Another day, another case of cultural appropriation. European fashion designers were never the Ruff Ryders’ target demographic, but apparently Balenciaga ‘s creative staff are huge fans — so much so that they completely copied the design from an old Ruff Ryders shirt. Swizz Beatz took to Instagram yesterday to call the fashion brand out for pretty much 99.9% biting the design from a 2000-era Ruff Ryder button-up. The only difference from the old shirt that Swizz posted and the new shirt recently modeled as part of Balienciaga’s new collection is the Ruff Ryder “R” has been changed to a “B” for Balenciaga. Otherwise it has the same colors and same basic shape. After posting the shirt, Swizz asked to have “a talk” with the brand.
Gucci wererecently accused of copying Dapper Dan’s ’80s Harlem chic designs, and even if the design company called it an “homage,” that wasn’t really how it felt. Dan’s work on those designs at the time was purposefully subversive, so for the brand to then use his ideas feels like a ripoff. That’s sort of how the Balenciaga Ruff Ryders shirt feels, too, because it’s even more of an obscure fashion piece than Dapper Dan’s iconic work.
This is just the latest example of European fashion houses taking from Black culture without respect for the actual progenitors of the style. When artists like Kanye West attempt to assimilate into these fashion houses, they get resistance, and condescending reactions from the industry. It’s hard to believe that plucking designs from Black culture without crediting the source isn’t just an extension of that casual racism. It may seem like artistic license for these brands to pull from every culture — including Neo-Nazis — for the next season’s look, but, like everything else, the racial implications are crucial.
Black-owned hip-hop clothing lines have long struggled to gain a foothold in a country that’s hopelessly beholden to Eurocentric ideals; hip-hop has been name-checking european brands for 40+ years, and there hasn’t been one partnership of note. Balenciaga’s move is the kind of blatant erasure that exemplifies the disregard for Black people’s existence in every other aspect of society. Every major figure on the Ruff Ryders team is still alive and in the public eye, but apparently none of them were contacted for permission to use their logo. Would this be the case if a brand was copping some imagery from a rock band like the Rolling Stones? Maybe, but probably not.
Hopefully these incidents become a harbinger for more prominent entertainers to call out brands who fancy themselves fashion sages but have as much creativity as the reboot-crazed movie industry. If Jay Z’s first 4:44 single was a blatant copy of “Humble,” there would be relentless clowning. But when supposedly venerable outlets like Balenciaga and Gucci steal, the show just keeps going on. Whoever signed off on that button-up obviously doesn’t know much about hip-hop, but in the era when Ruff Ryders were kings, biting was a cardinal sin worthy of banishment. Here’s hoping someone randomly brings it up in the next DMX interview.