From Beats to Racks: The Influence of Music in the Fashion Industry

A few weeks ago, Jimmy Iovine, one of the music industry’s most legendary scouts and Interscope Records’ founder, announced his and his wife’s newest investment: the fashion label TheVampire’s Wife, owned by former model Susie Cave and made famous by its retro-glam dresses and direct-to-consumer marketing. Shortly after, when asked about his interest in the fashion industry in an interview for BOF (Business of Fashion), Iovine said: ‘I know more about music and tech and different things like that than I know about dresses, but I do know a narrative and I know a story’. After understanding Iovine’s motives through reading that interview, I couldn’t help but return to a recurring thought of mine that ranged around how all types of art are integrated, and how creativity generates creativity. 

 

When looking for a connection between the music and fashion industries, there are multiple that might come to mind: from musicians who founded their own brands (e.g. Rihanna and KanyeWest), to the fashion TikToker WisdomKaye getting inspiration from album covers and artists to create outfits, to the major connection between the punk rock band Sex Pistols and British designer Vivienne Westwood since their beginning. Together the band and the designer managed to establish the London punk scene and culture as it is known today. If there’s one major element that brings these industries together, it is the feeling of belonging that both bring to their publics. The music industry brings together ‘tribes’ of people who listen to the same type of music, have similar ideas, live similar lifestyles. This translates into fashion – as dressing in a certain way has the ability of showing to the outside world what and who you identify yourself with. Therefore, a major part of the feeling of belonging that music brings is represented in fashion.

When going back a little to the Punk Rock example, a subculture that was born from the desire of an anarchic, nihilist and revolutionary movement as a backlash against UK’s poor economy and all-time high unemployment rates on the 1970s, it is clear that those same values were being portrayed by the BDSM fashion, bondage gear, safety pins, chains, the color black and outrageous make-up that punk artists and followers of the punk scene would dress in. These style choices surely weren’t coincidental, but really had the intention to be more shocking to society; those who dressed in BDSM were choosing to be outsiders, creating a group separate from society. Moving on to the Glam Rock scene, artists like David Bowie and Alice Cooper, as well as their fans, can then be seen dressing in glitter, bright colors, platforms and flamboyant clothing to manifest the irrejection of the previous darker rock days, as well as traditional gender roles, with the acceptance of an androgynous look, marking the legalization of same sex activity in the UK in 1967. It may seem that the obvious influences the music scene had in fashion is something of the past, yet it is undeniable that many designers loved in today’s industry still see the music scene as an unevaluable pot of inspiration gold.

25 Best Slade images in 2020 | Slade band, Noddy holder, Glam rock
Slade

As a way to understand how music has also been a key element in recent fashion, the focus of this analysis will be on two major genres made famous in the last few decades and their ramifications, those being: hip-hop and electronic music.

 

Hip-hop was born in the 1970s inNew York, as a reaction to the prominent disco culture, and was brought together by Caribbean immigrants and black youth in marginalized neighborhoods, that would meet for gatherings featuring impromptu free-style rapping battles and mixing of funk and soul records in a way that encouraged dancing all nightlong. ‘It was the start of a fringe subculture that would slowly evolve to the most dominant force in pop culture’,describes ‘The Incomplete Highsnobiety Guide to Fashion and StreetCulture’. As in other music genres, slowly the “tribe” of hip-hop formed, and with it their fashion statement, consisting primarily of Adidas tracksuits, Puma Suede sneakers (or Adidas Superstars) and bucket hats. This combination, though dated back to the 1980s, is not uncommon to spot within street style lovers walking down major cities in present days.Even though some might not realize the origins of the looks they’re wearing, naturally, and maybe somewhat unconsciously, hip-hop style has become a synonym of street style as the years passed. What is key to notice when trying to understand how hip-hop went from a space for marginalized minorities to a huge fashion influence is that, according to Jian DeLeon:

 

“From the start, this is what separated hip-hop from its rock-and-roll predecessors. Movements like punk were founded on anti-fashion ideals and stood in contrast to consumption and capitalism.Hip-hop fully embraced it from the start, seeing dressing up as its own competition — and every rapper boasted he dressed better than the rest.”

 

Dressing better than the rest would be synonymous with status, and there was no one better at providing that in the hip-hop scene than Harlem tailor Drapper Dan. Dan ran a boutique from1982 to 1992 in New York, operating 24/7 and serving some of the most affluent figures in the hip-hop world with his creations, made by repurposing fabrics from brands like Gucci, MCM, Louis Vuitton and Fendi to form tracksuits, bomber jackets and puffy-shouldered coats. In addition to that, brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren were soon to be seen among some groups in the hip-hop environment, showing that even though it took a while for hip-hop and streetfashion to influence luxury brands, as much as they do today, these brands were clearly already somewhat involved in that scene from its beginning.

 

Dapper Dan: Harlem hustle | Dazed
Drapper Dan

The 1990s and 2000s were marked by a number of streetwear brands that were born out of hip-hop culture, like Stüssy and X-LARGE. Sneaker culture grew closely with the hip-hop world with, for example, Air Jordans being immortalized by Spike Lee in his movies. In later years, hip-hop artists began to adapt original hip-hop trends to theirpersonal styles and make that type of streetwear more applicable to the general public: Tyler The Creator favors loose pants combined with dress shirts and caps, while A$AP Rocky wears slim, tailored garments with an androgynous feel, and Pharell Williams prefers skate brands and mesh trucker caps. Kanye Westbroke the final barrier between hip-hop and high fashion by creating his own brand and designing his own clothes, Yeezy proving it’s worth in major fashion events and fashion weeks around the world. In 2018, Drapper Dan reopened his boutique in Harlem in an official collaboration with Gucci, this time using real Gucci fabrics to make his one-of-a-kind pieces, and making clear to everyone that hip-hop is one of the major influences of today’s fashion industry.

 

While the hip-hop scene and its fashion developed in the streets of New York, the underground clubs and late-night encounters in some European capitals saw another type of subculture emerge.  Gathering many genres within one, there are numerous so called “tribes” that can be spotted in the broad spectrum that is electronic music. There are those who long for the HaciendaClub days, those who turn to raves as their major moments of freedom, those who love dancing to EDM, the fans of the 1990s PLUR movement, the trance lovers, the faithful followers of New Wave, Techno, House and its ramifications… The list is almost endless, yet a unifying aspect of all of these tribes is the importance of being comfortable, making a statement, and expressing who they are and how they feel, all at the same time, through fashion. And that aspect most definitely caught the fashion industry’s attention.

 

EDM influences in mainstream fashion can be identified in the Jeremy Scott SS15 collection in 2014, featuring neon shades and kandi bracelets, making direct references to electronic music festivals of recent years. However, some of today’s biggest fashion trends can first be spotted when tracing back to EDM’s non-mainstream era, the post-disco era where Electronic dance music began, where London’s late80s and early 90s rave culture united with Berlin’s underground and prominent club scene, where retro days would be referenced.

Jeremy Scott Spring 2015 - theFashionSpot
Jeremny Scott SS15

The fashion season of 2017 made clear that both current and retro electronic music play a huge part in the fashion industry.  Much like in the darker dance music days and nightclubs where attendees would go to free themselves during Reagan and Thatcher years, even if just for a night, fashion is looking for a way to find shelter from the current political climate. Trends such as neon colors and psychedelic patterns make direct reference to clubs’ flyers that could be spotted in the streets during the 90s by their flashy colors and bold letterings. The incorporation of period pieces in outfits, such as sharp, tailored suits with wide-legged trousers, direct references to DuranDuran music videos, remind viewers of the 80s, where new wave, techno and house first emerged from the aftermath of disco music. Another trend that could be spotted in the SS17 London Fashion Week and that unites all eras of dance music is the use of wider silhouettes: baggy in some places, angular in others and with the sole and main purpose of giving the person who’s wearing it the ability to move freely and to dance all night long.  

 

Someone once told me that fashion is a sign of the times, yet it is becoming more and more clear that music is the true signifier. The fashion world is undeniably permeated by influences coming from the music industry; their connection is so strong that it becomes almost impossible not to associate rock music with leather jackets, grunge music with flannels and jeans, electronic music with bright colored windbreakers or hip-hop with tracksuits and sneakers. Both are responsible for the feeling of identity that music lovers construct over the years and both contribute to making said music lovers who they are, shape how they see the world and how they allow the world to see them. We’re never going to truly understand how any type of art is conceived until we understand that all art and creative processes are interconnected, and that this is how they manage to truly impact us.

 

References

¹ "The First Woman Rapper MC Sha Rock Talks Women in Rap, Sugar Hill Records, & Her Movie Project”, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8UBKxJg1SQ >

² “On set w/ Aaliyah, Da Brat, Missy Elliott & Lil’ Kim (1999): You Had To Be There”, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOzcH9Fim1M >

³ hooks, bell. “Hardcore Honey: bell hooks Goes on the Down Low with Lil’ Kim”, (May 1997), < https://www.papermag.com/lil-kim-bell-hooks1-1427357106.html?rebelltitem=62#rebelltitem62 >

⁴ hooks, b. (1994, February). Sexism and misogyny: Who takes the rap? . . . Misogyny, gangsta rap, andpiano. Z Magazine. < http://s18.middlebury.edu/AMST0325A/hooks_Sexism%20and%20Misogynywho-takes-the-rap.pdf >

⁵ Adams, Terri M., and Douglas B. Fuller. “The Words Have Changed but the Ideology Remains the Same:Misogynistic Lyrics in Rap Music.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 36, no. 6, 2006, pp. 938–957, JSTOR, < http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034353 >

⁶ Barnes, Dee. “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr.Dre Beat Up”, < https://gawker.com/heres-whats-missing-from-straight-outta-compton-me-and1724735910 >

⁷ “Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche Flawless Speech”, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75BknhBhWVg >

⁸ “Joan Morgan Talks Hip-Hop Feminism & The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill”, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeYRRzt2ikQ >

⁹ “WAP and the Spectacle of Sexual Liberation”, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=ILApR36KgQw&fbclid=IwAR23XawseazqgOGpZJ-VknYVIx3SuO_qkbtovWHiPO5_KP3Z3IwTRmtCrp8 >

¹⁰ Gracie, Bianca. “How Women Reclaimed Hip-Hop in 2019 by Making Their Own Rules”, 19 December 2019, Billboard, < https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8546781/female-rappers-2019-dominance >

Music never lets you down
Puts a smile on your face
Anytime, any place
Dancing helps relieve the pain
Soothes your mind, makes you happy again
Listen to those dancing feet
Close your eyes and let go
But it don't mean a thing
If it ain't got that swing
Bop-shoo-wa, bop-shoo-wa, bop-shoo-wa

Chic - Everybody Dance from the album: Chic (1977)