After Kanye, After Virgil, After Heron
The hip-hop generation has arrived in luxury fashion.
Here, haute street wear’s next generation
of innovators and inspirations.
By Jon Caramanica
The speed with which hip-hop and high fashion have become enamored of each other is staggering. Increasingly, it is impossible to speak about one without invoking the other.
From one direction, rappers like ASAP Rocky, Lil Uzi Vert, Tyler, the Creator and more have become style luminaries, fearless adopters of forward-looking self-presentation. At the same time, the shapes of high-end men’s wear have been morphing, taking in silhouettes borrowed from street wear and the hip-hop style of the 1990s.
This union is the end result of decades of flirtation between the two worlds, dating back to Dapper Dan’s luxury bootlegs, with stops at the jiggy era of the mid-to-late 1990s and the Japanese street wear influence of the late 2000s. All those moments set the table for what now seems inevitable: Hip-hop is dictating the tone of men’s fashion at the highest levels.
The current family tree in many ways begins with Kanye West, who long agitated for embrace by the luxury fashion world before creating his own Yeezy clothing line and teaming with Adidas on ravenously received sneakers.
Many of the high-end designers currently thriving are West’s spiritual children. Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear and founder of his own label, Off-White, was for many years West’s creative director and right-hand man. Heron Preston, head of his own namesake label, was an art director for West during the early years of Yeezy.
Abloh and Preston have become a new kind of standard-bearer by taking the DNA of street wear and rendering it with luxury materials and prices. Along the way, they have fundamentally reshaped the scope and meaning of contemporary high fashion.
Their triumph isn’t the endpoint, however. They have empowered a passel of younger talent who are digging into, expanding upon and refining the aesthetic provocations of the hip-hop generation.
Below are profiles of five creators who embody the many facets of this movement: Bloody Osiris, a stylist and mood-board inspiration; Brick and Du of Bstroy, post-street-wear avant-gardists; Ev Bravado, who is innovating the texture of street wear; and Tremaine Emory, a jack-of-all-trades who hosts parties, designs clothes and serves as a kind of spirit guide for these rising stars of tomorrow.
Talk to Bloody Osiris about shapes. He’s tried them all.
One recent afternoon, he was wearing the vomit body bag, a wildly oversize bleached denim jumpsuit from Rick Owens’s 2016 Mastodon collection, and detailing his many phases:
“Tight leather pants, see-through ’98 Helmut Lang sample shirt, real tight.”
“A Western vibe, cowboy boots, cowboy hat, aviator shades.”
“Vampire vibe, the long leather jacket, ski mask that comes from me thinking, ‘What did Wesley Snipes wear in “Blade”?’”
Over the past four years, perhaps no one person has foretold as many signature tweaks to the shapes of forward-looking contemporary men’s wear as Bloody Osiris, 25, an up-from-Instagram dynamo with a sterling eye and an innate gift for mythic self-presentation. At times, he has been a stylist or a designer, but his true role is as a mood-board disrupter, a natural talent who sees tomorrow clearly.
“When Vetements first came out, it was like baggy shirt, skinny jeans,” he said. “So I went for baggy jeans, tight shirt.”
“He’s almost like a psychic reader
of designers. He has an ability to not
see fashion as just objects or
garments. He’s like Iverson — ‘I
don’t wanna practice, I just ball.’”
And then a funny thing happened: “That’s the norm, that’s the fashion silhouette now.”
In his late teenage years into his early 20s, he was a “high-fashion hood rat,” he said. The Harlem of the 2000s is his primary touchstone, the place where he first learned fashion etiquette, the way the tiniest of details could guarantee acceptance, or rejection
When he began posting hyper-stylized outfit pictures on Instagram, he found himself in the cross hairs of the fashion world.
“I didn’t understand why people liked me so much,” he said. “‘What do you guys want from me? What do you see in me?’”
In 2016, he was one of the favored models in Kanye West’s Yeezy fashion show at Madison Square Garden. In 2017, Abloh flew him to Paris to contribute styling inspiration for the Off-White runway show. Abloh also gave him as-yet unreleased Nike collaborations and told him to post whatever pictures he wanted, knowing that a well-placed shot was worth more than any conventional marketing.
“He let me off the leash,” Bloody said.
Abloh also included him behind the scenes. Bloody recalled one late night drinking with the designer Peter Saville. “I started to be the only person like me in those rooms,” he said. “I think it’d feel weird to somebody else, but it didn’t for me. I liked it.”
Following his work with Abloh, Bloody began working in various capacities for established companies and insurgent brands: “Modeling, creative direction, runway walking, styling, ghost designing.” Sometimes the labor was virtual: Not long after he began publicly wearing the oft-maligned later-era Air Jordan 15s, with its bulky spaceship curves, Nike began releasing retro editions of them.
Occasionally, he releases projects — shirts, bandannas, razor blades — with his longtime friend Bloody Dior under the Jerome Jhamal brand, and has just introduced Murd333r.FM, a clothing line and record label. He is even a character in the recently released NBA 2K20 video game.
But through all this, there remains Instagram, where every week or two, he posts a photo rich with texture and imagination — getting a manicure in bleached denim, green patent leather Prada sneakers and a sheet mask; dressed in a full tiger-stripe bodysuit à la André 3000; in a hyper-pleated multicolor-print Issey Miyake windbreaker with a hoodie with cutout eyes in the style of Dumb Donald of the Cosby Kids. A riot of colors, patterns and outlines. A mini-narrative about fashion’s future in each shot.
Tremaine Emory’s mother, Sheralyn, died in 2015. And each year for the last three years, he has sold T-shirts with her image at a pop-up event at the vintage emporium Procell, donating proceeds to Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit focused on improving conditions for mothers around the world.
“The final part of my Jedi training was losing my mom,” Emory said. “That pushed me over the edge. I thought, ‘I’ve got to go tunnel vision to blow her up.’”
“Tremaine is drawing parallels
with actual moments in culture
that are 30, 40, 50 years deeper,
and ultimately recontextualizing
the black image. His clothing won’t
simply be stuff for the closet.”
Street wear is full of winks and references and posturing, and from the standpoint of longevity, that is its weakness. What Emory, who works under the moniker Denim Tears, does is deploy the potency of personal narrative in this space that’s usually emotionally chilly.
He has made shirts (with the artist Brendan Fowler) celebrating the artist David Hammons, and with the hippie spiritualists of Online Ceramics. When No Vacancy Inn, Emory’s partnership with Acyde Odunlami and Brock Korsan, released a sneaker with New Balance he announced a teenager-only essay contest about reparations to win a free pair.
For Emory, 38, clothing is merely an easily distributed vehicle for idea exchange. In the past, he has worked with Stussy and Off-White. Up next are collaborations with Levi’s and Champion.
Emory is from Queens and cut his teeth over nine years in the Marc Jacobs system — “an ill cornucopia of people,” he said — rising from the New York stockroom to London assistant manager. All the while, he kept one foot in night life, working for the restaurateur Serge Becker.
But his primary role has been a kind of spirit guide — a “creative gardener,” he said. He is a big-brother guru to the younger people in this scene and has also worked with Frank Ocean and André 3000, as well as with West, for whom he served as a creative consultant and brand director from 2016 to 2018.
“When I first saw Kanye perform, I came home and told my mom: ‘This guy’s rapping my whole life. An art dude from the hood that sees something off in society and is trying to break through,’” Emory said.
A little over a decade later, he received a call saying that West wanted to meet.
“I walked in the room the first thing he says to me is, ‘You ready to change the future?’” Emory recalled. “And he meant it.”
Bstroy (Brick and Du)
As Brick and Du of Bstroy conceive it, first will come the apocalypse, then the post-apocalypse, in which people will be seeking ways to survive. And finally, after that, the period they’re designing for: the neo-native, in which those who have survived will begin building things anew.
That means fashion as problem solving with punk impulses. For several years, Bstroy has been figuring out ways to make improbable gestures probable, with clothes that anticipate needs that are primal, polyvalent and sometimes mutant.
Perhaps the signature Bstroy garments are the double-edge jeans, a sculpturally graceful trompe l’oeil experiment that gives the impression of two pairs of jeans stitched together at the ankle hole, and which can be worn multiple ways: one pair flooding at the feet, the bottom pair pulled up over the top pair and zipped up at the sides, or any way in between.
“It’s like when your mom would say ‘Pull your pants up,’ and you say, ‘Well, they are up,’” Du said. The designers have sold about 25 pairs at an average price of over $1,000.
And there’s plenty more. Last year, they showed a hoodie with two hoods stitched side by side, walked down the runway by two models (though the garment is meant to be worn by one person). For the brand’s recent pop-up shop in Atlanta, they dipped Nike Air Max Uptempo ’95s in a concrete solution, a commentary on remaining grounded in your history, but also a structural disruption in the vein of the avant-gardists Carol Christian Poell and Deepti Barth.
“The most daring in street wear.
I think they’re trying to do something
you won’t normally find on a
rapper’s back. Every time they do
something it’s always out of the
boundaries, just a bit different.”
Brick, 29, and Du, 28, met in high school on Myspace, two Atlanta teenagers — Brick from the west side, Du from the east side — with robust interest in high fashion in a city with barely any access to it. They would skip school to meet downtown and hang out at the Polo store. Eventually they learned how to sew to make clothes they wanted but couldn’t find.
“In the hood, if you use a sewing machine, you’re gay,” Du said. “It was weird to be us.”
The first Bstroy fashion show, in 2013, was in an Atlanta subway station, unauthorized. In 2015, they moved to New York, and in 2017, they took over an East Village funeral home for a collection called “Will You Bury Me.”
Though Bstroy has remained independent, Du worked with Matthew Williams (another West alum) on the 2019 fall-winter 1017 ALYX 9SM collection, and their work also landed them in Calabasas, Calif., spending several days working alongside West (as captured on an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”).
Each Bstroy collection is a blend of high-concept pieces and sly tweaks to more conventional forms, like graphic T-shirts that nod to preppy interests like tennis and fencing, but with the sports gear replaced by guns.
“We are making violent statements,” Du said. “That’s for you to know who we are, so we can have a voice in the market. But eventually that voice will say things that everyone can wear.”
Over the last two years, Ev Bravado has become well known for his assaultive approach to denim — distressing it, embellishing it, embroidering it, giving it layers of depth. His first signature pairs were staggeringly skinny, with “Do you think I’m crazy?” stitched multiple times across the front in various colors, at various angles — “like a mad scientist writing on a wall,” he said.
His clothes, teeming with tattered-edge slashes, rhinestone messages, multicolor appliqués and threads flying loose, are vividly three-dimensional without being bulky.
When Bravado, 26, was growing up on Long Island, his father was a tailor, with a shop in Farmingdale. And when he began making clothes of his own and was still learning the ropes, his father would sew his samples and cut his patterns.
“To this day he still helps when I need him,” Bravado said.
He first started making clothes of his own design in high school, when he’d make his way into what was then a proto-hypebeast SoHo, inspired by the emergent Japanese-streetwear style that was seeping its way into the aesthetic of Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. He gained some traction on Tumblr and Instagram, “making clothes to sustain a lifestyle,” he said.
“He’s pushing denim in
a really interesting, unique way.
And how the denim stacks over the
shoes — it’s not really bell-bottom-y,
but it’s a little flared. It feels like
the new New York fit.”
For a time in the mid-2010s, he would fly out to Los Angeles, rent a flashy Airbnb and host parties, thinking it was the way to further his career. “I was doing all the wrong things,” he said.
Humbled, he began anew, focusing more on message. “You should be provoked by clothing,” he said. After connecting with Preston on Instagram, the two designers collaborated on a pop-up rhinestone workshop in Paris last year. Shortly after that, Bravado began working with Abloh as a designer for Off-White.
At the same time, he has been expanding his own brand, now renamed Who Decides War by Mrdrbrvdo. Recently, for the online luxury retailer Mr Porter, he designed a capsule collection reviving some of his earlier hits and introducing new items, including bondage pants tie-dyed by hand, at his parents’ house.
Bravado is a father now, too, with a 1-year-old son, leading him to reflect even more on personal responsibility, a preoccupation he inherited from his father.
“He had to do his thing as a tailor to make ends meet, and now I’m here living out his dream,” Bravado said. “I can’t just be here and ruin it for myself, and then, by doing that, I could ruin it for other people.”
Jon Caramanica is a pop music critic for The Times and the host of the Popcast. He also writes the men’s Critical Shopper column for Styles. He previously worked for Vibe magazine, and has written for the Village Voice, Spin, XXL and more. @joncaramanica
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