Even though Avirex, which is latin for ‘King of Air’, took off (pun intended) in mainstream consciousness thanks to the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun, the legendary brand’s roots in streetwear couldn’t be further away from cloud ceilings – it was Eastcoast street hustlers, rappers and hip-hop stylists who crowned (and still do) Avirex leather jackets as one of the most coveted grails in streetwear. But let’s go back to where it all began first:

Launched in 1975 in New York by attorney Jeff Clyman, the first Avirex jackets were a typical story of supply and demand: Clyman, the son of an Army Air Corps pilot, flew in air shows as a hobby. His jacket of choice? His old man’s original WWII flight jacket, which he was asked about so many times that he started reselling vintage aviation jackets from his personal collection of vintage military gear – which sold out completely. To meet the demand, the fashion aficionado started to craft reproductions with Avirex.

Thanks to Clyman’s eye for details, exceptional leather quality and craftmanship, the brand constantly grew throughout the 1980s. So much actually, that Avirex started to supply the Army, Navy, Nasa, among others, and the cast of the aforementioned Top Gun movie.

What established Avirex, one of the most distinguished American leather jacket labels at this point, as a street status symbol though was only when it started to extend its portfolio beyond Aviator jackets: The powerhouse’s leather varsity jackets, getting sold in streetwear boutiques, caught the eye of street hustlers and consequently rappers thanks to their colorful designs. Their leather make-up was synonymous with wealth and as people started getting robbed for their Avirex jackets, this reputation only made them more infamous: Avirex was still the King of Air (sorry, Michael), but also the King of the streets – so it wasn’t for everyone. And that’s why everyone and their mother wanted one.

Among the most coveted pieces were stadium jackets and heavy leather team jackets, adorned with embroidered logos of fictional sports teams and the brand, which could be seen throughout the 90s on basically every rapper considered NY royalty these days: We’re talking Fat Joe, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Biggie Smalls, Nas or Mobb Deep in their “Hell on Earth” music video, among others.

And while the heavy leather jackets were on a par to high end boutique brands in quality, the jackets were – given one had the matching bank account – in reach via independently owned boutiques. Mobb Deep’s Havoc summed up the appeal of Avirex leathers for Complex in 2022: “Back then an Avirex, if you had one, was a real fly look (…) They were so popular in Queensbridge because before that we were just wearing army jackets that didn’t cost much. So having one meant you had some bread.

And the respect was vice versa: Avirex actively – in clear contrast to ‘traditional’ luxury brands – seeded garments to rappers, designed custom pieces and embraced the culture through ad campaigns in culture magazines and having groups like Brand Nubian modelling their clothing.

While the demand for Avirex within streetwear circles never declined, with collectors paying top dollar for archive pieces, the noise surrounding the brand calmed down for a bit in the noughties. That was until the late 90s and Y2K nostalgia – tangible through Palace x Avirex collabs or Drake sightings in Avirex – fueled a glorious comeback:

Inspired by its rich archive and under the assistance of members from its original 90s design team, Avirex is officially back with revived designs of their classics – seen on the likes of Lil Durk, Tekno or Dave East and doing what they do best: Delivering rugged premium construction and transcending trends.

A hand-picked selection of heavy leather jackets, hoodies, tees and more by Avirex is available at BSTN now: Pick up your favorite piece via the button below.

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