Reshaping the Global Perceptions of Arabic Street Culture

This past March our Creative Director Karl spoke at the Dubai Lynx Festival, which celebrates the MENA region’s incredible creative output.

This three day festival brought together top creatives, the world’s best brands and new start-ups to learn, network and celebrate creative excellence in creative communications.

Karl’s discussion was centred around the theme of creative subcultures, particularly within Arab street culture. Subculture is balanced between high culture and popular culture, and might be considered to be any variant cultural group that sits within a larger one. A historical example would be the rise of Punk as led and expressed through James Reid and Vivienne Westwood. Movements like this defined a way of working, a tone of voice and ultimately a design aesthetic that was adopted by designers from all industries for that era. One impact of this was the commercialisation of street culture across the globe.

The ripple effects of subcultural groups are now seen everywhere in daily life, from architecture to street art. Within Arab countries like Beirut there are artists like El Seed, who has developed a new style of graffiti. He creates large scale artwork in public places, creating mass market appeal with wide public reach of his Arab scripts.

Another example is Yazan Halawani in Lebanon, who focuses on iconic public figures and creates impactful, large-scale stories on the city walls.

Narrowing down to the present, where are we in terms of subcultures and creative movements, particularly within fashion?

One movement that has seen a dramatic rise in recent years is the phenomenon of the ‘hypebeast.’ A hypebeast is a slang for someone who is a beast (obsessed) about the hype (in fashion), and will do whatever it takes to obtain that desired hype.

“Hyped up brands sell their products for a price more than the average clothing company and can be seen re-sold on the internet for a price much greater than retail due its exclusivity, and limited availability.”

Brands that have products which fit into this category include: Supreme, Bathing Ape, Billionaire Boys Club/Ice Cream, OriginalFake, and many more specifically related to streetwear.

Hypebeasts tend to be heavily into sneakers such as Air Jordans and Nike Skateboarding. These shoes are not found in malls and the high street due to their limited availability. Often they are only acquired through pop-ups or online events; or they can be bought from others at a markup price.

This movement in particular is gaining popularity within the Middle East among Generation Z, who are very trend-led and tend to have a large amount of disposable income. New Arabic designers are a core component of this, leveraging social media to inspire and drive the movement.

This subculture has thus far been very organically driven, but an important question going forward is whether this will remain a trend or grow to a global scale. This also begs the question whether global growth will compromise the identity and essentialism of the movement itself. However, it’s an incredible time for Arabic design and one that if allowed to grow and evolve will see new and exciting opportunities for all those who appreciate the unique and diverse in design culture.