The Style Legacy of La Haine

From the Banlieues To the Runways, the Film's Sportswear Endures

Text: Adam Wray
Some films feel timeless because they project feelings or phenomena so irreducibly part of the human experience that they connect regardless of context. Others feel timeless because the world has failed to change around them. 21 years after its release, Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine slots into the latter category.

La Haine is a film about social stratification, abuse of power, and how growing up into a violent, oppressive relationship with governing authorities shapes the psyche. It captures a day in the life of three friends from immigrant families living in a Parisian suburb: Vinz, spacey and brimming with inarticulate rage; Saïd, doe-eyed and puckish; and Hubert, quiet, measured, eager to escape the banlieue. Their friend Abdel has been beaten into a coma by a police officer, spurring anti-cop riots that have left their neighborhood tense and battered. Cops in riot gear abound and opportunistic news crews cruise through searching for soundbites from the safety of their van. One wishes La Haine felt dated.
The tension and tragedy that propel the film’s plot aren’t its only elements that resonate today—its look is equally familiar. Released in 1995, La Haine portrays French youth enamored of American hip-hop culture and all of its visual signifiers.

The young men of the banlieue are clad in sportswear and workwear that split the difference between stylish and practical: Nike, Carhartt, Everlast, Reebok, Lacoste. They breakdance, pass spliffs, shoot the shit in front of graffitied walls, arrange themselves in tableaus that could almost have been ripped from the liner notes of Nas’ Illmatic, the Queensbridge housing projects swapped for the outskirts of Paris.

Midway through the film, Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert are framed on a balcony overlooking Paris: Vinz in a fitted MA-1 over a Nike windbreaker, Saïd in a leather bomber over a tracksuit, Hubert cloaked in shearling, baggy camo fatigues, and a Carhartt beanie. Pluck them from this scene, drop them back into the 2016 version of the same location, and they would look just as at home. Compare these outfits to contemporary material from street style photography to rap videos both French and American and note the similarities. The radio DJs and magazine editors of the 90s could scarcely have predicted the superconnected, breakneck media ecosystem we are living with today, but they might find the fact that we are dressing almost the same now as we did then even more surprising. It is not just that the same mass-market brands have resurfaced—some of them never went away—but that 90s silhouettes and styling are being mimicked so accurately. Chalk it up to an abundance of instantly accessible source material to crib from, or to 90s kids like Gosha Rubchinskiy pacing fashion’s vanguard. Whatever the reasons, we have circled back on this aesthetic moment in record time.
A violent cop who plays a small but crucial role in the film wears a Notre Dame University jacket. The object and the action mark different points along a cultural feedback loop: Notre Dame, an American Catholic university founded by a French priest in the 19th century, produced branded apparel that was subsequently bounced back to Europe as youthful Americana.

The typeface used on the Notre Dame jacket, typical of American college gear, has long been grist for fashion’s mill. In 2002, Raf Simons swiped the trope for his “Virginia Creeper” collection, producing hoodies reading ‘Nebraska’ in collegiate block lettering. It is an old trick, the same maneuver Duchamp performed with his readymades: a quotidian visual cue recontextualized and given the aura of an art object. 15 years later, Virgil Abloh, another 90s kid who experienced American college culture firsthand and found his footing in fashion wading through crowdsourced digital imagery, continues to release tweaked versions of Simons’ ‘Nebraska’ hoodies under his Off-White label. Fashion sources from the street, reproduces on the runway, and chases its tail back and forth across oceans. 

“Fashion sources from the street, reproduces on the runway, and chases its tail back and forth across oceans.”

La Haine is bookended by a short parable about first a man, then a whole society, falling off a skyscraper: “On his way down as he passed each floor he kept saying to reassure himself: so far, so good. So far, so good. So far, so good. But how you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.” The longer one drops, the more time they have to question whether there is a ground after all, even in which direction they are travelling. Spin something fast enough and it looks as though it is standing still. 
Text: Adam Wray