Fast-forward to 2008, and the release of Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreaks. With that album came a new type of hip hop uniform. There were leaner silhouettes and more flamboyant colors and pieces that were downright experimental: neon shirts, pink puffer vests, and how could anyone forget those blinders shades? With his new interest in fashion, West would begin rubbing elbows with designers and fashion houses, attending shows like Chloe, Christian Dior, and going on to collaborate with Louis Vuitton in 2009. Others, like Jay Z, followed suit, trading court-side seats at a Brooklyn Nets game for front row seats at Milan Fashion Week. (Although he still does the former.)
In recent years, the popularity of rappers and their influence on pop culture tastes caught the eyes of designers who have always linked up with celebrities of the moment–good for press, great for sales.
Today, West is BFFs with Givenchy creative director, Riccardo “Ricky” Tisci, who acts as a mentor of sorts. He also likes to occasionally wear the designer’s edgy kilts. (Bonus: girlfriend Kim Kardashian and baby North West get custom Givenchy stuff.) West’s collaboration with APC sold out in days. A$AP Rocky, no stranger to raising a few eyebrows when sporting everything from an Ann Demeulemeester dress to fur vests—noted that he’s become Alexander Wang’s muse. Drake shares his devotion to Rick Owens by wearing the designer almost daily.
It’s a mutual admiration: Hit tracks written as homages to designers include Jay Z’s “Tom Ford,” A$AP’s “Fashion Killa,” and Migo’s “Versace.” Rappers like Lil Wayne have traded in bandanas for Balmain and baggy jeans for skinny leopard-print ones—though Wayne still swears by his wife-beaters (T by Alexander Wang?). Swizz Beatz is a Christian Louboutin connoisseur. And, finally, Pharrell Williams went from pioneer of street wear to one of the most highly regarded contemporary fashion icons.
When brands like Barneys link up with tastemakers like Jay Z, it’s more than simply checking off the “cool factor” box. It’s savvy business. Today, designers not only accept hip hop stars—they design for them and keep them as inspirations.
So here’s the lesson: Times are changing. Hip hop and high fashion are no longer polar opposites. And the power dynamic has shifted: No brand is too good for hip hop. Fashion may need these stars more than the stars need the fashion houses. Biggie and even Tupac woulda been proud—and maybe would even consider wearing a skirt (ahem, Yeezy). It’s uh, high fashion, so it’s all good, right?
Jay-Z’s “A New York Holiday” collection will be at Barney’s New York starting November 20. The collaboration benefits the Shawn Carter Foundation.