PEDESTRIAN.TV: The Risky Romance of Rap and Couture
4 OCTOBER 2013
This week Atlanta trio Migos dropped the clip to their breakout hit “Versace”. They had promised the clip would feature Drake who helped propel them into the spotlight. But Drizzy was nowhere to be seen. Who could one up his anticipated appearance? Donatella Versace herself. Many would be surprised to see the designer in a clip which has lyrics about cooking crack. But the truth is rap and luxury fashion are mighty snug right now. Like a diva who finally succumbs to the bad boy’s flirtation, high end designers are embracing rappers. But are the two industries a dysfunctional couple?
Hip-hop’s been involved with numerous styles. Early crews like Grandmaster Flash wore Village People attire as extensions of their performance. When rappers adopted more relatable outfits, it paid off. Run DMC was sponsored from adidas in 1986 for promoting their brand; it was the first time a label had requited hip hop’s affection. Back in those days, fans could actually afford the clothes the rappers wore, so endorsements made sense. There was even some offspring from raps sportswear affair; P. Diddy‘s Sean John clothing, and Jay Z‘s Rocawear. But high fashion was still leagues away, in a far more exclusive club.
By the late ’90s, rap had an appetite for bling. For the first time it was at the top of the popular music charts. The artists were making tall stacks and so rocking and namedropping high end labels was a means of letting everyone know. The namedropping was uniform on commercial rap songs. But they were just like Tweets from peripheral fans; none of them got replies.
By the mid ’00s, the unrequited advances were looking desperate. Rappers were popping up with names like ‘Gucci Mane’ and ‘Louie V Mob’, and many had tattoos of their heartthrob labels. Then it happened. After years of lining up, hip-hop infiltrated the scene. Rappers started to appear at Fashion Week runway shows. Kanye West, one of the genre’s biggest sellers, collaborated with Louis Vuitton for their SS 2009 collection. Designers were even thanking rappers for their attention (Tom Ford said he was flattered by Jay Z’s mention). Rap had got the girl.
It has since worn it’s heart on its sleeve. Rap is proud as a peacock of it’s new squeeze, and it wants the world to see. Kanye sported a Givenchy leather kilt (skirt) during his Watch the Throne tour, and A$AP Rocky wore an Ann Demeulemeester dress (dress) on live TV. Rocky is one rapper who’s conduct is not always glamorous; he’s got a penchant for publicly pummeling females (he did so in Sydney and Coachella. He was sued for the latter.) And yet the rapper was featured in this year’s Spring Campaign for Alexander Wang, a designer of luxury women’s wear.
Chris Brown, another rapper charged with female battery, recently wore a transparent sequined Givenchy shirt in the clip for “Ready”. Social media allows a great deal of people to laugh at such images in a short deal of time. Am I the only one who can see the margin of error?
Mugatu gets where I’m coming from.
There’s been several instances of labels shunning support. Burberry was prudent in detaching it’s association with chavs in 2005. In 2011 Abercrombie & Fitch paid the cast of Jersey Shoreto STOP wearing their label. While both brands were labelled as “elitist” and “ungrateful”, their desire to sustain an exclusive status is justified. In a sphere as fickle as fashawn image is everything. For high end brands, going mainstream means losing exclusivity and being pillaged by counterfeiting. Case in point: Von Dutch.
If the liaison is robbing hip-hop of it’s street aesthetic, is there at least some profit for the designers? A$AP name-checks 27 designers in his new single “Fashion Killa” from Balenciaga to Versace, but in these economically decomposing times, how many rap fans can buy $30,000 t-shirts? More importantly, is A$AP stripping the label’s obscurity, thus deterring the minute market who can actually afford this shit??
It’s already too late for a smooth separation. Rap’s been known to have bitter breakups. WhenThe Economist interviewed the owner of Cristal champagne, Frederic Rouzaud, in 2006, they asked him what he thought about the promotion of his product from rappers like Jay Z, who has publicised the bubbly in his music and clubs. Rouzard replied, “what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.” Jigga shot back that the dude was racist, promptly boycotting the entire brand. Designers shouldn’t expect any better.
Rap and couture are a toxic couple heading straight for trainwreck. French designer Jean Toutou of A.P.C. (who recently collaborated with Kanye on some pricey white tees) said in an interview with Style.com:
“If hip-hop artists aren’t careful, Fashion will kill hip-hop.”
I think the Mugatus of the fashion world should be equally concerned.