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From the days of Run DMC’s Adidas to Biggie and his signature silk Versace shirts and shades, the worlds of Hip Hop and fashion have intertwined to form an eccentric yet compelling union.  Once limited to America’s urban communities, Hip Hop’s influence on fashion has globally transcended, making it a multi-billion dollar industry.

During the 1980’s, Dapper Dan, a New York native and African American fashion innovator, sought to fill what he deemed to be a void between the high end fashion industry and African American consumers.  In an effort to fuse the two, he opened his legendary store “Dapper Dan’s Boutique” on 125th Street in Harlem. There, he sold authentic customized Louis Vuitton, Gucci and MCM garments to customers at high end prices.

Rappers such as LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane and Eric B and Rakim, draped in Dan’s custom attire, helped plant the seed for fashion in the Hip Hop community and many people looked to them in search of the newest and coolest trends in fashion.

This shift in advertising was the beginning of what journalist Rob Walker deemed the birth of “murketing” in his book, entitled “Buying In”.   “Murketing”, he argued, was “the way in which people create brands of their own and participate, in unprecedented ways, in marketing campaigns for their favorites [designers].”

Walker believed, “instead of being manipulated by marketing, consumers are using it to their advantage and instead of being shaped by products, consumers are using them to express individual identity and social outlook.”

The approach of Dapper Dan and his boutique back then seems to mirror Walker’s current reasoning.  As Dan targeted local drug dealers and their extravagant taste for high-end fashion, they served as makeshift advertisers who through their own self-promotion caught the attention of the Hip Hop artists who would later become some of his most loyal customers.

In a trickle-down effect, those same rappers through their music and videos also caught the eye of hustlers abroad and professional athletes who, too, wanted to acquire the fashionable attire. All the while, the high end designers like Versace and Gucci never spent a dime on the promotion of their products in the Hip Hop community.

While the same marketing principles apply today, modern day rappers like A$AP Rocky, in their quest to be innovative and stand apart, have pushed the limits of fashion in Hip Hop to even further heights.  No longer are brands such as Gucci, Fendi and MCM considered to be the end all be all.

In his song entitled, “Peso”, Rocky spits, “I gets the freshest/ Raf Simons, Rick Owens usually what I’m dressed in,” and he has the magazine spreads and runway shows to affirm his boasts.Rocky’s keen taste for high end fashion recently landed him in magazines such as Japanese Vogue, Complex Magazine and Interview Magazine.  He was also one of the models who walked in the 2013 Hood By Air Fashion show during New York City’s Fashion Week.

“When you look at somebody like A$AP Rocky aligning himself with Raf Simons, its seems to be a little bit more

progressive and sophisticated as opposed to outlandish and gaudy”,  mentioned Staple Design and Nike Pigeon Dunk founder Jeff Staple.

Kanye West and Jay-Z’s album, “Watch The Throne,” has further helped to fuse the worlds of Hip Hop and high end fashion. Riccardo Tisci, Creative Director of Givenchy provided the striking artwork on the album’s cover.  He also provided the duo with customized outfits during the album’s tour.  “I think it’s dope,” stated Big Sean in reference to the groundbreaking collaboration.  “It goes to show how far ahead some people are.”

Where fans of the 80’s could easily replicate their favorite artist’s swag, today’s rappers have raised the bar so high  in regards to fashion that fans are finding it difficult to stay afloat.  “This particular wave has not trickled down to the audience yet,” stated Jeff Staple. “It ties back to what the rappers originally want and that’s to be different. One of the reasons that rappers are latching on to these exclusive and hard to attain brands is that it’s hard for a kid in Virginia or Detroit to get his hands on a Rick Owens jacket no matter how much money he has.”

In retrospect, Hip Hop and the world of high-end fashion have co-mingled themselves into a globally affluent union with a seemingly boundless ceiling.  Whereas, high-end designers used to frown upon rappers and the image of Hip Hop, pioneers such as Dapper Dan, Run DMC and LL Cool J have inevitably forced them to respect the Hip Hop community and to look at today’s artists as not only entertainers but partners, innovators and pioneers in regards to the world of fashion.

by Terry E. Jones & Chaz Spears

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