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Lessons in Swag from Hip-Hop's Fashion Killas
Hip-hop and high fashion are merging to form a new genre of style that's full of DGAF attitude

He raps into my earphones alternating between slicing precision and melodic intonations. He is Jay-Z and currently he’s spitting, “Usually you have this much taste you european, that’s the end of that way of thinking n*gga never again.” His words melt over the beat as Kanye follows with, “I need a slow motion video right now.” Other than being all “we know, Kanye. We know,” my attention is fixed on Jay’s line. While fashion is no stranger to hip-hop’s influence (deny it all you want but the 80s really did happen), the two subjects have never been as closely interwoven as they are today. The 90s brought rapper-owned clothing lines like Jay-Z’s Rocawear, Nelly’s Vokal, Russel Simmons’ Phat Farm, and P. Diddy’s Sean John. While the 00s continued the rapper-turned-designer trend, hip-hop style has always retained a distinct separation from the world of high fashion. But recently the two separate spheres have found themselves overlapping, merging together to form a new genre of bow-tie twisting, collar flattening style that’s full of “swag” and DGAF attitude.

 Kanye at Celine’s S/S 2013 Paris Fashion Week show. Camo jackets like this Supreme Green Tree field pullover lend an air of “I genuinely could not give less of a ….” even if their setting is swapped from Celine to your local 711.

One of my favorite examples of this shift is clothing brand Supreme. The brand, while being originally targeted at underground hip-hop culture, went on to collaborate with both fashion photographer Terry Richardson and rap group Odd Future. “It is a little club, a secret society,” Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator told the New York Times when asked about the brand. Yet, as Supreme goes into its 19th year of business, it appears the secret is out. From being worn by model’s like Kate Moss, to lining the front row of Celine’s Spring 2013 Paris Fashion Week show, Supreme has transitioned from secret underground subculture to the ranks of Fashion’s elite. Donning a piece of Supreme attire has become the quintessential symbol of  “I don’t give a f*ck.” Of course, wearing it requires one to purchase it, which requires even minimal levels of caring. But that’s not the point… If the ultra-trendy twenty something girl in a Supreme hat next to you on the subway isn’t evidence enough, everybody wants a piece of “I don’t care.”

Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator with fashion photographer Terry Richardson. Tyler wears one of his own Odd Future shirts. The brand is known for its unlikely bright colours mixed with “DGAF” attitude. The full collection can be found here

But it’s not just hip-hop brands that are infiltrating into the world of high fashion. The phenomenon of hip-hop star-turned-fashion-icon has become a new seat to fill, and rapper A$AP Rocky has happily obliged to keep it warm. The 24-year-old Harlem native has become one of Supreme’s most public endorsers, and has gone on to be featured on the cover of L’Uomo Vogue’s March issue. A$AP’s fashion influence  can be seen throughout his music, with song titles like “Fashion Killa” and lyrics like, “Raf Simons, Rick Owens, usually what I’m dressed in.” He goes on to explain to men’s online fashion store Mr. Porter saying, “I’m not your average rapper. For us to be thugs and admire high fashion is kind of odd, but people like it.” Yet the notion of rappers interested in high fashion being “odd” is diminishing and growing increasingly normal. When asked about the state of hip-hop today he told L’Uomo Vogue, “See, I love rap from the 90s, like Wu- Tang Clan or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and I honor all the pioneers of the genre who came before me. I think that, in a certain sense, we’re experiencing something similar to that period. But if the first half of the nineties was called the ‘Golden Age,’ I want this period to be remembered as the ‘Platinum Age’ or ‘Diamond Age.’

A$AP’s straight off the runway Shaun Samson look with the addition of a backwards cap and baggy pants gives the outfit a sliver more of street cred. Also A$AP gives it a lot more street cred.

But it’s Kanye West who arguably remains the ultimate symbol of high fashion meets hip-hop culture. His downfalls at Paris Fashion Week and confessional lyrics about his relationship with highbrow labels (“More Louis V my mama couldn’t get through to me”) place him in a constant public war with himself. It’s this struggle to find balance between hip-hop’s authenticity and high fashion’s elitism that this new breed of trendsetters find themselves constantly influx with today. And so, who better than Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, and Jay-Z to look to for style cues on today’s most swagged out brother-sister pairing: hip hop and high fashion.

But when all else fails, Jay never gets it wrong with his black on black. “I wear black a lot, in the AC, act a lot…” Pictured: Kanye and Jay perform at the 2013 Victoria Secret Fashion Show.


Claudia McNeilly writes for Toronto Standard. You can follow her on twitter at @claudiamcneilly.

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