Fashion Focus: The streets to the runway: How the hip-hop community has influenced the fashion world

By Sarah Tinoco

Today, it is not difficult to imitate the style of the ‘90s and it is has become a prevalent trend. Denim on denim, sweatshirts and sneakers have resurfaced on the runway and in the mass markets, thanks to the styles seen on the streets which is widely known as streetwear.

Although streetwear has become very influential in the fashion industry, it, like any style, derives from societal events and figures. In the case of streetwear, rap and hip-hop icons influenced this way of dress.

Beginning in the ‘90s, Wu-Tang Clan’s track jackets, sweatshirts and baggy denim and Tupac’s denim-on-denim and gold chains became symbols for the style of the hip-hop industry.

The fascination with luxury designers came into the game when rapper The Notorious B.I.G. mentioned the Italian fashion company Versace in his lyrics. He expressed his fondness for a pair of Versace sunglasses in his lyrics: “I don’t know what the hell is stopping ya/I’m clocking ya, Versace shades watching ya.”

Adornments of diamond and gold chains and infamous grills, gold fronts worn over the teeth, also became an established trend. In 1999, rapper Lil Wayne claimed the intellectual property of the word “bling,” which is used to describe the lustrous jewelry style of the hip-hop community.

In the late 1990s as Jay Z became hip-hop royalty, the rapper, producer and entrepreneur founded his clothing label Rocawear. Although it was not high fashion, it was the first permanent venture into the apparel industry from a member of the hip-hop community. The brand, which is still successful today, sells denim, statement tees, hoodies, outerwear, accessories and fragrances for men, women, juniors and children.

As rappers in the early 2000s began to make more money, they followed the trend The Notorious B.I.G. set and began name-dropping luxury labels in their songs. The names Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Versace were thrown around as rappers showed off their wealth and lust for expensive things.

Although rappers popularized these designer names in the hip-hop community, the industry went into logo overload sporting attire splashed with designer logos in music videos and on the streets.

When rapper Kanye West entered the scene in the early 2000s, he dubbed himself “Louis Vuitton Don.” In 2009, West collaborated with Louis Vuitton on three styles of high-end footwear, one of which was appropriately named the Louis Vuitton Don. The same year, West collaborated with Nike, launching the Nike Air Yeezy, a high-end sneaker.

As West progressed in his career, he proved to be quite the artist, expressing more of a liking for fashion than any rapper had done before.

West befriended many fashion industry professionals, showing interest in learning about the design process and wearing attire without logos.

In 2010, West recruited friend and fashion designer Phillip Lim of the label 3.1 Phillip Lim as the costume designer for his short film “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”.

In 2012, West debuted his first women’s ready-to-wear collection in Paris, hoping to establish himself as a fashion designer by releasing his work to a few hundred top fashion industry professionals.

Although many fashion followers and insiders said they could not take West seriously as a designer, his influence has proven to have made a mark.

West claimed leather jogging pants were his idea. This fall, the pants made their way into the mass markets and are seen at every fast fashion retailer, including Topshop, H&M and Zara.

In April, West managed to obtain approval from the fashion industry when he and his wife Kim Kardashian were featured on the cover of Vogue. The caption to their photo read “Kim & Kanye: Their fashionable life and surreal times.”

Rapper Nicki Minaj gained notice from the industry with her flamboyant style. She landed a front row seat at an Oscar de la Renta fashion show, next to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Minaj namedropped the fashion houses Balmain and Alexander McQueen in her latest single “Anaconda” and wore ensembles from both in her provocative music video.

Although it took a few decades for the hip-hop community to catch on to the art of fashion, it is now evident that many artists have gained a foothold in the fashion world and there are no signs of them slowing down.

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