By Yatin Srivastava
With the ever-expanding nature of the music industry at large, its amalgamation with other industries has been historically relevant. With all of our conversations about sub-cultures, underground movements and the power of all of these movements to create a new sense of community, which in turn will drive the markets further, it becomes pertinent to look into all possible cross-sections and conversations between the music industry and other industries. Fashion, then, has always played a pivotal role in the demarcation of different underground cultures and scenes. A partnership that seemed to have died down, the resurgence of fashion in the music industry is more than welcome. With fashion literally having its rockstar moment, it is not surprising to see widespread music sub-cultures and movements focusing heavily on fashion and clothing.
A Deep-Rooted History
Whilst many may not consider how intertwined fashion and music always were, it’s safe to say that a lot of popular genres of music arose not just out of the music, but also the culture surrounding that music and, inherently, the clothes and the fashion surrounding that. The best example that I can think of is Punk. If it weren’t for the late Dame Vivienne Westwood (who actually wore only a skirt dress and no underwear to her knighthood ceremony), there would be no Punk or the Sex Pistols image. The piercings and the ripped and distressed clothes that challenged the notions of Christian society, Vivienne Westwood’s “Sex Shop” wasn’t only a clothing store, but a deep dive into the intellectual culture and lifestyle that existed around Punk during that time in London and Britain.
One can argue that the entire Vivienne Westwood Punk aesthetic is emblematic of most underground Avant-Garde brands that came out and flourished - Raf Simons, Undercover, Number Nine, Hysteric Glamour, etc and then further bands such as Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain’s style echoing the grunginess of Punk. The same was seen with Thrash Metal, and its bullet belts, adorned by guitar players and vocalists alike, from the likes of Kerry King from Slayer, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett from Metallica to the far depths of Extreme Black Metal with Euronymous from Mayhem. With the surge of personal identity being directly attached to the music sub-culture, it was part and parcel.
This evolution saw its peak in the late 90s and early 2000s, with the entire Y2K aesthetic being emblematic of all the boy and girl bands, from NSYNC to Destiny’s Child and the Spice Girls. Brands innately began to see value in the music industry and vice versa. The entire baggy jeans, big T-shirt and Logomania aesthetic of Hip-Hop reigned “Supreme”, with even artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan starting their own labels such as Wu Wear. Victoria Beckham from the Spice Girls eventually transitioned to fashion and worked solely on her namesake fashion label, and still continues to do so.
A Slow Decline
One could argue that by the 2010s, there was a slow decline in this amalgamated identity. With every genre being finger-picked and differentiated to the lowest denominator, it’s easy to see why the idea of personality from a sub-culture/genre moved away from its roots. The focus was no longer on the identity of the community but on the “cool” factor of following an artist or listening to the freshest single on VH1. You could argue that the music masses at large wanted more than just to fit in with their tokenism and dove into the entire commercial and capitalist mindset of the industry at the time. Kanye West’s design ideas and ventures into fashion and the reaction to them were clear indicators. Previously, when clothing was related directly to pop stars and artists, it was perfumes and fragrances or accessories without any actual value - just a marketing scheme or merchandise without any character.
Even though Kanye West was making the most unique, future-forward designs with Adidas and his own label, YZY Season, even though an eponymous label like Martin Margiela made bespoke 1/1 couture pieces for the Yeezus tour, the world at large was not ready to accept Mr West as any more than that. But without Kanye West and his troop of brilliant artists, we wouldn’t have the world we have today. It took people like him, the late Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston and beyond to break the glass ceilings of the white-washed fashion industry to create what we have today.
A Promising Future
If there is one person who is responsible for the reconnection between music and fashion like it was earlier, it is Virgil Abloh. Even though he came from an architectural background, Abloh, with his brand Off-White, would change the landscape of clothing. As streetwear was picking up steam again, off of the histories of brands such as Stussy, Supreme and many others, brands such as Off-White, Hood By Air, Palm Angels, Heron Preston, and many more took the fashion world by storm, they also infiltrated spaces that were just not accessible before. Once Abloh was named the first Black Creative Director of Louis Vuitton in 2016, everything changed. For the first time, the Louis Vuitton show featured a guest list of artists, architects, musicians, designers, skateboarders and much more. Gone were the days of celebrity supremacy. Now, culture was important again and more importantly - the connection between culture, music and commerciality was being looked into heavily. If an artist released a song or a music video, they were wearing brands that have their own history, and the artist aligned their vision with those brands and fashion labels. Clothing and the image of a sub-culture or a genre have become as important, if not more important, today.
Today, in the glocal and local scenes, we see clothing brands and artists/bands collaborating majorly! Right from mainstream artists like Tyler The Creator, Sante, Dave, Kendrick Lamar, (with pgLang working directly with Chanel), Major League DJz to even local artists in India like Badshah, and Diljit Dosanjh, to even underground niche artists like Spiritbox, the expansion into styling and fashion has now come to the forefront in representing a story to not just the fans but also to the world at large.
The image of an artist has gone beyond the artwork, the set design, or just the visuals of the music, clothing, and styling have now also become synonymous with the image of an artist. This modern shift is like a full circle moment - from Vivienne Westwood championing the innovation of a brand new genre, to clothing now supporting all kinds of music scenes across the world. These clothes that artists wear have also made their way into the community, and sporting those brands has now become a part of the community lifestyle, which is an incredibly strong bonding feature. From here, I see this expansion growing even further, with more artists collaborating with brands to create collections and clothes, that, in turn, will replace the idea of “Merchandise”.