Kanye West, Givenchy’s creative director Riccardo Tisci, and Rihanna

Sharing a cultural affinity, fashion and music have always been fast friends. From Hendrix and the hippies, the rock star-and-supermodel scene in the early nineties, and the fashion industry’s obsession with indie artist Grimes, fashion has been identified with different genres throughout various periods. Curiously, however, in the past few years, another relationship has been steadily growing faster and stronger – the one between the fashion industry and hip hop. Music that was once upon a time only embraced by a young, urban sub-culture, is the defining genre for this current fashion period.

The aspirational quality of fashion has always appealed to rappers, and frequent brand name drops heard in hip hop recall its enduring love of labels. In the nineties, it was focused on certain Italian houses with louder aesthetics and anything with a brassy ‘I made it’ logo. Who could forget Notorious B.I.G.’s punchy Gucci-down-to-the-socks reference in “One More Chance”? The house of Versace has had the most success in the realm of hip hop, enjoying many a reference and even a dedicated song – “Versace”by Migos – which is a whole other level of fixation. Let’s also not forget Louis Vuitton – the French fashion house has had a shout out from everyone from Cam’ron to Kendrick Lamar, and none other than devoted fashion fanatic Kanye West, who has reportedly made nineteen L.V. references throughout his seasoned career.

But, things have changed. Eschewing the gaudy pieces of their predecessors, rappers are now opting for pared-down ensembles. Think Pharrell Williams and wife Helen Lasichanh in Lanvin tuxedos at the Oscars, and Kim and Kanye strolling around Paris in plush swathes of taupe Givenchy. Admittedly, Mr. West probably has a lot to do with this change of preference.  The Yeezus rapper, who has special relationships with many in the industry, including Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, Carine Roitfeld, Vogue Australia‘s Christine Centenera, and A.P.C.‘s Jean Touitou – with whom West has collaborated with on a capsule collection for the brand, has some real sartorial insight. He recently explained his love of tonal outfits, as opposed to those with contrast, to GQ, with an eloquence typically attributed to seasoned editors. But this change in direction could also be attributed to higher self-awareness from successful artists. After all, no money likes to look like new money – be it old, or more recently acquired. We’ve seen this same shift with Russian fashionistas, while those before them opted for a more-is-more aesthetic (Cavalli, and the like) Miroslava Duma and Elena Perminova parade around fashion week in impossibly chic ensembles.

Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Cassie, Diddy, and Azealia Banks at Paris Fashion Week, 2012

More importantly, fashion is no longer turning its nose up – it loves hip hop back. Whether it’s because it acknowledges the power of its artists, or the music has simply brought a new energy to the field, hip hop artists are becoming more involved in Fashion Week than ever before. Creative directors are increasingly using the genre to both transform their shows and reinforce the message of their collections. For example, Azealia Banks has performed at virtually every Fashion Week, and even at Karl Lagerfeld’s home.

For those who simply aren’t hip hop heads, it’s a curious relationship.  Hip hop has never been perceived as being particularly high-brow, as it’s typically associated with an underprivileged background. It has now become strongly affiliated with an elitist industry, and has been representing prestige. Why do designers choose hip hop to complement their collections, and why do rappers warm to the industry so? It could be that the strength of the relationship is that they have four powerful things in common:

Both fashion and hip hop are channels for high levels of self-expression, with an incredible ability to tell a story. Verses have high word counts, and with high-calibre rap, we’re treated to the artist’s uniquely poetic re-hash of a situation. A great storyteller is rapper Mos Def, whose ability is best exemplified on his acclaimed track “Ms. Fat Booty”, which catalogues the ebb and flow of a relationship between him and a girl he meets at a club: “ Three months, she call ‘I feel I’m runnin a fever’ / Six months, I’m tellin’ her I desperately need her / Nine months, flu-like symptoms when shorty not around – I need more than to knock it down – I’m really tryin’ to lock it down”. Fashion achieves the same with its diverse brand histories, motifs, colors, cuts, and styling. Miuccia Prada said it best: “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.” Naturally, both forms are dedicated to expressing who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going.

Both forms breed and promote a hard-won self-esteem. With frenetic tempos and irreverent, in-your-face lyrics, hip hop holds the biggest “swag” quotient of all music genres, fuelling a confidence that lets runway models strut like they mean it, and bring out the best out in the clothes. This strong presentation promises the buyers, editors, fashion insiders and ultimately consumers, that they too will feel just as larger-than-life while walking down the street in their embellished jumpsuit.

With its roots in rebelling against the status quo, fashion, much like hip hop, is about fueling and embracing change. Coco Chanel decided to free women by popularizing her casual, loose-fitting black jersey dresses at a time when every respectable young woman in France wore corsets. Somewhat left-leaning and completely unapologetic, both hip hop and fashion convey that they simply don’t give a monkey’s you-know-what.

One of the reasons that fashionistas love musical grit, is that stories of perseverance, such as Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” and Jay Z’s many chart-topping musical tales of the Marcy Projects, are soothing. The hustle workers endure in the industry – from 15-year-old aspiring models who flee Eastern bloc countries alone for NYC/London/Paris, to the interns that forgo basic necessities and work long hours in hopes of becoming designers, buyers, and editors, the fashion industry can truly be the school of the hard knocks.

– Anabel Maldonado for The Untitled Magazine

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