Hip Hop was birthed out of a need to express the struggles of the black community. The elements of hip hop are rapping, breakdancing, DJing and graffiti; but at the center of hip hop is fashion. Fashion has always been an important part of the hip hop community as it was a way to rise above their disenfranchised communities and stand out with a level of social capital. Since the 1970s, Hip Hop has emerged from a cultural movement to the center of culture globally; dictating major pop-culture and fashion trends.

Image source: The New York Times

From the gated communities of the Beverly Hills to the streets of Japan, the influence of hip hop on fashion is undeniable. Beyond the classic door-knocker earrings and baggy jeans, the culture of hip hop has permeated the fashion industry. Recently, Marc Jacob’s Fall 2017 collection consisted of models dressed in tracksuits and oversized jackets accessorized with retro-styled hats and thick gold chains. Titled “Respect,” the show paid homage to old-school hip hop with an epic fashion moment where models posed on the sidewalk with speakers blaring late 1970’s and early ’80’s hip hop music. With a diverse cast of mostly models of color, the hip-hop influence was seen as a show deference rather than appropriation.

The feelings of many people in the Hip Hop industry were summed up by Nicki Minaj at the after-party for Philipp Plein’s Spring 2018 show, when she took a moment to thank the designer “…for including our culture. Designers get really big and really rich off of our culture, and then you don’t see a motherfucker that look anything like us in the front row…” At the beginning of the Hip Hop movement many luxury designers refused to be associated with rappers. For example, New York rappers were known to wear Timberland boots which became a staple in the urban community but were never acknowledged by the brand. Jason Russell, former director of marketing for Carhartt – another brand once coveted by the Hip Hop community – was quoted as saying “… fine, they like to wear what we make. But we will never go after that market aggressively,” in a New York Times article published in 1994.

There is some reluctance to include hip hop in the fashion industry. However, its influence can be seen on the runways; this is where the problem of appropriation occurs. The hip hop community is often times stereotyped as being “too ghetto” for inclusion and yet its style is copied with no credit given. For many Black women that are told their hair is unruly – such as a Banana Republic employee who was instructed to remove her braids for being too “urban” and “unkempt” – it is frustrating to see people praise the Kardashians for wearing misnamed “Boxer Braids” and “Bo Derek Braids.” Giuliana Rancic of E’s Fashion Police criticized Zendaya’s locs but also called Kylie Jenner edgy for wearing the same hairstyle. In spite of the resistance, the relationship between designers and rappers is growing.

As Hip Hop’s impact grew outside of the United States so did the collaborations within the fashion industry. The first considered endorsement was a one million dollar deal between Run DMC and Adidas in 1986. Later in the 1990s Tommy Hilfiger, popularized in the Hip Hop community by Grand Puba’s lyrics in “What’s the 411,”embraced the genre; Aaliyah was featured in their ad campaign and was a muse for Tommy Girl. By the mid-90s, some high-fashion brands began to recognize the marketing power of Hip Hop.

Part of the ethos of Hip Hop is celebrating lavish living which is the foundation of luxury lifestyle, so it would be remiss for couture fashion houses to not acknowledge the economic opportunity garnered from their brand being mentioned in a song. For example, rapper Cardi B boosted searches for Christian Louboutin shoes by 217% and increased their media value by $4.5 million with her “Bodak Yellow” song. Although some streetwear brands had already set the trend, the first luxury brand to accept Hip Hop was Versace. As a result of a friendship with Gianni and Donatella, Tupac became their unofficial brand ambassador and even walked the runway for their Fall/Winter 1996 show. It’s Pharrell, however, who’s credited with bridging the gap between rappers and luxury designers. He partnered with Louis Vuitton on the “Millionaire” sunglasses collection  in 2005 and the Blason jewelry collection in 2008. Pharrell opened the door to several other collaborations between artists and Luxury brands such as A$AP Rocky with Dior Homme, Balmain’s campaign centered around Kanye West’s Wolf” track, Travis Scott for Saint Laurent and even himself modeling for Chanel.

Dapper Dan and Gucci’s recent collaboration reflects the history of the relationship between Hip Hop and Fashion. Dapper Dan’s Harlem boutique was the fashion mecca of the Hip Hop community in the 1980s. Everyone from rappers to drug dealers went to his shop for customized clothes with counterfeit logos of European designs. Gucci was one of the Fashion Houses that contributed to the closing of his shop in 1992, so it was a shock to see Gucci knockoff a Dapper Dan jacket for their 2018 Cruise Collection. The social media uproar resulted in Gucci and Dapper Dan collaborating on a capsule collection coming out next Spring and the reopening of Dapper Dan’s studio in Harlem.

Partnerships like this exemplify the impact of Hip Hop that is starting to be recognized and celebrated in the Fashion Industry. “Rap isn’t this little thing from the neighborhood anymore, it’s international. Now that it’s international… they understand the marketing of it and they respect it,” explained designer, Guy Wood. The relationship between the Hip Hop community and luxury brands has grown stronger in recent years. Still, there is work to be done, and much room for improvement as we strive to see a full shift from exploitation to representation.  

Featured image styled by Jenn T.