Harry Styles quite literally broke the Internet, garnering over 9 million likes on Instagram, of his first Vogue cover. Donning a Gucci gown, Styles stands as the first-ever solo male to do so. His gender-defying appearance has brought both adoration and contention to the table. Many have applauded him for taking steps to overtly represent gender-neutrality in fashion but conservative critics reject his stepping out of the rigid lines between male and female. His work, however, as masks the decades of gender-defying that other artists and designers have done to pave the way for him to act heretofore – it’s not just Harry Styles.
Unisex fashion in the modern day can largely be attributed to the year 1968, a time where both the feminist ideals of the Women’s Movement and the global Space Race contributed to a ‘Space Age’ in fashion. In her book Sex and Unison: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution, University of Maryland professor Jo Paoletti references Paris runways on which designers like Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges delved into the idea of exploration in simple silhouettes and synthetic fabrics, helping to muddy the burgeoning gender of clothes. Cardin’s “Cosmocorps” collection particularly highlighted unisexism offering zipped sweaters and belted jumpsuits that could be worn by both men and women.
Unisex clothing only persisted temporarily, however, ironically acting as agents of promoting gendered clothing rather than ambiguity. Paoletti writes “part of the appeal of adult unisex fashion was the sexy contrast between the wearer and the clothes, which actually called attention to the male or female body.” Gendered fashion then naturally became characterized by their target audiences, there only two “boy or girl” definitions for clothes.
Image provided by AnOther Magazine, shot by David Sims
Since the 1990s, this trend has hiccuped to famous fashion brands that have established non-binary fashion as a progressive movement. Moreso, it became attached to celebrity media helping to set a playing field for others. Think Kurt Cobain in a traditional baby doll dress slap on the cover of “The Face” or gender-defying performances given by Prince. Either way, genderfluid fashion was now unsheathed from the world of high-end runway fashion and exposed to the general public via these popular faces. It makes sense as to why TeenVogue had to write and title an entire article deattributing the movement to these pop stars.
At present, there is a new creative collective that has taken the reins on genderfluid fashion. Though Harry Styles is at the forefront, sporting many iconic looks like Marc Jacobs at the Brit Awards and his Met Gala work by Gucci genius Alessandro Michele, there have been others that paved the road that Styles now leads on. Jaden Smith has appeared as an advocate of androgynous dressing since starring in Louis Vuitton’s SS16 womenswear campaign. He has also started his own gender-neutral clothing line MSFTSrep. But Styles’ work should not be consequently discredited as it takes multiple kegs to make a cultural change occur.
1980s Fashion Designer Patrick Kelly in his “Paris” baseball hat. Photo credits: https://www.mcnayart.org/blog/fashion-nirvana-patrick-kelly
Oversized bows, rainbow button embroidery, rhinestone Eiffel Tower motifs: American designer Patrick Kelly was an iconoclastic visionary in the 1980s fashion scene. Born in Mississippi in 1954, Kelly’s exuberant aesthetic especially shaped Parisian and New York nightlife culture, offering young men and women a novel form of self-expression. Inspired by his own cultural heritage and an exploration of his sexuality, Kelly’s work served as powerful racial statements in his time, albeit conveyed with humor. Though short-lived, Kelly’s decade-long career was prolific; a catalyst for audacious new forms of dress, his legacy is manifested in the wide range of intersectional celebration in the fashion industry today.
Raised by his mom and grandma, who introduced him to the world of fashion magazines, Kelly cultivated an interest in fashion at an early age. By his early 20’s, Kelly had become an independent couturier. His designs paid homage to Parisian culture through humorous references to French fashion and art history. For instance, his silhouettes emulated iconic styles of Parisian namesake labels, such as CoCo Chanel’s slinky black dresses and the gender-bending silhouettes of YSL’s suits. At the same time, many of these ensembles were accessorized with overt references to his dream hometown — such as berets and avant-garde headdresses — and decorated with ironic embellishments, such as rhinestones in the shape of The Eiffel Tower, red lipstick patterns, or a framed Mona Lisa motif placed sporadically across the fabric. This playful approach to celebrating Parisian culture was unprecedented at its time; Kelly articulated to the press at a runway show in the late 80s that his central goal as a designer was for “his clothes to make you smile.”
Patrick Kelly “Love” gowns, which represented his love for art, fashion, and expression, 1988. Photo credits: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303678404579533602198595352
Kelly moved to Paris in 1979, where his avant-garde aesthetic attracted instant media coverage. The publicity from his widely-admired 1985 spread in Elle France precipitated the establishment of his own commercial business, and, by the end of the 1980s, he was a namesake label in the New York and Parisian nightlife scene. As Dilys Blu, curator of The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 2014 exhibition Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love wrote, his work was greatly influenced by the “the heady, inventive, and often-subversive urban milieu” of New York and Paris’ subcultures — namely, queer and African American communities. His ensembles featured overt references to queer pride, such as rainbow buttons embroidered in the motif of a large heart, a “I Love Patrick Kelly” pattern swooping across the front of a gown, and rainbow tulle and pinwheels as accessories.
Kelly’s designs grew increasingly adventurous and complex over the course of his career trajectory. Though his work was predominantly recognized for its aesthetic novelty, it also served as a tangible manifestation of his cultural identity. For instance, his most seminal pieces were inspired by African American folklore and his Southern roots. The influence of his heritage and cultural identity were evident in the poofy skirts, voluminous silhouettes, usage of denim, and overalls featured in the collection.
Patrick Kelly SS89 Collection, photographed by Oliviero Toscani. Photo credits: https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/19678/1/the-secret-history-of-patrick-kelly
Kelly’s runway shows brought his racial and cultural pride to life, as they celebrated racial diversity and body inclusivity. Some of his models’ walks were also inspired by drag culture; they danced down the stage and performed gender-bending acts such as removing a traditionally-female wig while wearing extravagant makeup during their walk. This could be due in part to Kelly’s involvement in and creative inspiration from the gay nightlife scene in Paris and New York. Additionally, many of the collection’s most striking details — such as the Golliwog logo, Aunt Jemima bandana dresses, and black baby-doll brooches — served as satirical yet playful racial statements. For instance, the Golliwog logo, which became a part of Patrick Kelly’s brand logo, was prevalent throughout many of his designs. In his 1988 runway show, the motif is scattered across one white, body-con gown from 1988. On the black version of the gown, its placement seemed more intentional, as it sat on the bust and backside of the model. Another design, a pair of denim overalls with colorful buttons, was embroidered with a large Golliwogo motif; it was styled with a white t-shirt printed with red hearts and the silhouette of a woman in a crinoline skirt and a baseball hat embroidered with the word “PARIS.” Modeled by an African American male, this multifaceted and dynamic piece opened a dialogue about the intersection of race, sexuality, and cultural identity present in his work.
A young prodigy, Kelly passed away from AIDS on January 1, 1990, but his influence on New York and Parisian culture are long-lasting. He was not only the first African American designer who rose to fame in France but also the first American designer who was invited to join the Chambre Syndicale, an exclusive body of professionals within the French ready-to-wear community. His legacy in the fashion industry is also manifested in the designs of several contemporary designers, such as the whimsical New York-based streetwear label, Gerlan Jeans. Founded by fashion designer and graphic artist Gerlan Marcel, Gerlan Jeans pays homage to Kelly’s unapologetically loud and vibrant aesthetic; featuring reinterpretations of Kelly’s iconic oversized bows, colorful buttons, and quirky embellishments, the label strives to dress those who are fearless in the way they dress. What is perhaps most powerful about Kelly’s impact on the industry was his commitment to diversity and cultural pride. In addition to offering new, avant-garde forms of self expression, his work opened a dialogue about the intersection of identity, sexuality, and fashion, as it challenged racial and cultural boundaries within the fashion industry.
Gabriela Hearst Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear Pantsuit at NYFW. Photo credits: https://www.tag-walk.com/en/look/124918
In September, 2018, Grabriela Hearst’s lux pantsuit was greeted with an uproar of applause during her Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear NYFW presentation. Sleek, architectural, and minimal, yet elevated, the silk ensemble pays homage to the notion of the “feminine mode” in everyday reality. It pairs a single-breasted blazer with tailored trousers, straddling the line between everyday workwear and high-end luxury. In fact, just one out of many that took the runway by storm these past two years, the pantsuit has become one of the most powerful trends of the decade.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and a cultural shift towards greater female representation in the political realm, a resurgence in feminist tropes have become ubiquitous in the fashion industry. The “power suit,”in particular, heralded by Harper’s BAZAAR as a staple trend of the year, has become a pervasive motif for women’s empowerment in both the workplace and popular culture. It has trickled across various consumer demographics and price points, a staple on both the red carpet and in the millennial closet.
While the pantsuit might seem like an established garment category today, it was practically perceived as a crime just one century ago. Mere pants did not emerge as a trend for women until the early 1900s, when French designer Paul Poiret designed womenswear pants that were inspired by a harem costume. Few women in Europe and the US wore them, however, as they were viewed as outrageous and inappropriate. In Puerto Rico in 1919, social labor organizer Luisa Capetillo was even sent to jail for being the first woman to wear pants in public. As Marjorie Jolles, a women’s studies professor at Roosevelt University, articulated, “It was just top-to-bottom sex. And that, I think, can be traced to the fact that for at least some of our recent Western history, a divided crotch—so pants as opposed separately encased in fabric—was thought to be the height of immodesty.”
Following the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, women began to harness new agency in not just the political realm but also the social sphere. As able-bodied men left for World War I, women took their places in the workforce, which offered new opportunities in terms of dress. In 1918, for instance, Levi Strauss introduced the “Freedom-Alls,” a women’s trouser-style cotton tunic over balloon pants. Similarly, in the luxury sector, French couturier Coco Chanel launched her 1923 “signature suit,” a two-piece set inspired by menswear and designed for post-war women to enter the workforce. A symbol for women’s growing agency in the workplace, the bottoms consisted of a knee-length skirt instead of pants but laid the groundwork for the modern pantsuit.
As the film scene skyrocketed in the 1940s, many Hollywood stars — most notably, Audrey Hepburn — began to adopt fitted tuxedo-esque jackets with wide-leg trousers. Menswear-inspired apparel did not become ubiquitous in the womenswear market until World War II, however, when the percentage of women in the workplace rose from 27% to 37%. Levi’s womenswear finally gained consumer appeal, and women’s workwear began to emerge as a segment of the industry.
Le Smoking, 1967. Photo credits: https://www.wmagazine.com/gallery/yves-saint-laurent-le-smoking-couture/
In the 1960s, a decade of great political upheaval and particularly huge strides in women’s rights, French designer Yves Saint Laurent pioneered the modern day pantsuit in 1966. Known as Le Smoking, this first tuxedo-suit for women consisted of a dinner jacket, trousers, a white shirt, a black bowtie, and a cummerbund. It received mixed responses, as YSL was the first couturier to present pants as a form of women’s evening wear. Many women who ventured wearing this bold look were denied entrance at restaurants and conferences. When New York socialite Nan Kempner was refused entry at restaurant Le Côte Basque in New York, she removed her pants, donning her blazer as a mini dress. Heralded as the epitome of the YSL woman, she received widespread praise, helping to popularize Le Smoking and challenging regulations against antiquated gendered dress codes.
Throughout the 1970s, Le Smoking became an increasingly ubiquitous evening-wear staple, especially when actress Bianca Jagger adopted the look on her wedding day in 1971. Four years later, the look was shot by photographer Helmut Newton, personifying the power and modernity of the YSL image in a captivating editorial for Vogue Magazine. As Saint Laurent himself articulated, “For a woman, Le Smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”
While in the 1930s, actress Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrick dismissed the pantsuit as “mannish” and inappropriate, its widespread appeal in Hollywood trickled down into contemporary culture in the 1970s. It became a workwear staple in upper-middle class America. Many Italian and French ateliers, in particular, became renowned for their sophisticated, form-fitting, and professional attire. It was really in the 80s that the pantsuit became a lucrative garment category in the fashion industry; between 1980 and 1987, annual sales of women’s pantsuits rose by 60 million units. The 80s also catalyzed a wave of women pursuing higher education, and the pantsuit became a symbolic uniform for the movement. Designers such as Giorgio Armani popularized pantsuits with oversized lapels, sharp cuts, and broad shoulder pads, which blurred traditional gender roles and emulated power and authority.
Hillary Clinton at North Carolina State University for the last campaign stop before election day on November 7, 2016. Photo credits: https://www.bustle.com/articles/194023-hillary-clinton-wrote-pantsuit-nation-a-heartfelt-thank-you-note-it-sets-the-tone-for-her
In 1993, Senators Babara Mikulski wore pants in the Senate in defiance of the rule forbidding women from wearing pants. Later that year, Sergeant-at-Arms Martha Pope amended the rule, allowing women to wear pants on the floor as long it was paired with a jacket; thus, the tradition of pantsuits in the political realm was born. In the 2016 Presidential election cycle, Hillary Clinton’s well-known pantsuit became a battle cry among her supporters, many of whom wore pantsuits to the polls in her support. After referring to her campaign team as “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits” at the Democratic National Convention, “Pantsuit Nation,” a Facebook group that was eventually composed of 2.9 million Clinton supporters, was formed.
In the wake of the election, the pantsuit became a feminist rally cry, infiltrating both the runway and the mass market. It has come a long way since the groundbreaking invention of Le Smoking, when an androgynous uniform symbolizing power and authority was perceived as outrageous for women to wear. Reigning as one of the top trends these past three years, the pantsuit has become a powerful motif for women’s empowerment in both the workplace and on the runway.
Peggy Moffitt in Gernreich’s Monokini, WWD, 1964. Photo credits: https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/peggy-moffitt-venturing-into-licensing-1203226028/
When readers flipped through their issues of Women’s Wear Daily on June 3, 1964, they were shocked to find images of model Peggy Moffitt in a topless swimsuit. Austrian-American anti-establishment designer Rudi Gernreich had designed this waist-high bikini bottom with suspenders running between Moffitt’s breasts. Avant-garde and controversial, this “monokini” galvanized public opinion. It received an enormous amount of press coverage, which contributed to the acceptance of his more “modest” designs such as tank dresses, mini skirts, and the bikini. Only three thousand suits were sold, as few dared to wear it. Nonetheless, Gernreich’s design catalyzed the 1960s cultural shift toward new forms of sexual expression.
Born in 1922, Austrian designer Rudi Gernreich immigrated to the United States in 1938 to escape anti-Semitic violence. A talented artist, dancer, and performer, he spent his first few years in Los Angeles as a costume designer and dancer for Lester Horton Modern Dance Troupe, whose performances revolved around racial justice and anti-fascist activism.
Duotard by Gernreich for Lewitsky Dance Co. in 1976. Photo credits: https://www.latimes.com/fashion/la-ig-rudi-gernreich-exhibition-skirball-fashion-exhibit-20190517-story.html
Gernreich’s early designs in the US were already imbued with political undertones, as Gernreich subverted heteronormative expectations of dress through gender non-conforming silhouettes.
Throughout the 1940s, he designed for various swimwear manufacturers and collaborated with LA and New York-based designers on knitwear micro-collections; they featured interchangeable sets, such as a matching tube top and mini skirt. Allowing wearers to mix and match their garments, Gernreich’s sets brought a sense of lighthearted fun, as well as versatility, to women’s wardrobes.
In 1950, he befriended American activist Harry Hay, who was a member of the California communist party and an activist union organizer. Together, they co-founded the Mattachine Society, one of the first organizations dedicated to lobbying for queer rights. His passion for non-heteronormative and iconoclast expression became an increasingly frequent theme in his work.
Moffitt in Gernreich’s Signature Stockings. Photo credits: http://silverscreenmodes.com/60s-a-go-go/60speggymoffittrudigernreich2/
In 1960, after gaining national notoriety for his avant-garde knitwear, he founded his eponymous LLC., Rudi Gernreich Inc. Gernreich believed fashion could promote sexual equality, and the central goal of his brand was to free women from the bonds of traditional, patriarchal fashion. He sought to challenge binding fashions that concealed women’s natural curves. For instance, he fused sportswear and designer by creating tube dresses out of tech jersey and printing nylon in bold colors and patterns for tights. By utilizing synthetic sportswear materials for Ready-to-Wear designs, he offered women the opportunity to wear form-fitting and often provocative apparel outside of the athletic sphere. As his business grew, his staple designs included transparent tops, mini skirts, nylon tube dresses, invisible undergarments, the thong, and most notoriously, the monokini. Though initially perceived as a joke at women’s expense, the monokini offered women an unprecedented form of sexual empowerment.
In her 1965 report on the monokini, Gloria Steinem named him “the
Gernreich with model Peggy Moffitt. Source: https://www.latimes.com/fashion/la-ig-rudi-gernreich-exhibition-skirball-fashion-exhibit-20190517-story.html
American designer responsible for the desertion of the feminine.” Especially in the post-war era, Gernreich’s designs were entirely unprecedented in their audacity, sexual appeal, and purpose. Though many of his designs did not become pervasive on the market until the Sexual Revolution in the 1970s, his head-turning work initiated the womenswear industry’s transition from concealing to revealing. His designs were politically charged statements —just as much as they were novel in aesthetic— as he subverted heteronormative double standards of dress and facilitated societal acceptance of sexually-empowering womenswear.
Born in New York City, hip-hop began as a 1970s subculture celebrating music and dance among Black youths. A force of camaraderie, creativity, and self-expression, hip-hop pioneered innovative new styles that proliferated across the country. Over the course of the past five decades, hip-hop music grew from a fringe subculture to a prominent voice in pop culture. Its lasting impact on the industry is especially evident in streetwear, the most pervasive trickle-up macrotrend to date. Hip-hop has become an influential role in contemporary fashion, inspiring novel trends, generating commercial viability for partner brands, and giving rise to the streetwear market as we know it today.
For his Spring/ Summer ‘17 runway show, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia sent his models down the runway in oversized windbreakers with BALENCIAGA splashed across their chests. Color-block, volume, logo-mania, androgyny— the collection embodied the streetwear-centric zeitgeist of the decade while also paying homage to the ethos of the 1980s. Formerly Vetements’ Creative Director, Gvasalia’s debut at Balenciaga sparked the brand’s transformation into a streetwear giant. As The New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman noted, “The extreme, almost antifashion streetwear aesthetic of Vetements might seem the opposite of the historically elitist Balenciaga.”
Balenciaga Windbreaker at S/S’18 RTW Runway. Photo Credits: https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2018-ready-to-wear/balenciaga
Balenciaga’s drastic transformation was far from an anomaly in the fashion industry; in fact, it seems that streetwear is one of the most pervasive macro-trends on the runway, only trickling farther up into the luxury sector each season. It has given rise to numerous subcultures, such as hypebeasts and sneakerheads, and in turn, an unprecedented number of new second-hand resale vendors dedicated solely to streetwear.
However, what is often unrecognized and appropriated are the historical and cultural roots of streetwear: this $300 billion industry is indebted to hip-hop, a sub-cultural movement pioneered by Black youth in the 1970s. In Sacha Jenkins’ Fresh Dressed, a 2015 documentary on hip-hop fashion, she stated that “Fashion has always been an important part of the hip-hop identity because fashion has always been an important part of Black identity in America… Because when you don’t have much ownership over where you can land in society, your financial situation, your educational situation, the one thing you can control is the way you look.”
Hip-hop fashion first emerged in New York City in the 1970s as a visual counterpart to rap music. Caribbean and African-American teens in disenfranchised parts of the city created a sense of unity by hosting block parties, where they danced to funk and soul, utilizing turntables to extend the dance break. They began to add instruments and elements of different songs to the breakbeat, generating new music and forming the foundations of hip-hop music. In addition to breakdancing, they began MCing during these dance breaks to encourage each other to dance, which quickly grew into DJing and what is known as rapping today. In 1978, rappers coined the term “hip-hop” to refer to the movements exhibited by the dancers during raps.
As hip-hop developed into a prominent fringe culture among Black youths, they transposed the music into a larger cultural phenomenon, which was especially manifested in their attire. From the get-go, dress was a crucial component to their performances, as each rapper would compete to dress better than the last. 1970s NYC photographers such as Henry Chalfant and Ricky Flores captured staples of these nascent days of streetwear as they proliferated across the city and eventually the East Coast: baggy jeans, oversized t-shirts, baseball caps, and chunky sneakers.
Ricky Flores, Tanco, South Bronx, 1984. Photo Credits: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-12-photographers-who-captured-hip-hop-from-old-school-to-the-90s
As breakdancing became increasingly physical in the 1980s, rappers and dancers established four main moves: toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes. Known as b-boys and b-girls, the dancers would wear Adidas track suits and Puma or Adidas superstar sneakers to accommodate their acrobatic movements. Athletic labels— most notably Nike, PUMA, Reebok, Adidas, and FILA— became a motif of hip-hop fashion. The increasingly prevalent b-boy community propagated streetwear as a lifestyle, galvanizing sportswear into a fashion trend for the first time. By the end of the decade, hip-hop fashion had become a force of unity, self-expression, and solidarity among Black teens.
The 1980s catalyzed an unprecedented wave of hip-hop music production, which, in turn, increased the commercial viability of hip-hop fashion. In 1982, Wild Style, a film about a South Bronx graffiti artist who paints the backdrop for a rap concert, also helped increase the visibility of hip-hop culture across the nation. In response, sportswear brands, who had long been central to hip-hop culture, quickly began to capitalize upon the marketing potential of hip-hop artists.
Adidas Custom Line for Run-D.M.C. Photo Credits: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1980-1989/
For instance, in 1986, hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. performed their hit single “My Adidas” at Madison Square Garden and encouraged the audience to hold their Adidas in the air. After a sea of Adidas superstars shot into the air, the sneaker brand invested in a 1 million dollar endorsement deal for the group, which included a custom sneaker line. After Adidas’ endorsement deal, a slew of other mainstream sportswear brands invested in collaborations with hip-hop groups as well. As Glenn Collins remarked in The New York Times in 1988, “Hip-hop’s influence on advertising is unmistakable. A print ad in Reebok’s new $35 million campaign shows 20-, 30- and 40-year-old whites dancing on a graffiti-bedaubed, hip-hoppy city street. A New Way of Writing It and other Reebok ads, adopting the orthography of rap hits like M. C. Lyte’s ”I Cram 2 Understand U (Sam),” proclaim: ”Reeboks Let U.B.U.” By the end of the decade, hip-hop music had become a powerful outreach tool in the sportswear industry.
The early 90s gave rise to the inception of independent streetwear labels. Renowned graffiti artists such as KAWS began selling their paintings on t-shirts rather than canvases, while Rappers such as Puff Daddy founded their own apparel lines rather than collaborating with mass retailers. Brands such as the North Face and Timberland struggled to keep up, incorporating a hip-hop-inspired aesthetic into their new collections.
Puff Daddy and Kate Moss by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue US October 1999. Photo credits: https://thecitizensoffashion.com/2013/09/21/vogue-us-october-1999-puffy-takes-paris/
At the same time, as hip-hop boomed in the music industry, artists began to turn towards luxury consumption, in part as a status symbol and in part to disrupt fashion’s racial status quo. Some of the first designer labels rappers incorporated into their wardrobe were Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, as they had been traditionally marketed towards an upper-class, white demographic. Though luxury fashion and hip-hop remained separate since the genre’s inception, rappers’ increasingly flashy logos dismantled racial stereotypes associated with high fashion and catalyzed the first wave of logo-mania in fashion. Their evolving aesthetic received criticism for departing from the authentic origins of hip-hop, but the burgeoning power of rap stars in fashion was undeniable. In Annie Leibovitz’ seminal spread in Vogue, Puffy Takes Paris, in October 1999,the rapper is lavishly styled among some of the most prominent and exclusive figures in fashion—Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, Kate Moss, John Galliano, just to name a few. Leibovitz’ pivotal photo shoot indicated the fashion bible’s endorsement of this new genre and lifestyle.
Throughout the 2000s, fashion brands became a common name-drop in rap music. For instance, Lil Pump’s Gucci Gang (2018), which coincided with the brand’s aesthetic transition into streetwear, catalyzed a wave of aspirational Gucci-mania among teenagers and millennial’s. In 2019, Fendi, Balenciaga, and Gucci were featured a total of 664 times in rap songs.
A$AP Rocky as Face of Dior’s Fall 2016 Campaign. Photo Credits: https://wwd.com/business-news/media/aap-rocky-robert-pattinson-kris-van-assche-dior-homme-10454746/
And in turn, rappers and hip-hop artists became name-drops for fashion brands as well. For one, they became coveted models for fashion brands’ campaigns and runways. For instance, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, and Marc Jacobs featured Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, and Princess Nokia, respectively, prior to new collection drops. Alexander Wang, whose line is recognized for its youthful spirit, street culture inspiration, and ultra-cool, downtown aesthetic, featured Pusha T, Kanye, Travis Scott, and A$AP Rocky in his “Do Something” Campaign. And, most notably, after modeling for Dior Homme, Guess, and Japanese sportswear brand Needles, among many others, A$AP Rocky became the star of Calvin Kelin’s #MyCalvins campaigns.
Collaborations with rappers — such as Travis Scott’s line with Helmunt Lang, Pharrell’s collaboration with Chanel, or Versace’s sunglass line inspired by The Notorious B.I.G.—became almost commonplace as well. The attendance of hip-hop artists at prestigious industry events also communicated their status in the fashion industry. At the highly-exclusive 2018 Met Gala, A$AP Ferg, Migos, Nicki Minaj and Childish Gambino garnered global publicity for their costumes and invitations. In anticipation of the event, Vogue had released a promotional video of Anna Wintour in a Chanel gown at the Met with Coolio’s “Gangsta Paradise” playing in the background. Wintour’s shocking music selection signaled that hip-hop was high on her radar. And at Alexander Wang’s A/W 2018 runway, Wintour, who is usually seated next to top editors and even royalty in the past, was placed next to Cardi B, signaling the prominence of hip-hop artists in fashion.
The role of hip-hop in fashion extends far beyond celebrity marketing or name drops in songs. This past decade, in particular, hip-hop has been a salient force of creative influence in the industry. Numerous exclusive labels have rebranded themselves in these past few years to adapt to our streetwear-centric market. For instance, in 2016, Gucci’s peacocking-bearing skateboard model embodied the brand’s new image: slightly androgynous in style, unabashedly loud, sporty yet hip, and effortlessly cool. In 2017, months prior to the launch of Supreme and Louis Vuitton’s masterful collaboration, Marc Jacobs showcased a polished red tracksuit, adorned with a chunky gold chain and 70s-style hat, amidst his Ready-to-Wear collection.
Hip-hop Inspired Track Suit at Marc Jacobs’ Fall 2017 RTW Runway. Photo credits: https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2017-ready-to-wear/marc-jacobs
And today, situated at the corner of Lafayette and Bleeker in NoHo, New York, the sneaker-centric retailer Kithis every millennial’s streetwear heaven. It generates some of the highest foot-traffic in Soho, attracting crowds of customers lined up outside the store waiting to catch a glimpse of a new collaboration or sneaker drop. Off White, Supreme, and Chinatown Market are some of the most coveted labels on second-hand resale shops and streetwear boutiques. Though still highly inaccessible, designer streetwear is a testament to the lasting influence of hip-hop fashion.
Streetwear, arguably one of the most pervasive trickle-up trends in industry history, is directly shaped and inspired by hip-hop culture from the 1970s. Luxury heritage houses and leaders in the industry alike have endorsed and adopted the aesthetic of hip-hop culture. In doing so, however, they have appropriated and contributed to the erasure of the movement’s racial and historical implications, failing to acknowledge the symbolism behind this sub-cultural movement. Though streetwear is commonplace across the market today, it is necessary to recognize the cultural significance of hip-hop’s inception, as well as the creative agency of its pioneers. From a fringe subculture that united a marginalized community to one of the most ubiquitous forms of expression today, hip-hop has refashioned mainstream dress and forged an unprecedented bridge between fashion and music. And most importantly, it subverts fashion’s status quo by challenging racial hierarchies and dismantling the binary between the streets and the runway.