This summer, Tyler the Creator took a pretty significant step in fashion; the rapper held his first-ever fashion show for his brand Golf Wang. The event was a bit of a stake in the sand, demonstrating how the venture wasn’t simply concert merchandise but instead was just one part of an expansive lifestyle. But even if it was a remarkable jump, the Los Angeles based presentation wasn’t unprecedented in the hip-hop arena.
Most neatly, hip hop’s relationship with the fashion industry in a mutually beneficial way can be traced back to Run DMC’s link up with Adidas. The group’s music video “My Adidas” featured dookie chains, tracksuits and shelltoe sneakers and eventually led to Run DMC’s own endorsement deal with the sportswear company. Adidas got the exposure, the influence to a hip-hop audience (but also took on this new, emerging idea of cool) while the rappers got the cold hard cash in the form of an unprecedented $1 million deal. But out of it sprouted a new market; “urban wear” and the consumers who buy it.
The fashion industry doesn’t really talk about urban wear anymore — it’s place in the industry has arguably been replaced by streetwear –but in the ’90s and early aughts, it was all the rave. In 2001, Sean John made waves when it produced a $1 million fashion show in New York replete with what some called the first nationally live televised fashion show. That was only three years into the founding of the company and was followed up a year later with another blowout show with a budget of $1.24 million. And it was needed: At the time, founder Sean Combs was elbowing his way into a market that already contained brands like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm and Baby Phat which had been around since the early ’90s, and more.
At the time, urban wear had a typical approach. It was oversized and sort of braggadocios. Take Sean John with its oversized fur coats on the runway and the baggy jeans. Even down to the labels; this was a point in time where who you were wearing was important as how it looked. It was the time of Aaliyah being in head to toe Tommy Hilfiger, with a logo-ed bandeau and waistband. Sure Tommy Hilfiger wasn’t an urban wear brand in its founding, but it undeniably became a part of the aesthetic. It was an aesthetic that revolved around a sort of exaggeration. Of proportions, of tastes. Everything needed to be bigger and it was in that sense it was better.
Take Phat Farm. The distinguishing factor for it among its contemporaries was that it incorporated a sense of prep. They’d play with that element by taking plaid, a fabric associated strongly with Ivy League schools, and doing an oversized hoodie completely in that print, or using an argyle print and enlarging it for the main motif on an oversized sweater vest or just on a t-shirt. In this way, urban wear was a reaction to mainstream styles, taking what the mainstream considered to be stylish and fashionable and putting a twist on it, taking it to the Nth degree in cases like that of Dapper Dan who took the mainstream fascination with logos and blew it out of proportion.
Founded in 2011, Tyler the Creator’s brand follows along these lines. It takes the idealized tropes of the mainstream and co-opts them. The longest running trope involves golf wear and the pomp and the preppy aesthetic surrounding that but over the years the company has gotten into other things.