How Hip-Hop Conquered High Fashion

NEW YORK, United States — In the age of A$AP Rocky x Dior, it’s easy to forget how long it took for high fashion to embrace the cultural power of American hip-hop. In 1982, Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day’s infamous boutique opened on 125th Street in New York’s Harlem, selling extravagant outfits emblazoned with fake logos from European luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Versace. The brands were not amused. Louis Vuitton and Gucci sued and the store was ultimately raided and shut down.

But more than clothes, Day sold transcendence — escape for a class of urban youth who embraced the power of fashion to project the kind of socio-economic status that was otherwise beyond their reach. By the late 1980s, Ralphie’s Kids and the United Shoplifters Association, two Brooklyn street crews known for wearing nothing but Polo Ralph Lauren (for which they rarely paid) had joined forces to become Lo-Life, a group that found purpose in the pursuit of the upscale American Dream conjured by the designer. Needless to say, the relationship was one-sided.

Tommy Hilfiger, a brand long linked to music, was one of the first major labels to embrace the growing power of street culture. In the early 1990s, the rapper Grand Puba began name-dropping Tommy Hilfiger in his music and wearing his clothes on album covers. In a bold move, Hilfiger responded positively. In 1994, Snoop Dogg appeared on US television show Saturday Night Live wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt gifted to him by the brand and Hilfiger went on to feature Aaliyah and Usher in its advertising campaigns. By 1996, Tupac was walking the runway for Versace.

Today, hip-hop is one of America’s greatest cultural exports and the luxury industry has embraced its power as a marketing vehicle: A$AP Rocky for Dior Homme; Travis Scott for Saint Laurent; Pharrell Williams for Chanel; the list goes on. It’s now normal when Kanye West appears in American Vogue, or Marc Jacobs’ latest collection is a fully-fledged ode to hip-hop culture. How times have changed.

1982: Dapper Dan’s Boutique opens on 125th street in Harlem.

Dapper Dan | Source: Dapperdanofharlem.com

1986: Run DMC releases ‘My Adidas’ and is the first hip-hop act to get an endorsement deal valued at $1 million.

Run DMC | Source: Getty

1988: Two Brooklyn street crews unite to form Lo-Life, based on a shared love of Polo Ralph Lauren.

Low Life Crew | Photo: Tom Gould

1996: Tupac walks Versace’s 1996 runway show with his girlfriend and bodyguards.

1997: Singer Aaliyah endorses Tommy Hilfiger in its Tommy Jeans advertising campaign, helping the brand catapult to success.

Aaliyah | Source: Getty

1999: Rappers diversify into fashion, with the launch of Rocawear following labels including Phat Farm and Fubu.

2001: Ja Rule wears Burberry in ‘Always on Time’ video, reportedly leaving Burberry unhappy.

Ja Rule | Source: Getty

2003: Missy Elliott stars alongside Madonna in Gap advertising campaign.

Missy Elliott & Madonna | Photo: Regan Cameron at Art & Commerce

2005: Pharrell Williams and Nigo design the ‘Millionaire’ sunglasses for Louis Vuitton.

2009: Kanye West collaborates with Louis Vuitton on a range of luxury sneakers.

2009: Kanye West takes over Paris Fashion Week with his crew including Off-White designer Virgil Abloh.

Kanye West | Photo: Tommy Ton

2015: Kanye West launches Yeezy season 1 with Adidas as part of an ongoing collaboration.

Yeezy Season One | Source: Courtesy

2016: A$AP Rocky stars in Dior Homme’s Autumn/Winter 2016 campaign shot by Willy Vanderperre.

A$AP Rocky Autumn/Winter 2017 | Source: Courtesy

2017: Marc Jacobs acknowledges the influence of hip-hop on the runway with his Autumn/Winter 2017 collection.

Marc Jacobs Autumn/Winter 2017 | Source: Indigital

2017: Coming full circle, designer Alessandro Michele references Dapper Dan’s bootleg Louis Vuitton coat in Gucci’s 2018 Cruise show.

Gucci Cruise 2018 | Source: Indigital

This article appears in BoF’s latest special print edition: “America.” 

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