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Hip-Hop Changed the High Fashion Game

In Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, author Sowmya Krishnamurthy cements herself as a necessary historian for the culture. As we near the end of Hip-Hop History Month (in the year that marks the genre’s 50th anniversary), her book not only serves as a walk down memory lane for iconic hip-hop style moments, but as a compelling anthology of the storied, symbiotic relationship between music subcultures and luxury fashion.

“We all know that DJ Kool Herc spun at his family’s rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, but a lot of people don’t realize that this party — the party that launched a culture — was a means for his sister Cindy Campbell to fund her back to school wardrobe,” Krishnamurthy tells PAPER. This little-known detail serves as the debut author’s nexus, illuminating high fashion’s links with social, economic and even psychological factors that all worked together to bring us to this current moment.

“From Pharrell at Louis Vuitton to A$AP Rocky at Puma and Heron Preston at H&M, [this current moment] is all about partnerships. It’s mutually beneficial.” The book utilizes a combination of oral histories, cultural archives, and her own personal experience to track hip-hop and fashion’s lineage, from Dapper Dan’s boutique in Harlem to Tyler, the Creator’s modern day streetwear juggernaut, and everything in between.

Krishnamurthy makes it a point to highlight 1991 as a crucial turning point for hip-hop’s influence on high fashion, with many runway shows that year incorporating rap street style influences into their looks. But aside from that moment, she looks to the late ’90s and early aughts as the apex of rappers going full throttle into fashion entrepreneurialism. “Hip-Hop artists and creatives wanted to take on the role of designers and business people with lines like Sean John, Baby Phat and Rocawear. Why make someone else’s logo hot, when you can promote your own (and make more money doing it)?”

In such a fast-paced digital world, and with consumption being at an all time high, Krishnamurthy predicts that the next decade will see the music/fashion trend pendulum swing back to this golden era of hip-hop fashion entrepreneurs. “Many artists like J. Cole and Travis Scott have merch that could ostensibly be expanded into capsule lines,” she says. “I can also see someone like Cardi B, who effortlessly exudes high/low, doing something disruptive in the luxury fashion space.”

Check out some iconic rap fashion throwbacks below, and purchase Fashion Killa wherever books are sold.

Photos courtesy of Sowmya Krishnamurthy