How the Music Industry Influenced Fashion
From Camron rocking a pink fur coat, to Jennifer Lopez showing out in Juicy Couture. From Kurt Cobain in flannel, to Jay Z in a Yankee-fitted. From Madonna embracing corsets, to Pharrell Williams disregarding gender labels. From Tupac’s bandana, to Biggie Smalls in lumberjack… with the hat to match. Music has always influenced the world of fashion, dictating trends and crazes. And there’s no sign of that ever stopping. Whether it’s through lyrics or a music video, musicians have the power of impacting an industry they might not have signed up for. Success in music has intertwined with success in fashion, and it’s become difficult for one to blossom without the other. In fact, the combination of the two brought us an urban offspring we’ve all come to admire — Pop Culture.
Maybe more than any other genre, hip-hop influences fashion at a rapid pace. Rappers are the royalty of modern fashion. Some trends are short-lived, while some stick for the long-term. Others climb, climax, fall out of style, and make a comeback years or decades later; such as Public Enemy with Supreme jackets and Biggie Smalls with Coogi sweaters.
Run DMC were probably the first in the rap game to penetrate the fashion world, having stolen the show in the early 80’s. They introduced the world to adidas tracksuits and gold Cuban-link chains, and that would set the tone for decades to come. Later in the 80’s, the Beastie Boys influenced fashion off their platform. Leather jackets and denimwear were their go-to outfits, and that took the world by storm. Teenagers and young adults everywhere began incorporating that fashion sense, and the craze remained strong throughout the 90’s.
By the mid-90’s, Wu Tang Clan came into the picture. They shook the culture. There’s nothing they didn’t bring. They essentially started the baggy jeans craze. They gave Champion hoodies (oversized) the prestige they enjoy today. And they boosted the Polo Ralph Lauren scene. With all that, they established their own clothing line known as Wu Wear, and became the first rap group to find success in selling their own clothing merch.
Lowkey, Aaliyah influenced young female fashion in the late 90’s. Like Pharrell Williams, she put aside gender labels; only more aggressively. She embraced the tomboy, and ought to be credited for pioneering the crop top. She elevated the Tommy Hilfiger brand for women and revolutionized women’s fashion forever. The likes of Beyonce, Ciara, and Britney Spears caught on quick and you could notice their fashion sense shift, even following Aaliyah’s untimely death. The years after, Avril Lavigne made her mark in the fashion world. She embraced her own tomboy but incorporated a lot of punk. This fashion trend spread to grade school kids in the US and overseas, given Avril Lavigne was only 16 when she began her career.
As the 2000’s progressed, sports became an integral part of rap culture. Sports jerseys, Nike kicks, and Reebok sneakers came into play. Throwback sporting goods and retro collectors’ items became a craze. Thanks to Nelly, Jay Z, Ludacris, Missy Elliot, P Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, and many others.
Furthermore… Nike experienced a drastic increase in sales following Nelly’s hit song Air Force One’s. Versace’s North American revenues doubled around the same time Migos released Versace. And Gucci profits got a boost following the success of Lil Pump’s Gucci Gang, which has around a billion streams on Youtube. Big fashion houses reap the benefits of the rap community embracing high-fashion. And that brings us to another important point in the music-fashion saga.
The consumers of the fashion world aren’t the only ones influenced by rap and hip-hop. Fashion designers and powerhouse brands are also directly influenced and keep their eyes on the rap game. They know the power rappers possess in launching and adjusting fashion trends. Alexander Wang, world-renowned fashion designer, admitted this in a 2018 interview stating, “Hip-hop in particular has always been an important influence… I continue to be inspired by the genre as it evolves and touches all levels of society and forms of culture today.”
Rappers do still have the strongest influence in the fashion realm today, with Kanye West possibly gracing the crown. But while rap may be today’s top-influencing genre, rock music was once the top dog. Back before the days of hip-hop, Elvis Presley inspired teenagers to get fashionable for the first time. Prior to the 1950’s, fashion houses primarily targeted adults. It wasn’t until the 50’s that the television became an essential household appliance. The TV, broadcasting music, gave birth to the music-influencing-fashion argument. And Elvis was the man of the hour.
The rock and fashion relationship kept a steady pace since then, floating through eras of the Freddie Mercury, Jimi Hendrix’s, David Bowie’s, and Madonna’s. But by then, rap and hip-hop had taken over. Today, we see the likes of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, A$AP Rocky, Possibly the best compliment to music-meets-fashion is Virgil Abloh’s career. The current artistic director of Louis Vuitton began his career DJing at the age of 18. He performed at whatever gig or festival accepted him. All the while, he was studying civil-engineering at the University of Wisconsin. At age 22, he met Kanye West. Virgil worked with Kanye for a several years, before landing an internship at Fendi. At this point, his career began transferring into the world of fashion. A few years after that internship, he launched Pyrex Vision, and followed it up with Off-White. At this point, his fashion career skyrockets. The DJing engineer student who worked with Kanye West is now the biggest face in fashion. Art compliments art. Music and fashion is no exception.
Exclusive Grail Content Waleed Sh., Managing Editor