By sundown, hip-hop’s influence on Fashion Week was more than evident. So why won’t its gatekeepers just admit the obvious already?
It was a day before my flight to Paris when my friends witnessed a gaggle of fashionistas, artists, influencers (the legitimate and hashtag-variety alike) and personalities fit for an Instagram timeline, enter Heron Preston’s showroom for his eponymous label.
Loitering just outside, my friend Kazeem Kuteyi of New Currency, spotted Bobby Hundreds of west coast streetwear brand The Hundreds, and began to chat. Between near apologetic spurts of “not really belonging” at Paris Fashion Week, which Mr. Hundreds would later expand on in an essay posted to Instagram, the Kanye West confidant known as Don C.—whose luxe streetwear brand Just Don has accomplished collabs with the likes of Jordan Brand—descended onto my friends. Immediately, as intelligent disruptors do, he began to chop it up with my friends, talking strictly ideas, like a wise, O.G. sage.
“When we started coming to Fashion Week with Kanye, trying to do the Louis Vuitton, the French shows and all, we were really breaking down barriers for y’all,” he quipped in his thick, Chicago drawl. “It’s good seeing kids like y’all out here.”
True. But even when Don C., Virgil, Kanye and team posed for that now iconic photograph in 2008, immortalized in an episode of South Park, the barriers that once literally barred the most innovative minds working in western black culture to attend fashion shows and enter showrooms, the bars of access is felt still, clinging to their Gatekeeping roots, if only existentially. From an industry that regularly sends models onto the runway in garb fit for the dictionary entry of “cultural appropriation,” the asterix that accompanies the fashion industry’s invitation* of hip-hop culture is still plainly seen, one decade later, despite near ubiquity around town.
Cues from hip-hop were everywhere at Paris Fashion Week. Yeezy lows, Raf (please, don’t touch), Gucci furs, puffer jackets, bum bags fastened front-ways as man dem from London do, along with every manner of inner street-rooted style was, like I said, everywhere.
The music followed, of course. The excellent, progressive Dutch streetwear label Daily Paper bumped OVO Sound Radio throughout their two-storey showroom, and every night had a familiar undercurrent of Roland TR-808 hi-hats following not far off.
Dusk brought events everywhere. DJs would work dance floors with brand new cuts from Drake, Migos, A$AP Rocky, Cardi B and more. Onlookers, models, and local kids alike all knew the words. You’d even hear “God’s Plan” blaring from rolled-down windows of BMWs as they would drive down the cobblestone streets of Le Marais.
Failing to get in to Daily Paper’s party, which booked the venerable Tiffany Calver, who works as U.K. rapper Fredo’s tour DJ, we snuck our way into the next club, where a smoky dance floor of kids moshing to grime, rap, trap and beyond greeted us. As the DJ crew repeatedly—even to a fault—ran back some of Atlanta’s freshest sonic exports, kids would mosh with fervour, dance on the DJ both, and knock and spill cocktails everywhere, designer tees be damned.
The U.K.’s seminal nightclub DJ, Benji B, no stranger to Fashion Week himself, would spin nightly. We were fortunate enough to catch the tail end of one of his sets, alongside Acyde of No Vacancy Inn and rising Parisian DJ Mannare. “It’s interesting to see how Atlanta rap has become the new popular music among cigarette-smoking models,” Benji said in an interview with SSENSE. “It’s the new common dialogue for girls who used to only want to hear the Rolling Stones.”
More than once I would catch beautiful models, dancing together on the floor, expertly recite Future and Young Thug. And yet, with all the examples of influence of North American black culture, rap music within the style and aura of Fashion Week, an air of selectivity was apparent.
Back in 2013, in an interview on BBC Radio 1, the omnipresent Kanye West angrily revealed to host Zane Lowe that designer Heidi Slimane, then at Saint Laurent, would allow Mr. West entry to his show—if he were to miss every other show. This was also the interview that West declared rappers “the new rock stars,” a sentiment that would finally be backed by raw sales data, when, thanks to streaming, 2017 saw hip-hop overtake rock as the most popular genre of music in the western world. Yet despite the sales figures, anyone thinking has known that it’s been like that for a minute.
For all the worldwide appeal, all the celebration of true artists that continue to push self-expression through dress and style, the fashion industry continues to resist honestly and fully embracing hip-hop and—by extension—black culture.
If the fashion world wants to rightly celebrate innovative young designers like Samuel Ross and Virgil Abloh, it cannot continue to switch up and have young artists like Desiigner perform a minstrel show for the Vogue masthead. Nor can it continue to position little black boys as “monkey’s” on product page. With more information to inform oneself of all the ugly subtleties of racist acts than ever, it shouldn’t be much of an ask for the fashion world to lend a fairer hand to the cultural movement—and the people that have invented and champion it—that have given it so much uncredited inspiration. Fashion simply cannot have it both ways.
And yet, undeterred by the apparent and existential roadblocks presented by the fashion world, hip-hop is there, louder and more apparent than ever, and its future is looking bright. As the lingua franca of youth culture, its influence and ideas—born from roots beginning in the crumbling inner boroughs of 1970’s and 1980’s New York City—continue to permeate through style, clothing, and all manners of modern art in exciting, new ways. Hip-hop kids will continue to turn up to Paris Fashion Week. Now is time for the fashion world to turn up with them.