Fashion Killas: Higher fashion gets branded by rap and R&B

Photo credit: By Cassandra Gonzalez

Draped in a $3,650 Lanvin coat over a $350 Acne Studios shirt, the world’s “flyest” human stunts on the cover of GQ Style’s holiday issue. But style isn’t A$AP Rocky’s natural habitat. As GQ Style editors proclaim, Rocky has “landed smack in the center of the music-and-fashion Venn diagram.”

With Rocky, designer name-dropping has always been a habit. Songs like “Fashion Killa” from his 2013 album “LONG.LIVE.A$AP” are coated with designer references. He’s a notorious Gucci fanatic. But does fashion knowledge garner a lyrical legend the privilege of being the face of a major style magazine?

Well, a budding renaissance of musicians is creating their own fashion lines. Singers who have dedicated their lives to distinctive yet trending music are finding the transition to the fashion world to be propelled by their skills, not their names.

They’re not just famous faces in the window display, even though that’s exactly what The Weeknd looks like in this H&M store in Santa Monica Third Street Promenade.

These musicians’ collections separate themselves from limited-edition tour merchandise: at a show, concertgoers buy overpriced sweatshirts, T-shirts and hats to remember a single night of their favorite music heard live – that intimate experience played back every time these items are worn. And no, these aren’t the corporate-driven 2000s celebrity fashion lines – we haven’t forgotten about LL Cool J for Sears.

This continuous wave isn’t about reliving one great night or dumbing down style for the masses. Musicians’ clothing lines are unfiltered statements, mirroring the looks of titans like Lil Yachty, who dropped a 19-piece holiday line with Nautica last month with the same fervor as an album.

The streetwear magazine Highsnobiety clarified that rap and fashion intersect on the lines of “bold confidence, status and staking a claim for the sake of respect.” For these artists, fashion is about taking a trend, understanding why it’s mesmerizing, and enhancing it to make it their own. It’s simply an expansion of a musician’s artistry, which goes hand-in-hand with lyrics and harmonies.

The crossroads of music and fashion relies on knowing designers on a behind-the-scenes to a mainstream level. Take Rocky’s Raf Simmons reference in “RAF.” Without looking it up, who is Raf Simmons?

Who is Raf Simmons?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

For those who picked “2,” you’re on your way to GQ Style cover status!

This holiday season’s cover feature is well-versed in his Raf: Rocky wears his line, name-drops him in songs, and even worked with him once on a 2013 fashion collaboration. When Time Magazine asked prominent people to name the “100 Most Influential People of 2017,” Rocky wrote about the one and only Belgian fashion designer, “based on the fact that he built a whole new religion on fashion… When you wrap your mind around the concept that we wrote the future of fashion and design in the 1990s and early 2000s, then you’ll understand why Raf is the greatest to ever do it.”

Rocky was able to work with his muse and brand a sweatshirt with a simple “RAF A$AP” logo. It enhanced the work of the designer he feels most inspired by and began the cycle again of making his own aesthetic and starting a new trend.

Like Rocky, rapper Travis Scott dropped his own capsule collection with the Australian denim brand Ksubi this past October. Known for his rowdy concert vibe and auto-tune proficiency, Scott’s 10-piece lineup for Ksubi remastered his style as an artist: rugged and explicit to himself.

The distressed jeans, the “Butterfly Effect” artist told Vogue, represent “a sign you’ve been through some shit, more so than a clean jean.” He explains his technique in recreating the vibe of his hometown, Houston: “We really wanted to deconstruct shit, so I deconstructed the pockets. I just wanted to keep it Texas culture – just real simple.”

The Weeknd has exposed more than just a desire to play the trend hunt game. In his first bat at fashion, his PUMA XO Parallel sneakers in “Olive” and “Triple Black” manifest in the form of “Italian nubuck leather” meeting a “sturdy rubber midsole.” It’s a high-low fashion statement that can be donned by the every man and woman and a well-played remix of the elements that Kanye West began experimenting with.

But in his most recent collection with H&M, The Weeknd stitches together more personal layers behind his raw, raspy vocals in his clean-cut apparel, which is what earned him a spot in the window display.

The Weeknd’s style embodies the lax Saturday-to-Sunday affair of his famous moniker. The things that make him feel at home – bringing aspects of his culture into his music – are embedded into the crew neck cut of his sweatshirts.

The Weeknd’s Ethiopian background and appreciation of renowned singers back home like Aster Aweke and Tilahun Gessesse infiltrate his sound. Aweke, an Ethiopian singer who performs in the outro of The Weeknd’s song “False Alarm,” is like the detailing on his sweatshirt sleeves and jackets in the form of the lion and snake illustrations: they are embellishments of The Weeknd’s craft.

But rooted in his aesthetic, both musical and fashionable, is something non-Ethiopian fans can enjoy, too: a small-town boy from Scarborough who once lived on the street and is now a premier icon for trendy streetwear. On The Weeknd’s sweatshirts, white leopards adorn the signature “Reminder” lyric, “If it ain’t XO then it gotta go.”

It’s not just about being Ethiopian or a fan of the R&B genre. Dressing in sweatshirts from The Weeknd’s collection makes the wearer more than warm — he or she feels like it’s possible can achieve the same come-up as him.

The music-annotation site Genius hosted a public forum on its Rap Genius page called “How to study a rapper?” The forum established that dissecting rap is not about completely mimicking a favorite musician – it’s about understanding who or what influences the virtuoso.

Like music, fashion relies heavily on consumers to experience art and bring it to life. To dress like an artist is to fill in the gaps — those who dare to wear a Weeknd piece act as DJ – making art from art.

All photography by Cassandra Gonzalez.

Heran Mamo is the co-editor of Neon and a senior studying journalism with a minor in culture, media and entertainment. She likes writing about pop culture and its convergence with social issues. She has worked as an editorial intern for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. In her free time, Heran likes curating Spotify playlists and shopping for sneakers.