Fashion and Hip-Hop an undeniable relationship, but is it simply platonic or purely business?
“But it ain’t Ralph though!” A quote firmly affixed to hip-hop artist and pop icon, Kanye West.
West is known for his many outrages and somewhat profound quotes; however, the aforesaid quote is perhaps his most famous due to its emphasis on fashion and social media trolling.
Mr West is famously known to be an avid lover of fashion. The hip-hop star is also known to dabble around in the fashion industry – with his unfamiliar clothing line, Donda West (named after his late mother), his previous affiliation with Nike (Nike ‘Yeezys’) and current partnership with Adidas (‘Yeezy Boost’).
But it really doesn’t stop there. Hip-Hop artists have been name-dropping designers and brands for years, from music lyrics to social media shoutouts – it’s a never-ending epidemic of name bragging or whatever you choose to call it.
Both industries have history. Ever since Karl Lagerfeld showcased his hip-hop-inspired Autumn/Winter Chanel collection in 1991, the two industries have become intertwined as years go by. Speaking on Style.com’s ‘Throwback Thursday’, editor-at-large Tim Blanks says the hip-hop collection came from Lagerfeld’s interest in rap music at the time.
“In this collection you get the sense that he was probably listening to rap music.”
Collaborations are a common thing especially within the fashion and music industry. Rappers are usually identified through their music and lyrics whilst representing the brands and designers they support. Designers, on the other hand, gather inspiration from the genre and also rely on stars of the genre such as, Drake, A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj and more to give them a ‘shoutout’ in order to gain what is known as ‘street cred.’
The relationship between both art forms is simply undeniable and perhaps unavoidable. Zoe Whitfield, 25, online fashion editor, Clash Magazine – on the topic of fashion and hip-hop’s relationship says, “It’s always been there; particularly and increasingly the idea of selling – there is a strong relationship between the two.”
Though there is a relationship between the two industries, NTS radio host and record storeowner, Charlie Bones, admits his distaste towards the affiliation in particular the way designers exploit the genre’s culture.
“I don’t think those designers actually liked the designs they made mainly because of the audience it targeted, but because it brought them a lot of money they didn’t allow it to bother them as much.” Bones continues stating that “the mainstream sucking up anything that it can get cultural meaning from as it’s always happened in fashion.”
Endorsement deals have become a key aspect of the music genre. In today’s fashion most hip-hop artists are seen either modelling for their favourite designers or rapping about them in their songs and music videos. Fashion Killa, A$AP Rocky, is one of a few to say artists who have modelled for big name designers such as his role in DKNY’s 2014 spring ad campaign.
A more exemplary example is Jay-Z’s “Tom Ford” track from his Magna Carta Holy Grail album. In the song Mr Carter is heard repeatedly mentioning the former Yves Saint Laurent creative director’s name whilst unceasingly letting his listeners know he rocks Tom Ford (“I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford”).
Some may say the involvement of fashion with hip-hop is an exploitation of the genre’s rich culture and history. Though the industry’s history shows its connection to hip-hop dates as far back to the 80s. The era that birthed MTV and brought the world the likes of Run-D.M.C. with their unequivocal uniform: the Adidas originals tracksuit and Kangol bucket hat. But the question still battling through some minds is whether the relationship between both is a genuine cultivation of two different cultures or purely for promotional and profit purposes?
Whitfield, continues, “the connection is probably a mixture of both. I think the two have the ability to be part of the same culture; different avenues within the same idea – however, the profit and promotional side has a strong role today.”
Bones, on the other hand, emphasises on the cunning methods designers use, saying, “But labels are very clever; they have their ways of structuring their clothing for particular audience.”
But it ain’t Ralph though!
Ralph Lauren quickly became one of the first high-end fashion designers in the 90s to experiment with the youth-minded genre. If you recall the 90s well, you will know that the ‘polo shirt’ designer’s clothing were rapidly becoming popular, with rappers and artists alike sporting his garments. Doing the same was preppy-wear designer, Tommy Hilfiger.
Hilfiger in particular gained more success through reaching out to the genre by using artists like Aaliyah in his catwalk shows and campaigns, essentially bringing new scenery to the fashion world. Both iconic designers did, however, begin to gain popularity or street-cred within the genre and culture through well-known artists such as Snoop Dogg, Biz Markie, and Missy Elliot.
At the time nothing much was seen of it than two icons of the fashion industry expanding their horizons and exploring into a different world filled with music artistry. Fast-forwarding time, the connection and relationship is still alive, however the corporate affair which has long been overlooked is now a bit more evident.
In the past 5 years the fashion industry has seen a rise in designers inspired by hip-hop and its artists. From Alexander Wang to Rick Owen, the list goes on. However, with the increase comes the endorsements deals, meaning artists are required to give a shoutout to whichever designer they happen to be repping, either via social media – Instagram and Twitter primarily – or at red carpet events or on tours.
Despite both industries’ history and relationship, this trade cycle of ‘I scratch your back you scratch mine’ only further reinstates the doubt behind both industries’ undeniable relationship while raising questions about its credibility and whether it is in fact platonic or purely business.
Timmy is editor of Nouveaux, a freelance writer and poet with avid interests in literature, music, and sports.
*Last updated: 10/11/2016