By Megan Ambers
Influence is everything and there are people who will pay any amount of money to be able to influence the masses. And when I think about rappers and just how much influence they have among their fan bases, collaborating with high-end fashion designers can (and has been proven to) be a good thing. When you think about how much influence hip hop has on high fashion, you have to start back to when hip hop first emerged in the 70s and 80s, when a rapper’s gear was first considered as important as (or even more than) his rapping skills itself. Among the Kangol hats, Gold rope chains, and fresh Adidas, as a Rapper, their fashion sense had to be up-to-par. Yeah, your skills are tight, but your outfit is what grabbed their attention from the jump. I was a youngin’ when Def Jam’s own Russell Simmons started his fashion line Phat Farm, 1993 to be exact. But Phat Farm didn’t blow up on its first try, Russell lost approximately $10 million during its first six years. “I couldn’t find anyone to do fashion design with, so I had to start a fashion company. I’m a servant to the hip-hop community.“, Russell told Entrepreneurs magazine in 2009.
As the years have gone by, Rappers like Sean “Diddy” Combs and Jay-Z began to venture out on their own journeys in the fashion industry with Sean John and Rocawear (Jay-Z has since sold). I believe it was the moment when Rappers were starting to be fully accepted as fashion influences in high fashion, and not just street hip-hop fashion tastemakers. Gianni Versace being one of the first luxury high fashion designers to welcome hip-hop into his atmosphere, invited rapper 2Pac to walk the runway during his Menswear show in 1996. However, in the 2000s, hip-hop fashion was a mosaic of all different types of fashion trends, from extra baggy clothes, Sports Jerseys, Skinny jeans with glammed out belts, to Vans and graphic T-shirts. In 2008-2009, both Pharrell and Kanye West worked with Louis Vuitton to design the Blason Jewelry line and a collection of LV sneakers with Marc Jacobs. Four years prior, Pharrell first collaborated with Louis Vuitton with the creation of the ‘Millionaire’ sunglasses collection. Which was becoming a popular trend for the Parisian fashion empire, founded in 1854. This movement, in my opinion, birthed the era of the bourgeois rapper. The hip-hop culture has always supported the lavish lifestyle of the rich and richer, from wearing their fashion to shouting out their names on songs. And when you listen to some of your favorite songs, you will, likely, nine out of ten times hear lyrics that name drops these high-end fashion names. Escada, Balenciaga, Hermés, Margiela, some names that I shamelessly admit I mispronounced beforehand. And I tend to ask myself are these rappers of today just name-dropping or really working hand in hand with these designers? And what do they get in return?
“Hip-hop had become one of the biggest forms of transcultural expression. It became the biggest vehicle to sell things. So while these rappers were getting more and more acclaim they were essentially discussing the brands they liked in their music, and those brands saw a spike in revenue.” – Frank the Butcher of All Is Fair Agency LLC, told Highsnobiety.
Rappers are being recognized and appreciated for the impact and buying power influence that they have over the hip-hop community. If rappers were to simultaneously stop wearing and promoting these designers, sales will definitely decline. These designers not only know and understand this, but they must also continuously be innovative and open-minded about the youth and who they are influenced by. Rappers like Travis Scott, ASAP Rocky and Vic Mensa all modeled for Alexander Wang, which led up to ASAP Rocky collaborating with J.W. Anderson, releasing a collaborative collection of beanies, track pants and fur coats. Beyoncé have used the likes of Balmain, Roberto Cavalli, DSquared2, Gucci and others to help design her wardrobe for her Formation world tour, while Hubby Jay and Kanye’s Watch the throne tour merchandise was custom made by Givenchy by Richard Tisci. Kanye West, who has always prided himself as a lover of high-end fashion, even moved to Rome and spent four months interning with Fendi. After his Pastelle clothing line being cancelled in 2009 and receiving mixed reviews from his (2011-2012) two seasons of his DW Kanye West Women fashion line, Kanye successfully premiered his Yeezus season clothing line in 2015.
This type of collaboration has proven to be successful monetarily for both the Artist and Designer. From Giuseppe Zanotti designing sneakers inspired by Kid Cudi, to Travi$ Scott modelling in a short film for Saint Laurent, this will only continue to evolve to bigger and better opportunities for Hip-Hop culture.