– Following on from extensive features, including examining the history of football and UK music, the ethics of sampling and the sustainability of NYC’s hardware scene, our next long-read concerns the intersection of art, music and fashion in today’s landscape.
Given the multitude of fashion weeks happening across the globe every September, it’s as good a time as any to take (backroom) stock. –
Historically, fashion, music and art have always overlapped and been integral to each other’s identities. Think of movements across skate and sports culture and their associations with brands like Nike, Kangol and Supreme; of music scenes that co-opt a label to their identity like UK garage with Moschino or dancehall with Clarks shoes; of pioneers like Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren who were integral to the movement of punk; of names like Biba and Mary Quant that defined the sixties’ aesthetic. And these things don’t just happen from nowhere: given that these creative fields manifest and grow organically, they operate on a subcultural level before reaching the mainstream.
As sports luxe, streetwear and 90s logo mania became key trends in both high fashion and the high street, we’ve reached a saturation point where conspicuous branding is boldly plastered everywhere. Established designers have run countless statement pieces for their diffusion lines. Think over-the-top logos emblazoned on DKNY tees, self-referential Moschino campaigns and classic Calvin Klein underwear, to the ridiculous ‘Jacobs by Marc by Marc Jacobs by Marc Jacobs’ totes. Meanwhile old school sports names like Fila, Champion and Ellesse have seen a return across high street stockists.
“Brands like P.A.M. or Cav Empt, have a long-standing love for music, which means wanting to collaborate in a true sense.”
But running parallel to this is a new wave of cult underground brands, making their statements in this hyper-branded era through music. The art of tapping into niche demographics has produced an endless list of partnerships: skate supremes Palace are working with The Trilogy Tapes imprint, designer duo Cottweiler are enlisting Palmistry and FKA Twigs, Paris’s Pigalle with Le Pompon club and Skepta — it goes on. Then there are those who take the merging of disciplines even further, like Australian powerhouse P.A.M.’s fashion designers / DJs / musicians to Misha Hollenbach and Shauna Toohey. These are all creative people, revered in their respective fields of underground culture. The process of combining their personal interests means that the outcome is more substantial than just grabbing at hyped names for marketing cachet.
“Brands like P.A.M. or Cav Empt, have a long-standing love for music,” says Hollenbach. “Which means wanting to collaborate in a true sense. For example, us asking Lee Gamble to provide a soundtrack to a film, or C.E. working with Actress, is an exchange. Music and fashion have always had a close connection, the clothes you wear to the club, or on the street that relate to the music you listen to. The mohawk and punk, fat laces and rap, thin leather ties and [new] wave. The connection has always been there, and things now are no different.”
Besides hosting their show K.H.O.L. on Berlin Community Radio, there’s an upcoming release on DJ Haus’s Unknown to the Unknown label, a shirt collaboration with Bill Kouligas’s PAN, an experimental project with LoveFinger and Thomas Bullock, and shooting with Just Jam’s Tim and Barry. P.A.M. are much more than a fashion label dabbling, but nor do they position themselves as a generalised ‘lifestyle brand’ as such. “I think what we are understanding now is that P.A.M. is growing into something. We make clothes and this is a focus, and we we want to create the notion of it being a brand. Fashion: not sure. Lifestyle: maybe. Cult: possibly…”
The crossover between artistic fields also operates on a more fundamental level in regards to individuals. People who embody an underground lifestyle wholly are often at the forefront and identifying trends as they emerge. With people like Melbourne’s Hollenbach, New York’s Venus X of GHE20G0TH1K, or London’s Mischa Notcutt, they’re clearly representing the diverse interests and direction of the 2010s. They show how someone can exhibit their involvement with subculture in an individualist way, without having to ally themselves to any one style tribe. Notcutt, for example, is the stylist behind Skepta’s Shutdown video, M.I.A.’s 2014 tour, casting director at LC:M, NTS Radio show host, promoter and DJ. With this kind of spread of interests, a personal factor is of course key to coherent cultural viewpoints, taking into consideration the mindset of each discipline.
“I think it all comes down to the individual,” says Notcutt. There are plenty of people in fashion that don’t give a shit about music, they’re quite happy listening to Radio 1 and pop hits. Then there are those who are not only into, but inspired by music, past and present. I think if anything, a lot more music people are getting into fashion rather than the other way round. I feel like a lot of the streetwear community are now including luxury brands into their wardrobe and it would sit next to their rare Nikes and they would be wearing them while listening to Stormzy, A$AP, Kanye, Larry Levan or what have you.”
London-born and -bred fashion designer, Nasir Mazhar is also a prominent example. From having MCs such as Skepta performing at his shows, modelling on the runway and collaborating on designs, to Fade to Mind’s Kingdom crafting an eight-minute mix for his A/W15 show, Mazhar’s crossover into the music scene has offered integral insight into his ethos and inspiration. This is something contemporary and essential, of the moment, rather than throwback or referential. Although there is always scepticism on collaborative work, designers like Mazhar are clearly expressing something natural, having grown up in the same generation and background as the musicians he is championing.
Meanwhile, designers like Cav Empt’s founders, the mysterious Sk8thing (formerly of BAPE / Billionaire Boys Club) and Toby Feltwell are bringing extensive music industry experience to bear on their fashion moves. Feltwell had an illustrious career, previously being based at Mo’ Wax Records and XL Recordings, where he signed no less than Dizzee Rascal. So it’s only natural that he has since moved on to scouting contemporary names at the forefront, working with the likes of Actress, signing Rezzett to perform the live soundtrack to their show, and a visual collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never.
Then there are the dominant names like Hood By Air, who’ve infamously had the likes of Total Freedom (A/W14), Venus X & Fatima Al Qadiri (S/S15), and Arca (A/W15) performing tracks or creating mixes for their shows. Global brands Nike and Carhartt WIP have dedicated marketing platforms focused solely on music, whether that be seeding clothes to rappers or working closely with musical conduits like NTS Radio. As the volume of such brand collaborations surge, the questions of integrity and authenticity are also raised. Yes, it’s transparent and open when it comes to the world’s biggest names in music like Rihanna at River Island or Beyoncé x Topshop — but on a more underground level, opinions can often be mixed.
“I believe it is something real in some examples” says ex-Puma staffer Matthew Thomas, now of club night and music/fashion label House of Trax. “Knowing that the guys are all linked – but you will get brands that do it just as a copycat thing or they feel the need to work with X or Y to be cool, etc. In some cases, it works and in some, it doesn’t. These projects were a sacred, once-in-a-lifetime thing not long ago, but now they are much more commonplace.”
Naturally, there can be a suspicion of brands merely using music as a marketing tool. “I think it’s genuine from some brands and musicians who have partnered up,” says Nina Manandhar, writer and photographer behind the history of style book What We Wore, and previously commissioned by the likes of sports/streetwear brands Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Dr Martens. “They’ve come from the same place, are part of the same networks and, in some cases, have been friends for years (like TTT and Palace), so I imagine they relish the opportunity to work on projects together.”
“Today, there is a different kind of creativity and innovation going on in a generation who are using fashion and consumerism as a tool for community-building.”
“The difference now is the attitude toward consumerism: it has been embraced by both parties,” she says. “Today, there is a different kind of creativity and innovation going on in a generation who are using fashion and consumerism as a tool for community-building, even if it appears they are simply mirroring the brand culture their endeavours have been spawned from. This sounds a bit gross but it’s like cross-platform branding I guess. These are independents, and it all started as DIY culture. It’s not like if a credible singer started working with a high street giant. I don’t think people would be into that, they would view it as proper sell out.”
On a luxury fashion level, the credibility of crossovers is questioned at times, coming from a seemingly different world and also, stories of big name brands failing to pay young artists for their work. For example, one luxury brand recently approached visual artist Nic Hamilton and DJ/producer Last Japan for a video collaboration, and failed to deliver on their part of the agreement. “I had an expectation of it being much more professional in terms of general communication and understanding of deadlines and contracts,” says Hamilton.
“I wasn’t happy that I had to get my lawyer involved to get paid. I had to make two videos and six print images for them within eight weeks for a budget of €10,000. People never ever talk about budgets for these things, but I think in the interests of artists getting paid, it’s good to have it out there. Compared to the costs of an agency or production house, it’s good value for brands to get artists to make their ‘content’.”
Not that this experience put him off all collaborations, mind. “I think there is an interesting area that exists between commerce and art to work in… There was quite a bit of freedom. I made a treatment and detailed storyboard that we didn’t deviate from. Halfway through the process, another agency that specialises in luxury brands got involved and started giving specific direction on detailed things. This is the reality of commercial work, but it did blur the line between doing production work for someone else and executing your own work.”
Music is a obviously key element in fashion shows at a basic level, be it models walking to Jacques Greene and Kaytranada on the runway at Opening Ceremony, and IVVVO at Raf Simons, to the far end of Florence and the Machine performing live at Chanel. Whilst for specific commissions and collaborations, it can be a more creative endeavour, such as major fashion labels like Prada, Dior and Proenza Schouler enlisting the likes of Zomby to Oneohtrix Point Never, and beyond.
Paris-based fashion duo ASSK’s Agatha Kowalewski & Sarah Schofield, who have worked with the likes of Liminal Sounds producer Air Max ‘97, went on to say, “Luxury fashion has always sought the new and undiscovered, it’s natural for creatives at the top of the design field to seek out what’s interesting in other fields. I think the only trap is that when this is on the commercial side of a mega-brand, the undiscovered artist still needs to be respected, and not taken advantage of – a danger for any young creative working with big companies.”
“I think there’s always been an overlap between music and fashion crowds,” says Nina Manhandar. “But it seems like the business side of fashion, for instance, London Fashion Week, has become more embraced by the music crowd and the public in general. And perhaps music people are less cynical of fashion and branding because these partnerships are more common, and the ‘necessity of branding’ is so accepted now.”
“It’s not just about having the records. You have to have the clothes.”
On a wider consumer level, people buying into trends are usually aware of the cultural connotations, rather than blindly wearing punk tees or PVC goth pieces. “Garage music was about the flossy lifestyle,” says Notcutt. “You had to have the Moschino, the Versace, the champagne and the two-step. This is a perfect example of fashion and music combined being one. But it wasn’t down to a collaboration, that was the fashion at the time. I think groups like Wavey Garms are amazingly nostalgic of this period, and putting on nights with OG garage DJs goes hand-in-hand.
It’s not just about having the records. You have to have the clothes. I think musicians have replaced the muses of the past for many designers, and adds to a lifestyle element that a lot of brands think of now.”
Trends being a part of the nature of both music and fashion means people naturally chop and change their personal style and evolve their music taste accordingly. “With any type of music that gets popular, you get a rush of people who want to be a part of it. It’s like when everyone was into metal/hardcore a few years ago, and they were wearing Suicidal Tendencies t-shirts and going to Hellfest. Now they’re saying how grime they are and when they first saw Dizzee or Trim. It’s good in some ways – hopefully it is for the musicians – and can be bad in others.” says Notcutt. “But essentially, good music is good music, whatever the genre. You should be allowed to enjoy it whether you heard it first years ago in Jammer’s basement or you literally stumbled into a club last week and had to ask the DJ what it was. All inclusive.”
While music has long been part of England’s cultural identity, from Northern Soul to rave to jungle to UK Funky to grime, cities elsewhere like Paris, Tokyo, and Melbourne have since formed their own crossover movements. “Paris was integral to the identity of ASSK. We started the brand because at the time there were no other affordable brands here which we liked. We wanted to produce clothing we liked which was high quality but still affordable, and at the same time to help contribute to a new wave in Paris,” says the Australian duo. “But we also believe in thinking globally. This way, we have a wider audience and can focus on staying true to the brand rather than being bounded by commerciality.”
“In real life terms, of course [location] matters for the physical space of sharing a store, the participation in real life events etc. Perhaps Melbourne doesn’t have as much of an identity or critical mass as larger cities such as Tokyo or London, but this in itself allows for its own set of dynamics,” recounts Hollenbach. “Saying that, however, music as a concept doesn’t require a specific location, and neither does the Internet, which allows for freedom from the boundaries of distance. So, although the physical experience is important, it’s not essential. As stated, ‘House is a feeling’, and I suppose if feelings are conveyed and experienced, how that happens isn’t important.”
“I’m based in New York,” says designer Wil Fry, “and you can accomplish a lot in a day here. Just by being here, it has definitely helped me navigate the industry a lot quicker than I imagine if I was in, say, the mid-West. However, when I started out doing parody t-shirts, it didn’t matter at all. I’d upload a photo of the finished idea to Tumblr and people just seemed to find it.”
The Internet’s accessibility to discover new trends has created an accelerated path of cultural consumption, meaning things quickly become saturated, mainstream and therefore having a shorter lifespan. “The world and its youth are getting more savvy, more connected… The underground (especially in music) has always had a limited audience,” says Hollenbach. “It takes dedication to find, and passion to be a part of. These days, it’s all very available. As a youth the eighties/nineties, and especially in pre-Internet Melbourne, accessibility to New York house music or Detroit records was limited. Now if you want something, as long as you have the Internet, it’s yours. Exposure is wider, and really, what’s not to like…”
From fads like K-Hole’s much misunderstood ‘normcore’ and ‘avant-bland’ to seapunk and Health Goth – all proliferated by the Internet, it’s only natural that ideas falling under artist James Bridle’s coined term, The New Aesthetic, would grow: Internet Art, hyperreal glossy visuals, PC Music style. “A lot more artwork is referencing early Internet and computer culture as some of that early stuff now looks dated. There’s something about nostalgia that people like to buy into,” suggests Thomas.
“I actually am loving new music and current fashion. Referencing is A-OK, but throwbacks to ‘back in the day’ aren’t so interesting.”
The recent rise of nineties nostalgia across all fields of music, fashion and art has been a purely organic process, given that this is Generation Y’s time. “The excitement around the more recent collaborations is more of a generational thing. These emerging and popular brands are modern day equivalents to the likes of Supreme and Stussy, etc.” says Thomas. “These three factors: the New Generation, more developed underground culture, and the Internet have blown the doors off.”
Its popularity is based on this generation now reaching positions of power, the new league of cultural leaders. “The people who are now in positions of influence in the creative industries are now directors and editors of magazines, moving away further into adulthood and looking back with rose-tinted glasses about their youth, commissioning stuff. This comes at the same time that today’s 17-year-olds who don’t remember the nineties find it wildly exotic.” says Manandhar.
“To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of revival or nostalgia. I sometimes wonder if wearing nineties fashion is not dissimilar in theory to dressing up as Elvis, or a hippie or a punk,” counteracts Hollenbach. “Likewise with music… I love finding old records whether it’s nineties breakbeat or seventies library, but it’s good music that is the key, not the genre. I actually am loving new music and current fashion. Referencing is A-OK, but throwbacks to ‘back in the day’ aren’t so interesting. Using the information from the past to create something new, that’s exciting.”
So, what’s next? Besides their general cyclical paths, fashion and music have both always introduced exciting new concepts, sounds and designs. “There are, and always will be the futurists who really push the envelope and are focused on evolution and driving things forward.” says Thomas. In order to explore new ideas, things become more and more niche. “This season we have been inspired by people who believe they have become allergic to technology or think RFID and electromagnetic fields are dangerous. Small communities are springing up far away from cities, with people making their own clothing and building houses to reflect possibly harmful electricity,” say ASSK.
More than ever, there are now global and local brands of real power and influence which can change a generation or era’s style and way of dressing, acting and thinking. Playing into and shaping the youth of the nation’s desires, consciously or otherwise. As every decade had its own iconic fashion and artistic movements, Millennials are now establishing the defining factors of contemporary culture.
We may no longer have single, clearly defined tribes like the punks and skinheads of the past; but we do have vivid and creative fashion that is intensely bound up with real, living club culture old and new. “You now have people who grew up on this first time around, who are in positions of power and influence that can bring it to a wider audience,” says Thomas. “That’s what this generation is into, these are their references. This is the new new.”
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