lifestyle brands, elements of fight culture eventually made their way onto the runways—for good and bad.
“I believe the aggression began with the 2007 Burberry Prorsum Knight collection where Christopher Bailey, not only reinvented the brand with accessories commanding spikes and studs, but inspired a fashion nation, who at that time really wasn’t seriously considering ferocity as a real fashion option,” says NYC stylist Shakira Hogan-Dyke. “So the influence of mixed martial arts aggression, as translated into high fashion, has been evident in the last few years, progressively, even as we look at the uber famous Gareth Pugh shredded leggings of his men’s Fall 2009 collection, which looked every bit like how a champion would look after battling through an MMA jungle.”
That may be a bit of a stretch. What exactly is an MMA jungle?
Although the fashion community may not have the fight credibility or support that brands like FORM, RVCA and TapouT have, some MMA insiders welcome their adoption of fight culture. “The fashion world is bizarre to me, but it speaks to the fact that contemporary combat sports are everywhere, being seen by all different kinds of people in the world,” Bannon says. “The influence may be strange, but as combat sports thrive, and with it being so aligned with youth culture, we will see things like this happen more and more.”
Bannon’s not too off on his assessment. Though fight culture elements were prevalent in 2009, these looks have trickled down to the streets in a more subtle way. Street wear looks in these markets often juxtapose soft textures with distressed fabrics and hardware, which has gained momentum this year, according to Janet Guzman, producer for TV Guide’s Fashion Team Show.
For instance, several people in the European and Asian markets and some parts of the U.S. have sported military jackets, adorned with metal chains, spikes, and accessories, with distressed jeans in their everyday wear. In Tokyo, men wear torn and ripped jeans with platform boots. Jackets with broad shoulder pads and belts and shoes with metal details that are seen in street wear in the UK and NYC are subtle nods to what the fashion community perceives as fight culture, according to Hogan-Dyke.
We probably won’t see fight gloves, rash guards, or even board shorts come out of the fashion houses of Jean-Paul Gautier or Vivienne Westwood. These brands are leading-edge fashion houses that look at different segments of life as a theme for their fashion shows, seasonal catalogs, and ad campaigns, according to MMA fashion newcomer Mark Miller, who also co-owns FORM Athletics with WEC fighter Urijah Faber.
“These designers use garments and accessories as a canvas for their artistic expression, so it was just an interesting theme for them, but that’s all that it is. It’s not functional and so far removed from the reality of the MMA world that it could never connect,” Frese says.
Whether or not it connects with fans has yet to be seen. But let’s hope that sitting beside a fan in shredded leggings at the next UFC is not what MMA fashion is coming to.