The air is thick with smoke at DepArtment, a club located at the end of an alley off of Auguststrasse is Berlin's Mitte district. Vans is hosting an event to kick off the launch of their Spring OTW collection, a mix of dressy silhouettes and new spins on old classics.
Speaking of which, Yassiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def, is putting an old spin on a new classic. Wearing a tucked-in shirt, a tie with tiny hearts embroidered in a contrasting stripe pattern, and slim trousers with no break, he is performing his sound check to his own rendition of "Ni**as In Paris," a decidedly less luxurious track called "N**gas In Poorest." As the breakdown comes, the rapper queues the hypothetical audience "Who the fuck is Margiela?"
Ironically, those who have followed his style know all too well he is quite aware of the Belgian designer and the fashion house that bears his name. Complex talked to the rapper backstage about fashion, brands, role models, and what designers and rappers can learn from each other.
Here's A Conversation On Style With Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def.
Interview by Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon)
You look great. I really gotta compliment you on those pants. Who makes them?
These are my wool 120s pants from New Orleans that I got on Tchoupitoulas Street.
Are they bespoke?
This is off the rack in New Orleans actually. My man is a tailor and has Italian fabrics and suits on Tchoupitoulas. I’ve got a lot of good shirts from him, I just did the alterations on the pants.
On a recent Jimmy Fallon appearance you were rocking an ISAIA blazer. What kind of brands are you feeling right now?
They’re on the Lower East Side right?
Fashion has always been an integral part of the arts, but it’s also an integral part of everyday life.
Yeah, we’re partnered up actually, so I’m doing marketing for the brand. A lot of my ties, hats, a lot of my suits, and denim are from Ale et Ange.
The leopard print hat too?
Yeah, that’s Ale et Ange.
That’s dope. Do you feel a connection to New York-based brands because of your roots, or is it just because a lot of them happen to be putting out stuff you’re really into?
Well, really people just doing things that I like. I’ve been a longtime Paul Smith fan. He’s a New York staple. I’ve had great suits and hats from him. Marc Jacobs — early Marc Jacobs, like late ‘90s-early 2000s — that was stuff I had on in the “Oh No” video. Nom de Guerre is another great brand I frequent a lot, and of course stuff from Union.
You know, there’s always been a culture and craft around New York, so you can always find well-known designers and also just local designers — people with a storefront that are doing good work and have good cuts and fabric, and even handmade clothes.
In the context of hip-hop, we’ve seen rappers like Pusha T make the jump from streetwear brands to rocking fresh-off-the-runway pieces. What kinds of things do you think led to this intersection of high-fashion and hip-hop?
It’s creatives connecting with other creatives, appreciating form or beauty, or imagination or technical application. I think it’s just an appreciation of craft.
I mean, fashion has always been an integral part of the arts, but it’s also an integral part of everyday life. Besides providing a real function: keeping you warm, and keeping you (laughs) legally clothed out here, it’s also expression of personality, and also art, and beauty, and form. So, I think it’s just a natural relationship.
Beyond any one idiom, you know? You find Picasso was a phenomenally stylish artist; you look at pictures of him from the 1920s…