As Posted On MacsMagazine.com
We are currently living in a world where Nike Air Yeezy trainers are selling for almost £60,000, and urban singer and rapper collaborations are taking over the high street and major designer fashion labels. The hip hop culture has been close to our hearts since it emerged onto the music scene in the 1980s, but now it appears that it is no longer just an interest of the minority but has kicked its way into the mainstream.
First of all let’s take a look at the evolution of urban fashion trends: In the 1980s rappers like hip hop group Run DMC made the tracksuit a popular style; complete with white hi-top trainers, chunky gold necklaces and customized accessories to express individuality. The named brands and oversized jewellery were used as a symbol of status to prove the worth of the new genre, and the artists who rapped the lyrics that defined the new culture that was emerging. The 1990s introduced hip hop’s love for bright colours and loud prints with actors like Will Smith wearing the style on his hit TV programme The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Denim also made an appearance, with jeans, denim jackets and even double denim appearing in many rap music videos. The 1990s also saw the emergence of more females in hip hop with girl bands like TLC setting the foundations for women to make urban fashion their own. The 2000s saw hip hop’s influence spread even further, with rappers now seen as part of the “musical elite” and having more wealth to spend on luxury designer labels and flashy accessories. Casual street style was now a part of high street fashion and making an appearance at runway shows.
Today’s urban fashion mixes the best of the past and the future, remaining loyal to the original hip hop feel. However, now wearers adapt the style to suit their own personal dress sense and how they want to be seen professionally. Accessories are still an important part of urban fashion as they can be customized to express the individuality that wearers are trying to portray, and yet still make a statement. In this sense the meaning behind the style remains the same as it was intended, back in the days of Run DMC. Snap-back caps, beanie hats and trainers are now just as important, if not more so, than jewellery to complete the look; as the emphasis is on expressing uniqueness rather than bragging about material wealth. Although some still opt for the statement bling, as a way of promoting status and gaining respect from their peers and colleagues. Designer of the popular “Comme des F*ckdown” beanies Russ Karablin describes how urban fashion has been stripped down to the basics instead of focusing on designer brands: “I’ve seen it (streetwear) get dumbed down. Kids these days don’t care about the meaning behind the graphic they just want it to match their sneakers. Back then, people were more receptive to deeper concepts and stuff with more meaning to it. They didn’t always get it at first, but when they did, they appreciated the stuff even more. These days it’s a little more loose”.
In September 2012 Professor Elena Romero spoke about how the hip hop industry has transformed the fashion world and is now a $3 billion industry in her book ‘Free Stylin’: How Hip-Hop Changed The Fashion Industry’. Elena’s book also discusses how a fashion trend that was once considered niche is now appealing to a mainstream young market who is adapting the style to suit them, allowing it to evolve and grow in popularity. Urban fashion tends to appeal to the youth of today due to its rebellious, anti-establishment nature which makes it appear distinctive and edgy. Sometimes urban fashion trends can be surprising, and contradictory to the stereotypical image of hip hop as being for gangsters; for example wearing preppy labels such as Ralph Lauren and Jack Wills is a recurring trend. Literary critic for the New York Times Michiko Kakutani believes that this is down to perceptions of race: “urban black people co-opt the dress sense of typically upper-class white people as a manifestation of their lack of power in American society”. She describes how regardless of income, your clothing is seen to present an image of success, if labels and named brands are worn. She also has a theory on why urban fashion has so much cross-over appeal with 75% of hip hop fans being non-black: white young people are “cultural tourists who romanticize the very ghetto life that so many black kids want to escape”. ‘They do not wish to be associated with their parents’ and parents’ friends’ wealth and so identify with the gritty street life that urban music portrays’.
Urban celebrities and established rappers have all jumped on the ever evolving bandwagon of urban fashion with more and more creating their own fashion line and collaborating with the major fashion houses to bring out exclusive lines of shoes and clothing to their fans. Rapper P. Diddy’s label Sean John rivals lots of contemporary American designers and won the prestigious Menswear Designer of the Year Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America back in 2004. His achievements in the fashion world paved the way for hip hop artists being more than just musicians, but entrepreneurs and fashion trendsetters too. Singer Pharrell Williams later launched labels Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) and Ice Cream with Japanese music producer and DJ Nigo in 2005, creating demand for their products by only making limited quantities and charging high-end prices. In 2011 Rapper Jay Z officially partnered with BBC to combine his skills with Pharrell’s creativity. The big fashion houses have recognized the selling power of these rap stars and are seizing the opportunities to work with them. Rapper Kanye West, the certified ‘Louis Vuitton Don’, collaborated with them in 2009 to create an exclusive line of trainers with prices starting just under £600. He regularly appears front row at their fashion shows to show his continued and mutual loyalty to the brand. Mr West also collaborated with Nike to create two generations of Air Yeezy trainers which have both been successful lines. The most recent urban collaboration was singer Rihanna’s line of clothing at high street chain River Island, her designs debuted at February’s London Fashion Week and hit shops back in March. The Bajan beauty also designed a capsule collection for high-end designer Giorgio Armani in 2010 and is set to work with MAC Cosmetics in the near future.
The great thing about urban fashion being appealing to such a diverse range of people is the proof that hip hop music is yet another powerful platform, like sport, that can bring people together and diminish racial tensions and negative preconceptions. Hopefully more rap artists can tap into that power, like greats from the past like Tupac Shakur tried to, and use their words for good, instead of for superficial means. In the words of Tupac: “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.”
Did you hear about the controversy behind Beyonce’s latest fashion statement? Take a look.