Interview: Lupe Fiasco Talks Style, Japanese Designers, Vans OTW & "The New Luxury"

The rapper goes in on his favorite designers and his history with Vans sneakers.

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Complex Original

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Lupe Fiasco is clad in studded black scarf, elongated flannel, and black trousers with a cinch closure. All of these pieces are from Yohji Yamamto's Y-3 collection. He tops it off with a smart-looking black blazer from Diet Butcher Slim Skin. A pair of burgundy Vans Alomar hi-tops add another pop of color to his outfit.

It is the middle of Berlin Fashion Week. Outside it is rainy and frigid. The line to get inside the Vans OTW launch party snakes around the block, where the 29 year-old rapper is scheduled to perform with Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def. He is not focused on that. A newly-named Vans OTW advocate, Fiasco is standing in a room full of books and photographs he himself curated. His gaze is fixated on a bookshelf of his favorite reads: George Orwell's 1984, Walter Mosley's Five Steps Towards Political Revolution, and The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee, a tome Glenn Beck claims predicts the downfall of America. It seems the rapper is taking his "advocacy" quite literally.

Fiasco's room is one of  four curated by Vans OTW advocates, all of whom have come to Berlin to commemorate the launch of the Spring 2012 collection. Given that his first single "Kick, Push" is now an anthem that helped bridge the gap between skate rats and hip-hop heads, and his long history of being spotted in Vans, Fiasco's brand advocacy is not unusual at all.

Complex sat down with Lupe Fiasco to talk about Vans, fashion, and his appreciation for Yohji Yamamoto.

Interview By Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon)

You were rocking a leather jacket with a dope camo lining inside the hood last night, who makes it? 

That was Takahiro Kuraishi. 

The collaboration with Takahiro Miyashita of Number (N)ine and The Soloist?

Yeah. He did a collaboration with Kazuki Kuraishi from Phenom, and Creative Director for Adidas Japan. He was like, Hiroshi Fujiwara's right-hand man. He started a line with Takahiro, so they do The Soloist and Takahiro Kuraishi, which is more outerwear.

Do you favor Japanese designers?

Yeah, I think moreso Yohji Yamamoto, when it comes to overall Japanese fashion, it would have to  be Yohji. But then Junya Watanabe, then Rei Kawakubo, and probably Mihara Yasuhiro. There's a brand called Kiryu, I don't know the designer, but that's like high-fashion. 

Then you come into streetwear and urban wear: I like Kazuki Kuraishi, then SKATE THING, and Big O. On down to Tet, Neighborhood, and even down to BAPE.

 You mentioned your love for Yohji, and pretty much every other piece you're wearing is Y-3. You're also rocking some heavy jewelry, who makes them?

 The rings are Hysteric Glamour and Chrome Hearts.

Are you a fan of Chrome Hearts?

 Yeah, I think Chrome Hearts is the new luxury. I think when we look at luxury, we're still stuck in the Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermés kind of world — which to me is old luxury.

And on the other hand, you have items like the Comme des Garcons champion rings

When you get into what is gonna be the new luxury for today, it's Chrome Hearts.

Yeah. When you get into what is gonna be the new luxury for today, it's Chrome Hearts. The extravagance of it, the materials, the silhouettes that they make — it's all new. The other stuff hearkens back to the Victorian age — it doesn't speak to me. 

Do you think Japanese designers will be the focus of the future?

I think it's gonna progress in this world. You see it in things like Rick Owens. You see the influence of Yohji, particularly, over everything. But, you trace Yohji back to Vivienne Westwood. A majority of Japanese designers, even Neighborhood, even Nigo, even BAPE, all come from Vivienne Westwood. 

If you look at that being the prototype of it, it's just one big cycle, feeding off each other. Now you see a lot of the Japanese stuff influencing everything from streetwear on down. The most prized streetwear is Japanese streetwear, still to this day.

Shit made in Japan is dope, because the quality's there. Look at things like Converse Japan and Levi's Japan, what they make is way doper than what Converse America or Levi's America makes.

Having traveled a lot, do you think your style has a sort of global perspective?

There are certain pieces like rastafarian hats, which are definitely from that world, my affinity with Yohji — I'll wear anything Yohji makes, be it Yohji or Y-3, and that's Japanese. But at the same time too, I like motorcycle jakcets and jean jackets too, and those are American.

The other day I saw a camo motorcycle jacket from your collection Overthrow, sold at Don C.'s RSVP Gallery, can you tell us about that brand?

There's Trilly & Truly, which is the main brand, and there's Overthrow, which is all leather goods. I'm trying to feed off the Chrome Hearts energy, so to speak.

What about your Vans collaboration from last year? What influences went into that?

I love vintage sports cars. So for that one particular collaboration, I just took the Ferrari F40 and was like "take this, and make this a shoe." And the other side was wanting to use different prints, wordly prints that I think don't get much shine that speak to a heritage of something other than western. More indigenous societies, cultures, and stuff like that. So we did a piece called the Native Tongues, where we took different pieces of cloth from different tribes and civilizations and made it into the tongue of the shoe. 

I also needed something technical that I could perform in. I kept pushing that. All the little things that happen on stage — it needs to be entertaining and have a level of showmanship to it. That was the aspect I was most involved in, from the tech side, to the breathability side, to the appearance, but it all has to be functional.

You were named Vans OTW advocate recently, but it seems you've been rocking their shoes for years. How natural did the relationship with the company feel?

Even if we weren't building a relationship together, I would still be wearing them. You could just come to a show and shoot me performing and I'd be in some Vans.

I was wearing more Vans than any other shoe, and I have thousands of shoes. I was wearing them just everyday — out of simplicity, ease of wear, and pricepoint. I feel bad wearing Lanvins and destroying them, but with Vans I don't really care.

I've worked with shoe brands before. I've worked with Reebok, Adidas, and even Y-3. I've always been in and out of that world of being a brand advocate, but this was a little bit easier because it was like "I'm already doing it." Even if we weren't building a relationship together, I would still be wearing them. You could just come to a show and shoot me performing and I'd be in some Vans. 

What's your favorite pair? 

My most remembered pair are Vans Syndicates. Some Sk8-His that I was actually skating in. That was my first lesson in like "maybe I shouldn't skate in these." They were more a fashion shoe, and I put two big ollie holes in the side. I was like "Oh well." But those are my most remembered pair.

So do you plan on continuing to explore the technical side of shoemaking for Vans, or put your own aesthetic taste into the shoes?

As an artist, I need them to make a shoe that I can wear on stage, that works for me on a functional level, less about fashion. It should be fashionable, but at the first point, it should be functional. That's been something that I've been pressing on them since the beginning of our relationship. It's like "we need to focus on this, because I think it's something that'd be revolutionary."

What kind of advice do you have for guys that aspire to be stylish?

I think you should wear what makes you feel good. Wear what you feel comfortable in. That's it.

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