Essay: How Musicians Are Rethinking High Fashion

Rihanna at the finale of Fenty x Puma SS17, Paris Fashion Week.
Rihanna, Kanye & co. are bringing style to a new audience.

Who says the music and fashion crowds don’t mix? In the last decade, both worlds seemed to have collided in a groundbreaking manner with the emergence of artistic creators who’ve expanded their brand while reaching out to a broader and more diverse audience.

Among the few who are abandoning their fashion week front row seats in favor of the backstage mayhem, is the one and (notoriously) only Kanye West. Last February, following the premiere of Yeezy Season 1, hip-hop heads and fashionable trendsetters alike began finessing their wardrobe with the artist’s high fashion-meets-streetwear threads. With his clothing line, Kanye has managed to not only put hip-hop culture on the fashion map, he’s also opened up a dialogue between the two industries on the subject of diversifying cultural, social, and artistic influences. As a result of this feat, a new door is being opened, one that bridges the gap between the urban, youth oriented culture of hip-hop and the established, aesthetically conscious culture of high fashion. Despite his collections’ global successes, Kanye still hasn’t managed to dodge the harsh criticism and mockery from the industry’s most opinionated officials. “You know, if I see an opportunity I’m gonna go for it, I’m here to crack the pavement,” he fires back. While Yeezus has often been criticized for equating himself to genius creators such as Michelangelo and Picasso, it’s his refusal to box himself into the limitations of an imposed one-worded title that makes him the forward thinking innovator he is today.

Likewise, when Rihanna first announced her design debut with Puma, her international fan base was first to jump on the Fenty X Prada train, but negative reviews didn’t fall far behind. In responding to her first line, Vogue wrote that “the collection had less to do with athleisure and more with the kind of subversive streetwear rumblings that have been coursing through fashion lately.” In case it wasn’t already obvious, that “subversive streetwear rumblings” was, in fact, the sound of a new generation of aspiring artists and designers trying to reach out to a public more fascinated by garments that fit their lifestyle, than over-the-top red carpet gowns that don’t. Rihanna’s collection accurately demonstrated a look with which a neglected demographic could identify, one that was less focused on the fashion elite’s idea of haute couture and more on the interests of the modern and often younger fashion and music clads. Given the fact that everything she touches is gold, RiRi may also have given streetwear culture a more prominent voice than any fashion show on its own might have.

If you combine rap, skateboarding, and the picturesque setting of California, you end up with a partial description of the genius that is Tyler, the Creator. This past June, the Odd Future hip-hop collective’s leader successfully transformed the notion of a ‘normal fashion show’ with the runway debut of his latest GOLF WANG fashion collection. Tyler, the Creator never fails to add a socially-conscious symbol or two, like the GOLF pride shirt, the black man in the KKK cap, or even the Bernie Sanders garnished “Love Niggas” tee to argue that, “sometimes as blacks, we’re our biggest haters.” This acknowledgment of discrimination is evident in every aspect of his craft, but specifically in his no-limitations view on the link between music and fashion. “Golf wearing kids are freethinkers, dreamers, annoying and have some type of hidden talent,” Tyler told i-D. While encouraging the idea of tolerance, creators like Tyler are constantly putting out visual and sonic work that stimulate our minds and push us to test the norms of what should and shouldn’t be accepted in this day and age.

It’s time to put an end to the harsh judgment that measures the rate of one’s success by the rate of conformity, and to start challenging the barrier between the music and fashion crowds once and for all. Although there’s nothing particularly wrong with the ever changing universe of high end fashion, the problem arises when experts and established designers begin to exclude certain artists who may be less accustomed to the runways, out of snobbery (often masquerading as ‘tradition’). If we, as aspiring thinkers, dreamers, and innovators, pride ourselves on our freedom to pick up a mic or a pencil and produce an oeuvre with an objective, than what’s stopping an artist and his or her fans from transcending the divisions of art? At the opening of Yeezy Season 1, Kanye West perfectly summed up the urgency for inclusion and the democratization of the industry by simply reminding us that “as an artist, and in this world, we can [be and] do whatever we want.”

Image c/o Puma

Read more: Here are 10 female fashion photographers who are changing the game, plus remember that time our intern met Alexander Wang?

Rika Mpogazi is a Junior Fashion Features Contributor at Couturesque Magazine. Her style alternates from flowy peasant blouses and seventies flared pants to head to toe monochromatic minimalism. Her opinion, however, is as stubbornly imposing as the game changing fashion figures she loves to write about (and occasionally stalk when she's navigating through Instagram @la.sappe).

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