27 November 2019 From Courier Issue 32 (Dec/Jan 2020)

How hip-hop took over high fashion

Dan Runcie, founder of hip-hop newsletter Trapital, explains how and why the culture shift happened – and what it means for fashion brands today.


Dan Runcie founded Trapital in March 2018. But what started as a weekly newsletter quickly turned into a much broader media platform, with podcasts and memberships to exclusive content. Across it all, he breaks down the strategic insights behind hip-hop’s growing influence on our society, from the 10 most influential hip-hop business moves of the 2010s to Beyoncé’s streaming strategy and beyond.

‘Hip-hop has become more and more ubiquitous over time,’ says Runcie, 32. ‘Even when I was growing up, hip-hop was shunned. The rise of a company like Trapital is timely. If it had landed a decade ago, I don’t know if the culture would have been there for it.’

Runcie was early to recognise how hip-hop arrived in, then started to take over, luxury fashion, speeding up over the past handful of years in particular. In 2014, for example, Kanye West attacked the fashion industry for discriminating against him: ‘Cause you know damn well there aren’t no black guys or celebrities making no Louis Vuitton nothing.’

A few years later, the fashion landscape shifted. In one of the most dramatic shake-ups in recent menswear history, West’s friend, collaborator and founder of Off-White, Virgil Abloh, was appointed men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton. In 2018, the UK streetwear label A Cold Wall – founded by Samuel Ross, Abloh’s former creative consultant – was announced as a finalist in the prestigious LVMH prize for new talent. While Heron Preston, head of his eponymous label, was an art director for West during the early years of Yeezy.

Between them, they’ve taken the DNA of streetwear and mixed it with luxury materials and prices. Along the way, they’ve fundamentally reshaped the scope and meaning of contemporary high fashion. Some of the most exciting emerging designers working today – Du of Bstroy, Ev Bravado, Brick of Bstroy, Bloody Osiris and Tremaine Emory among them – take in silhouettes borrowed from hip-hop style of the 1990s. You just have to look at Givenchy or Balmain or Gucci to see how completely hip-hop culture has permeated. Here Runcie outlines some
of the reasons why.

Q Until recently, fashion brands didn’t take urban, hip-hop brands seriously. When did this start to change?

A This change has been gradual, but it accelerated in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The hip-hop fashion brands of old such as Rocawear, Enyce and Fubu saturated the domestic market in the US. High fashion didn’t take them seriously. But at the time, mainstream brands like Reebok and Nike had fully embraced hip-hop and basketball culture. It aligned with the process that Steve Stoute laid out in The Tanning of America, a book discusses how hip-hop expanded beyond music and into the culture of young Americans. It sparked a hip-hop-inspired cultural shift that influenced many industries, including fashion.

The change took off when social media – specifically Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter – blew up. It empowered underrepresented fans, which strengthened the power that hip-hop celebrities and stars had. High-fashion brands could no longer avoid the influence of hip-hop’s megastars. The follower counts spoke for themselves. If high-fashion wanted in, it had to embrace hip-hop culture. It was only a matter of time before the fashion industry came around.

Q Which hip-hop/fashion collaborations stand out for you in terms of representing a shift in culture?

A Look no further than Gucci. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the luxury brand went out of its way to shut down Dapper Dan’s operation in Harlem. Dap became known for knock-off Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi products. As Dapper Dan’s operation grew, his customers included LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Mike Tyson and plenty more. His celebrity customers would often appear on MTV, showing off their merchandise. Eventually, Gucci threatened MTV for showcasing Dapper Dan-designed garments on its TV shows. Thirty years later and Dap now has his own atelier studio in partnership with Gucci. In Harlem. We’re now in a different era. The evolution of the Met Gala is also impressive. The annual fundraising gala, one of the world’s biggest fashion events, has been going strong since is was established in 1948 – making it the kind of institution that hip-hop artists would have never been invited to 25 years ago. But today, it’s essentially become a red carpet for who matters in hip-hop. Beyoncé and Rihanna have been past co-chairs of the gala. 21 Savage, French Montana, Ciara and countless others went to the most recent gala in May. You love to see it.

Q Hip-hop has a huge impact on millennials and Gen Z, who have huge spending power. Does this play into the emergence of hip-hop and luxury fashion?

A Definitely. Social media accelerated the convergence of hip-hop and high fashion. Millennials and Gen Z are the social media power users. They buy products off Instagram. Gen Z has grown up in an era where hip-hop culture has always reigned supreme. They will automatically associate Rihanna with LVMH; A$AP Ferg with Tiffany & Co; Gucci Mane with Gucci. That should bode well for hip-hop’s ongoing relationship with high fashion. Over time, Gen Z will become the high-income target consumer that the fashion world desires. That relationship-building and association needs to start now.

Q Lots of luxury fashion designers right now draw heavily on hip-hop culture. We’ve seen it before but not on this scale. What’s your take on this?

A Virgil Abloh’s rise is a perfect snapshot of what hip-hop has achieved. In 2009, he and Kanye were interns at Fendi, trying to get their foot in the door. Kanye struggled to fully break through though. The ‘Louis Vuitton Don’ tried to do a deal, but got the stiff arm from the LVMH CEO, Bernard Arnault, back in 2013. That’s the same Arnault that just partnered with Rihanna and Fenty to launch her own maison – the company’s first since 1987. Now, there’s a huge difference in value between Rihanna and Kanye. But a lot has changed in hip-hop’s relationship with fashion since 2013. And now Virgil has broken his own barriers with Louis Vuitton. It’s all came full circle, and it’s been dope to see it all unfold.

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