Where he's wearing the Breton-stripe shirts?
Yeah, amazing. So I think it’s just a timeless thing, and hip-hop has clearly very much influenced the world of style and application of style. Everybody from Slick Rick to Chuck D, there’s been some real icons for us.
Are there any designers that influence you as an artist?
Paul Smith is a big inspiration in terms of fashion. In terms of architecture, I like Zaha Hadid very much. But fashion designers in particular? Definitely Paul Smith. Ale et Ange completely has my imagination right now. I’m really a huge fan — clearly, I’m in so much of it.
But it depends on the era — in the late ‘90s/early 2000s I was rocking ‘Lo Gooses, Timberlands, and cargo pants and then started rocking Marc Jacobs leathers and his variations on sneaker culture in New York.
Like the Vans collaboration?
Even before that! When he had the brown leather sneakers with the white laces, and thick white bottoms. There’s a lot of inspiration out there. I’m inspired lately by Martin Greenfield’s tailoring game.
For me, Slick Rick is the archetype. Period. He’s my favorite MC.
Yeah! His stuff is so on point! Having been around musicians and fashion designers for so long, do you think there are ways that they can inspire each other?
I mean, for artists in different mediums, the key is always inspiration. I couldn’t say any specific ways, per se, because everyone’s process is so different and what inspires people is so varied, but yeah, just an appreciation of form, beauty, and application — as well as character and personality. For instance: Paul Smith with his stripes, or someone who can create a staple. I’m inspired by people who can say something over and over again but say something new every time.
We've talked a lot about European brands, especially ones with a strong focus on tailoring. Do you think this is something we'll start to see more of in the hip-hop world?
It’s understandable. I mean; I’m certainly not the first. Kanye has been out here in all types of custom tailored gear, kilts, all that. It’s really not unusual, it’s actually quite commonplace. There’s shots of Cam’ron in houndstooth check double-breasteds with the shirt out. There’s a still of him in an editorial he did in suits, so it’s not unusual.
For me, Slick Rick is the archetype. Period. He’s my favorite MC; he’s the MC that had the earliest influence on me. Not even the fur and the multiple rings, but his style was just — man, just so clean, and it also has roots in early hip-hop culture — where you see the suede fronts, the Bally boots, the Clarks, the sharkskin pants, the Kangols, the Jamel Shabazz era you know?
And even before that, you had groups in Africa like Les Sapeurs dressing head-to-toe in European brands. Is your style influenced by that subculture?
Les Sapeurs! Yeah, I have a book about them. They’re a very interesting group. And there’s another group in South Africa, photographed by Nontsikelelo Veleko. This amazing design collective —these young people in South Africa who just… they don’t have money, and they got so much style and swag. They’re incredible. That collective is really, really amazing. To quote Paul Smith: “you can find inspiration in everything.”
Hip-hop fashion has evolved a lot from where kids rocked their sneakers laceless and ironed-on the letters of their crew’s name on Screen Stars T-shirts to people like Kid Cudi designing jackets for Surface To Air and Riccardo Tisci providing creative direction for Watch The Throne. Is the hip-hop and high-fashion crossover a status thing, or a further validation of hip-hop as an art form?
Malcolm X is one of the most, if not the most stylish man of the 20th Century.
For me it’s less of an expression of social status, and again, more an expression of taste, style, beauty, and balance, you know, and drawing relationships. Some people are great at putting patterns and colors together — it’s artistry.
When people see it applied well, it has a positive impact. It makes the active participant — the person wearing the garment — feel well, and brings aesthetic pleasure to the person viewing the garment, and it provides a practical function.
It’s not unusual, Harry Belafonte, Malcolm X — El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz — is one of the most, if not the most stylish man of the 20th Century, and that’s the era when John F. Kennedy was running around! So I mean, [style has] been there: Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, it’s not unusual — everybody from Poitier to Puff.