This past decade brought us the Citizens United ruling which, to put it very simply, equated the spending of money by large corporations and associations with free speech, thereby giving a tremendous amount of electing power to corporations which, in part, lead to the tumultuous political environment we are currently living in. What does any of this have to do with fashion and streetwear? Maybe everything? Newton’s third law of physics tells us that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” and I believe Citizens United — by endowing brands with more power than ever — directly contributed to the rise of self-branding we currently see across the internet and on our social feeds.
You feeling me on this? Regardless, the fact remains that cultivating your own personal brand was everywhere by the end of the 2010s. Just look at how many people want to be influencers or YouTube celebrities. Even if you don’t want to admit it, we all take part in brand management to some degree. Which angles we upload to the ‘Gram, the moments we choose to share and those we ignore, who we shout out — we are all cultivators and curators of an aesthetic that we’ve chosen.
In a world where everyone feels the need to announce “This is who I am and what I’m about,” packaging is important. Whether you’re going on a date, meeting up with friends, hitting the club, or going for a job interview, the clothes you wear tell part of your story. To keep that story fresh, you need to constantly evolve and grow. Your thought process needs to expand. And hip-hop stylist Marko the Curator is just the man to help.
Since starting a stylist (mostly because people he met thought he had great style), Marko has helped craft the vibes of a wide-range of rap music’s best-dressed and is directly responsible for iconic looks from Migos, Travis Scott, Cassie, Diddy and 21 Savage. His new coffee table book, Timeless Fashion Through The Eye of Marko The Curator, collects some of his favorite personal pieces along with anecdotes about the artists who have worn them. The book is a streetwear enthusiast’s bible — packed with inspiring and out there fits and interesting stories that highlight just how important the visual representation of a creative artist actually is.
Chatting with him last week, Marko shared with me some of his favorite moments in his styling career as well as advice on how to level up your own style game and hunt for a wardrobe that will stand the test of time. Hit up Marko’s website to find out how to get your hands on Timeless Fashion Through The Eye of Marko The Curator as well as some vintage Gucci from his personal collection. Let’s get into it.
In your opinion, what makes a piece of clothing timeless?
To me, when I really look at something, a piece of clothing, and I assess what I think all fads and all trends aside — will I wear this 10 years from now? Will I wear this 10 weeks from now? Would I have worn this five years ago? And that’s what I think because there are certain trends that come and everybody goes, “Oh my God. That’s the hottest thing in the world.” And then it dissipates. And I guess, for me when I was shopping, I would always shop for myself. I’d build my wardrobe.
I’m like, “Okay. Clothes. I love this. Is this something I’m going to love forever? Is this something I’m going to hold on to, or I’m going to want to wear it once and I’m done with?” So that’s what I really look at. I strip away all fads and trends and just think about, would I still wear this in five days, five weeks, five months, five years? Would I have worn this five years ago? So, that’s kind of the equation I play within my head.
So, when you do that, what exactly are you looking for?
It really depends, because I love everything from t-shirts to fur coats, so there’s such a wide world in between there. One of the things I’m looking for is quality, of course. And people trip out on Gucci, for example, or Tom Ford is so expensive. It’s like, “Well, when you feel the garment and you see the quality put into it, not only on the fabric but in the stitching, I mean you get what you pay for.” So that’s one of the things I look for. I look for quality, for texture. If it’s a t-shirt, sometimes I love what the fabric is, what the design on it is. But, I think when I’m looking for longevity, I’m definitely looking for fabric, and texture, and quality.
You’ve said it was a pair of Jordan’s that got you to first appreciate fashion, so what was it about that specific pair, and what pair was it?
First, I got to shout out my man Nas. He had the greatest line, which I still live by to this day. “The streets raised me up giving a fuck. I thought Jordans and a gold chain was living it up.” And that’s where it started with me. My first pair was a pair of Jordan Fours, I was in third grade, it was like ’89, and I think the Jordan Fives had just come out. So they have kind of hit, they were starting to go on sale. And I had older brothers, so they always put me on a game early.
I remember my brother was like, “Tell mom to get you those.” And at first, it was just so cool. I didn’t know what they were. But they were black and red. And I’ve always loved black and red.
Red’s my favorite color. It reminds you of Darth Vader, reminds you of Nightrider, black with a little red on it, and then you see these little triangular slabs on it and they just look cool. And then I remember wondering, why? So my brother put on a game for me and seeing who Michael Jordan was and think the first game I remember watching him was like a Bulls-Celtics game. And I just remember watching, seeing him play and seeing him wear the shoes, and it just all clicked in with me. Like, “Oh my God, this guy is poetry in motion and look what he’s wearing.”
He’s got baggy shorts on. And then, everywhere you see, from your favorite rappers or your favorite movies, the coolest kid on campus had those shoes on. And then it clicked from there. I wanted those shoes, and I wanted the sweatsuit and matched it. You see Flavor Flav and in the Apocalypse 91 album cover, he’s wearing the full Jordan-sized jumpsuit from head to toe. And it was the coolest thing in the world just because every cool person I saw had it — not to mention the greatest player ever. So, it just all kind of engulfed me right then and there.
What are some of the favorite pieces of yours in your collection and why?
We talking shoes? Are we talking clothing, or…
Both! Let’s do one each. Or two each if that is easier —
Okay, well we’ll do two each. For sneakers, it feels really weird because I feel like I’m at the evolution of a sneakerhead. As much as I love Jordan Fours, I feel weird wearing them cause any little 19-year-old kid could wear them. But one of my favorites is a pair of Hender Scheme Jordan Fours. Hender Scheme is a Japanese brand. And they hand-make shoes completely from leather. And so, they’ve done a few iconic silhouettes. They did Air Force Ones completely in the vachetta, tan leather. They did the Marchello replica sneaker, and then they did a Jordan 4.
I have the Jordan 4 and that I love to death. And then I have an Air Ship, which you might be familiar with that. It just hit the news cause Nike is actually finally retro-ing it. But the Air Ship was the first Nike that Jordan wore before the Jordans came out. So, if you ever see footage of Jordan his rookie year wearing the shoe, that kind of looks like a Jordan but isn’t, it’s the Air Ship. And I have an original pair of those. So, those are my two favorite sneakers in my collection.
Clothing, that’s tough. The funny thing, I think my favorite… Oh, I could do this. My favorite article clothing, probably, is… and the irony of it is it’s a woman’s piece. I don’t know if you were able to see the little coffee table book I did, but the last piece in there is a Moschino dinner jacket from Autumn/winter ’89.
With the forks?
Yeah, I love that piece. It’s just so wild and over the top, but yet still so elegantly made. It’s just amazing. That is a work of art to me. And then my second one, I’d have to say, to bring it back, I still have an authentic Jordan Jersey. That was my birthday present when I was 10 years old. And I remember I begged and begged and begged, made sure I got straight A’s, cause I didn’t want the replica. I wanted the authentic one, the one that was thicker stitch just like they wore it. And, it fit me huge. And luckily I grew and it shrank a little and I still have it. I’ll just never let go of it.
I want to talk a little bit about Fanny packs/crossbodies, specifically in reference to your MCM Fanny pack in the book. Why do you think it’s back?
You know what I think? I think we’re in an age of opulence and everyone is trying to stunt on each other, and especially with this whole retro resurgence, “Oh what can I bring back that’s cool?” And I’m against it. I hate it. But I guess the Fanny pack is the most masculine of the man purses. Does that make any sense? And I really think it’s just a stress factor. It’s like at first it was like, “Oh we got the shoes.” And like, “Oh now we have an MCM backpack.” It’s like, “All right, what’s the next little thing we can hit them with?” Before it was those little change pouches that we used to hang from our key chains from our belt.
And then, it was always this, “what’s this little extra accent that we could shit on somebody with?” And I think the fanny pack was one, and it’s such a juxtaposition, cause it was like taking one of these corny things that tourists wear, and soccer moms and dads wear, and then refining it and making it a luxury version. So, I definitely think that they flipped it on it. So, I really just think it’s a stunt factor. How else can we stunt on somebody? And that was probably the most out-of-left-field things you could expect to flip and they did it. And I’ll take some credit for that one.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about the parallels between clothing and art. You see clothing as art. I agree with you, but, what ways do you think they parallel each other most? I’m actually writing a piece right now, where I call the sneaker one of the modern canvases of the day.
Okay, sneakers is the perfect example. Let’s just take an original Jordan 4, in military blue. It’s cracked. You can’t wear them, but somebody’s still going to buy it. Because it’s just the most beautiful display piece. In my office, I have a Jordan 5, original fire red. The mid sole’s cracked. You can’t wear it, but it’s a display piece. It’s a conversation piece, the same way that somebody would buy a Banksy or a Picasso and hang it in their living rooms.
It becomes a conversation piece the day somebody comes over and they comment on it and you start speaking on it. That’s the same way with the clothing. That’s the same way I look at a Versace Baroque print silk shirt. It’s an investment. You don’t wear it every day, but when you do wear it, it’s a statement piece.
It’s a piece of art and it becomes this conversation piece. So, not every piece of clothing has art, but for me, a lot of them are, and Versace is a perfect example. When you think of Versace, you think of these bright, loud, silk shirts. And you look at those prints and they’re like tapestry. You could see them hanging somewhere on the wall and they would make just as much sense as on your shoulders and draped around you. Pendleton jackets. Another prime example. You could see that Navajo blanket being hung on a wall or being laid out on the floor underneath the coffee table to bring the room together, and then to be able to wear that as a jacket, that’s an extension of yourself, an extension of your personality, and it’s wearable art. It evokes the feeling.
I wanted to talk about that a little bit, too, the Pendletons. I was going to ask, what’s one moment in your career that really stands out to you as a stylist? I was thinking an obvious highlight would probably be dressing the Migos in Pendletons in the T-Shirt video.
I’m going to have to second that. Yeah, I just thought that was the coolest thing. I had those jackets for a while in my collection, before I even started working with them. And when they told us we were doing that video in the snow, and we already had a treatment, it was very The Revenant. So I said, “Oh, we’re busting this out.” And sure enough, there was a scene where we were in the cabin, and it just made perfect sense.
Little did I know, that would end up being the album cover. And so, that is definitely an amazing moment, because that album was culturally significant, no pun intended. And then, to know that my name is credited on there, that meant the world to me. And then to see the trickle-down effect, that next thing you know, Pendleton is re-releasing things and doing collabs with Opening Ceremony and seeing them have relevance again. The fact that my name is on a platinum plaque, and the fact that I was able to shift culture, or the tide for that moment, that is something I hold near and dear to me.
When you’re scanning stores or thrift stores for new looks, what’s some advice you’d give to someone who’s picking out a wardrobe for themselves?
Oh, I think my advice would definitely be to try things on, to feel, to have patience. Take your time and don’t necessarily get caught up in the label, because a lot of people just look at a brand and they go, “Oh my God, look at this shirt. It’s made by so and so.” It’s like, “yeah, but who cares? What about it?” So really, take time, focus in on it, figure out what you’re looking for. Think about If it’s something you’re building for your own personal needs or whether it just falls into hype.
How would you say we can all better dress ourselves?
I think the one biggest piece of advice I would suggest is investing in a tailor. Sometimes you have the most random $40 or $50 jean and you invest $10 in tailoring it. Now it looks like a $200 jean. So, most of us, myself included, aren’t fortunate enough to fit things off the rack. So a little tailoring goes a long way. And that’s a huge industry secret. But that’s the best one.
You’d be surprised how much a small investment of like $5 or $10 to tailor something just really makes it settle in.
That, and just know yourself and know your body. Don’t necessarily go for the hype. Sometimes, let’s say, a while back the elongated looks were really in. And I thought it looked amazing on everyone else, but I have short legs, so didn’t look good on me. So it’s dope, it’s hype-worthy, but it doesn’t do it for me. So, always be genuinely yourself and invest in a tailor.
You love vintage pieces. So, how do you identify which ones resonate with the modern age? Because any given era isn’t in fashion all the time.
Yeah, that’s actually a weird question, cause a lot of like vintage tee-shirts, it’s become such a big thing. The 90s tee-shirts have just become such a big thing. And I look at so many shirts on Instagram that these kids are going all crazy over and I’m like, “Oh God, they’re hideous.”
I laugh. But it’s funny what different shirts will evoke different feelings from people. But, I think I’ve had the good fortune, and I’ll say this very humbly, that I go with my gut and, it seems like it’s worked. And I’ve definitely seen people follow suit. I look at things that evoke emotion, for me and my childhood. And a lot of times it’s just the look or the imagery of it. And, like I said, the timelessness of it and when there’s a story to it behind as well.
Sometimes, there’s a story to why this certain band is cool because they had one song that was so amazing. Or sometimes, it might not even be a band you’re familiar with, but the artwork itself is so amazing that it makes you want to go find out who that band is. And I think it’s just finding things that have character.
I think that’s the beauty of digging into vintage stuff. You’re looking for that variety instead of going to the rack at a department store and just seeing the same shirt. You know, now you’re looking for the little variances and varieties, and I think that’s what really draws people. Something different. Everyone has a pink Floyd shirt now because they remade them at every store. But like what about this really obscure pink Floyd shirt that was too obscure to be reprinted anywhere because, but it’s one of the few ones that nobody has and hasn’t been reprinted. I think it’s that obscurity.
What trends would you say are currently overplayed in the fashion world?
That’s a good one. What is overplayed right now? Dang, I think you caught me off guard on that one. I guess I’d say the chunky shoe. I was never a fan of it.
I think a couple of brands have done it, have nailed it in and dialed it in properly. But, I just saw Moschino did a runway show last night and one of the models was wearing, basically, the dad version of a baseball hat. It was a baseball hat that fit like a turban times two. It was hilarious. So I think the oversize stuff, it’s got to get dialed back in again.
What would you say inspires your personal style?
Music. Music, first and foremost. And it’s funny cause even when I get asked to style somebody, I’ll tell them, “Give me your three favorite bands.” Because I think music, what we listen to really affects our personality the most. So, I definitely think music affects me. That’s probably the first and foremost one. Even if it comes to a t-shirt of your favorite band, or you might have this image of David Bowie or something at a certain event. So, I think music really is my first love, and I think the way I reflect outward is through clothing.
Who would you say — and you can’t pick somebody that you’ve styled — who would you say is the most stylish artist right now?
I really love Anderson Paak. I’ve really been watching what he’s been doing lately. He’s just so smooth. And it’s funny cause it matches his music. I love Miguel. Again, the style matches his music, it matches his demeanor. And A$AP Rocky is always so natural and fresh — he kills it.
Rihanna is amazing cause it’s her confidence. She does what she wants when she wants, and just somebody put a statement somewhere that says, “It’s not cool until Rihanna says it’s cool,” and that speaks a whole lot about her. Her swag is ridiculous.
Where do you think the future of fashion is heading? We’re about to enter a new decade. So there’s going to be a big kind of cultural shift in the next three years or so. Where do you think we’re heading?
I definitely think it’s going to get futuristic. It’s going to get very… I think there’s a lot of technology going on in fabrics, with high tech fabrics, like the way we have an Apple watch now. I think that’s the next step. It’s like, how do you, enhance the clothing you’re wearing? And I think Louis, for their runway show, had one of the basketball sneakers that actually lit up, and I don’t know if that’s actual technology that’s coming out or if it was just for the runway show, but I think they’re onto something. I think very interactive and tech-friendly and tech-savvy garments, that’s the next step.
Interesting. Like smart garments?
I think so. Yeah. I think the sky’s the limit. I think everyone’s stepping their game up.