As rapper Tierra Whack stomped across the stage at the Red Bull Music Festival in Chicago, dozens of men swung with her in unison. Sure, they may have been constructed from fabric to cling to her coat, but the impact was the same: Tierra Whack has you hooked on her every move.
Designed for Whack's factory-themed appearance at the event this past November, the utilitarian look was the brainchild of Swedish wunderkind, Stina Randestad. The recent fashion school graduate had already made her name among music artists: Singer Kelsey Lu wore the designer's Vogue-approved "hairy dress," Imogen Heap was an early fan. But Randestad attests it was the investment of Whack's stylist, Shirley Kurata, that affirmed her relevance.
"In this business, it's tricky to be new, especially when people know that you're new and want to take advantage," explains Randestad. "But [Kurata] really took a chance on me, and had so much respect for what I do....Having an artist who can lift my garments up and inject their own personality into them? This is the dream scenario for me, exactly how I want to work."
Meanwhile, Kurata says she doesn't think she's "formulating [Whack]'s style" — rather: "I see myself augmenting her style and realizing what she wants to express; I look to visionary artists and new up-and-coming designers as I feel they bring new ideas and vitality to the fashion world."
After Whack appeared in a Randestad original for her winter 2018 Fader cover shoot — an electric blue turtleneck dress with wavy metallic accents — Kurata reached out to the young designer directly. Their partnership has flourished ever since. The rapper's RBMF performance, however, marks new territory for the duo: the first time Kurata commissioned a custom piece.
"I liked that there were all these little men hanging with their hands up, praising her," Randestad shares of the design's details. "I knew it needed to be twisted and strange and playful at the same time."
It feels as though those adjectives also served as a springboard from which Randestad has built her brand. Experimenting with the limitations of various fabrics, the designer uncovered a process that has since become her trademark: pairing a stretch material with a stiff structure so that it curls at the seams. (The aforementioned "hairy dress" worn by fellow artist Lu — an avant-garde garment from which tassels fall in waves — employed that same technique.)
While it seems as though Whack and Kurata's co-sign is a testament to Randestad's staying-power, the exorbitant cost of ensuring visibility (read: frequently sending her clothes around the world) means the designer worries for her longevity. She hopes fashion will shift toward a rental system when it comes to supporting young designers — or at the very least, budget for shipping. "I think it's the best thing you could do to help people out so they don't end up in debt," she says. "All these designers that have been called 'up and coming' and then it's like, Where did they go? We know where they went: They couldn't afford to work in this industry anymore."
By wearing Randestad's pieces, which are often body-obscuring and androgynous, Whack has set herself apart from the many body-hugging, asset-enhancing pieces female rappers have chosen to wear onstage. (Though, there are, of course, exceptions.) Donning a lab coat with tiny gingerbread men-reminiscent cut-outs immediately presents a point of difference.
Kurata says that subverting the hypersexual style traditional of the genre's stars was not a vocalized decision, but certainly a conscious one.
"I knew Tierra's tastes were unconventional and unique...it was apparent her style wasn't about that before I worked with her. It wasn't really my jam either," Kurata explains. "I tend to prefer styling that challenges conventions and norms and I think Tierra feels the same way."
Kurata maintains neither she nor Whack ever "knock" artists who dress to maintain an overtly sexual image. Although, she admits it was the hitmaker's stylistic versatility that she found most appealing.
Versatility may be an understatement to describe Whack's approach to fashion: She has worn a ginormous glove-sleeved sweater with Rugrats' Chuckie stitched on the chest, appeared on the cover of PAPER in a coat covered in stuffed toys, and transformed into a tomato for Coachella.
"She's drawn to the surreal, to humor, to thinking outside the box," claims Kurata. "I love that she's open to dressing more feminine at times and other times more androgynous."
Separating Whack's style from that of the "classic female rapper" is a distinction Randestad never stopped to make. Her belief is that all musicians should be pushing artistic boundaries to be provocative. But it's the Whack package — stellar creative output with an unwavering pursuit of aesthetic absurdity — that Randestad is certain will continue to set her apart.
"I get the same feeling with Tierra that I did watching Missy. I remember loving [what she wore], and I still do. She's just so unique. It's cool and strange at the same time, kind of odd. It's so refreshing to see."