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Buffalo style: rebellious and "yours to create"

May. 3, 2018
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As of late, we’re seeing a comeback of the Buffalo Classic sneakers—those chunky sport platforms worn by VIPs like Spice Girls, Madonna, N’Sync, and Cameron Diaz in the early 2000s. Love them or hate them, these shoes are culturally significant, serving as a metaphor for the bull as well as the rebellious attitude of the Buffalo movement in the late ‘80s.These sneakers have taken direct inspiration from the Buffalo style and the movement itself. 

“Buffalo was, first and foremost, about a certain kind of hip, urban attitude—one not for sale in stores, but yours to create.” - Ray Petri, founding father of the Buffalo movement.

In the words of Jamie Morgan, the cofounder of Buffalo, “Buffalo embraces attitude, integrity, dream, freedom, youth against authority, and creativity.” In the late ‘80s, Jamie Morgan and Ray Petri were artists working together in NYC to promote a new generation of youngsters and creatives. Ray Petri, Jamie Morgan, and Barry Kamen are prominent names tied with the Buffalo collective; today, Petri is considered a legendary stylist due to his huge influence on modern fashion photography. When you flip through pages of fashion magazines nowadays, there’s a high chance you’ll come across photographic works inspired by Petri’s vision. His vision has somehow forecasted the future of both fashion and youth culture. Consequently, he directly inspired the current works of Helmut Lang, David Beckham, and designers such as Giorgio Armani and Jean Paul Gaultier (both of whom he knew well and collaborated with).

Petri’s primary philosophy was the Buffalo attitude, “a Caribbean expression to describe people who are rude boys or rebels.” He disliked the current vision of fashion; hence, he approached i-D and The Face—publications that also geared towards disruptive youth and forward-thinking fashion—with his work. Together, the Buffalo team and these magazines sparked the very beginning of what would now be considered ‘street style.’ Petri functioned as his own agency, scouting and casting his models and photographers, reaching out to publications, and styling images with the help of other like-minded artists. Petri also had a certain fondness for black male models, who were largely underrepresented. During the process of setting up shoots, Petri broke down gender boundaries, dabbling in interconnected cultures and aesthetics. He and Buffalo disrupted the traditional approach to fashion photography. While scouting and styling models, he used boys as men and men as women; his focus was on male figures, despite the female-dominated nature of the fashion industry. 

Buffalo was a product of the DIY post-punk aesthetic. Morgan said in an interview with The Fader, “[we] weren’t about broken boundaries, we were about breaking boundaries. [We] didn’t know what we were doing, we were just doing it.” Barry Kamen, a Buffalo model Petri continuously worked with, said, “Ray’s goal was to make a boy sexy for straight boys to look at… Boys get scared to admit that another boy is sexy without sounding like they’re confused.” Today, young people are stepping out of their shells to showcase their creative talents and unapologetically take up space in the world. We’re seeing an abundance of collaborative young artists and curated media from young and emerging talents, proving them worthy of space to raise their voices and express themselves. 

Upon consideration, it’s clear that the Buffalo style emerged as a response—a reaction to politics and society at the time. Similar to punk rock, Buffalo highlights the attitude of a younger generation who is frustrated with what is happening and how they are being treated. Today, following in the footsteps of #TimesUp, activism is happening all around the world and every day. The movement is stronger than ever. We are seeing children dominating gun-control movements and trying to fix what their seniors may have failed to do. 

On social media, artists are independently sharing their art. We are using clothes to express ourselves; hence, we are steering the fashion wheel. Fashion houses are reinventing and changing themselves because of what their customers demand. Whether it’s rejecting the use of fur and leather, or appointing new creative directors who are more relevant to the ‘now,’ it’s clear that the industry is changing. For example, Virgil Abloh’s appointment to Louis Vuitton directly tackled the industry’s racism. Love it or hate it, Abloh’s new role will change the well-established reputation of the fashion house. But perhaps change is necessary for the industry. When Morgan was asked about the spirit of Buffalo, he responded, “The kids, man. There's something about the way they are, like, discovering Buffalo that made me realize that they didn't have to have ‘pretty’ models. I could have models with character, I could use my race and my ethnicity and my diversity to express myself, and that makes me cool. I'm included. I'm not an outsider.”