The 1980s and early 90s was an era of fashion statements, freedom of speech, flossing and experimenting. So let’s take some time to appreciate our roots of hip hop fashion because let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Hip Hop icons such as Run DMC, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Notorious BIG, WU Tang Clan and Jay Z we would not have luxury streetwear and hip hop fashion. Hip Hop was a small flame, but without it becoming what it was in the early 1980s infiltrating main stream pop culture it would not have spread like wild fire today.
With many rappers talking about expensive designer clothes in their songs Notorious BIG - “I'm clocking ya, Versace shades watching ya” and wearing them in their rap videos. It didn’t take long for the Hip Hop artists to realise these fashion companies were happy for them to promote their brands whilst keeping them at arms length and reaping all the financial benefits from their status and listeners. It was thought that urban communities would cheapen luxury brand names. The Hip Hop industry quickly began to tire from the luxury brand knock backs and decided to turn rejection into a statement of intent, creating clothes for fans who, like them, were at best only ever endured by the establishment. Like their music, their clothes reflected reality of what was happening within their community. The first to launch their own brand was Wu Tang Clan, with Wu Wear, then followed artists such as Diddy who launched Sean John, and Jay Z launched Rocawear. These artists realised their was a gap in market and they could control what they promoted and how they were rewarded. This was the rise of so-called urban fashion.
It was no coincidence that this b-boy culture instigated a popularity in sportswear brands such as Adidas, PUMA, FILA and Reebok who started forming relationships with rappers, as their branding technique and selling point, to exploit both the fashion and music industry’s commercial potential.
Alexander Wang, a big fan of hiphop music himself, also created a streetwear collection, “Do Something” claiming that hip-hop music “is the most relevant genre of music that speaks to me and our generation”. Recently, street style has also been hybridizing with more high fashion tastes. Louis Vuitton, for instance, collaborated with Kanye West for an exclusive shoe model.
Kanye West has spent most of his career complaining that he’s not taken seriously as a designer, and while his first attempts at high fashion bombed, with Yeezy he’s become a model for the kind of power and influence rappers can have over fashion and, more importantly, business. Before Kanye, rappers were lucky to be paid to wear a brand’s clothes. Now, they’re at the controls.
Nowadays, the number of expensive street-style brands have been increasing; leveraging the value of casual, swagger high fashion. Partly due to the mainstream acceptance of rappers and DJs as icons in the past few decades. The recent flux of pricier, casual streetwear brands defies the concept of “high fashion” prior to this multifaceted phenomenon, that was once ruled exclusively by the fashion elite and viewed to be untouchable.