How Gallery Dept. Became One of Hip-Hop's Favorite Brands
From merch collabs with Migos to being worn by big names like Drake and Meek Mill, here is how Gallery Dept. became one of hip-hop’s favorite fashion brands.
Image via Getty/Ella DeGea/CBS
Musicians using merch to help promote their albums is nothing new in 2021. In fact, it’s more shocking if it doesn’t happen these days. Some artists do it better than others (we’re looking at you Travis Scott). But the merch is always a bit more memorable when it feels authentic to a particular artist and not just an album cover slapped on a Gildan blank.
When Migos dropped their highly anticipated album Culture III in June, they did exactly that, by releasing a special capsule in collaboration with Gallery Dept., an up-and-coming luxury brand from Los Angeles that has become a staple in the wardrobe of the Migos and countless other rappers as of late.
Josué Thomas founded the brand in 2017 to fuse his passions for vintage clothing and art into one cohesive vision. Both were influences of his parents growing up. They each were artists and his father, Stefan Gilbert, even operated a womenswear label for a brief period of time. Thomas has said in past interviews that his penchant for vintage clothes came from liking the unique quality of the aged items in his parents’ closets. “I’ve always loved collecting and seeing the aged pieces of clothing my parents had,” he told MR PORTER in 2020. “You know, my dad’s old boots, Converse, and motorcycle jackets. Early on, I had an aesthetic for certain pieces and I loved something weathered or aged. It has a character, a personality to it.”
Before he operated his own brand, the 36-year-old Thomas worked at Ralph Lauren in his 20s. As one of the few Black employees, he quickly realized that the only way to climb the ladder of the fashion industry would be on his own accord. He began making one-off reconstructed vintage pieces and in 2016 sold a poncho he had made off of his back to Johnny Depp’s stylist. By the following year, Gallery Dept. was officially underway.
Virgil Abloh was one of the earliest adopters of the brand who could be seen on numerous occasions in his own showrooms wearing one of its faded hoodies or flared Carhartts. “He’s a perfect example of someone creating their own path from a community that hasn’t traditionally participated in fashion,” Abloh said in a 2020 New York Times interview. “I see Josué as making a new canon of his own, showcasing what Black design can do.”
The brand specializes in reinterpretations (hand-painted alterations by Thomas have become the most recognizable) of vintage items like workwear pants with flared bottoms, distressed denim, T-shirts, hoodies, and more. It currently operates a retail store in Los Angeles on Beverly Boulevard. The space is the same location where each item comes to life with the help of tailor Jesse Jones, thanks to expert tailoring and other alterations like distressing and patchwork. Given the craftsmanship and unique nature of Gallery Dept.’s pieces, the prices are steeper than you may expect. For instance, a pair of flared sweats costs $895 and a sun-faded hoodie will run you $495. But don’t expect to see those price tags if you shop at the LA flagship. “If the first thing you look at is the price, it’s going to alter your thinking about a piece,” Thomas told the New York Times.
One of its biggest innovations has been its LA Flare denim that debuted in 2017, a stark contrast from the skinny silhouettes that have dominated modern men’s fashion for the better part of the last decade. The flared look was introduced at a time when people were looking for something new. Now, with the baggier look back in vogue, Thomas’ flared bottoms have been a go-to for plenty of rappers. His merch with the Migos even included flared denim and sweatpants. The brand’s mission is, “to create compelling product without sacrificing quality or artistic integrity.”
Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff aren’t the only rappers supporting the brand right now though. While its rise has been steady since starting just four years ago, it seems like recently a new rapper is spotted in one of Gallery Dept.’s signature splatter painted sweatsuits every other day. It’s growing in other ways, too. Earlier this year, it debuted its first official collaboration with French fashion house Lanvin one month before the release of its Culture III capsule, which hints that collaboration could become more frequent moving forward. Its wholesale partners keep growing too, with boutiques like The Webster, MR PORTER, LN-CC, and Farfetch all carrying its products at the moment. Given the brand’s recent uptick in exposure, we decided to highlight how a handful of big names are wearing their pieces.
Take a look at how some of your favorite celebrities have been rocking Gallery Dept. below.
Of course, we have to start with Migos. After all, they do have an official collab with the brand. In the weeks leading up to and following Culture III, all three members wore the Gallery Dept. x Migos merch on numerous occasions. Quavo sat courtside to cheer on the Atlanta Hawks in an orange and black soccer jersey and the trio wore pieces from the collection throughout their press run for the album, including flared denim with “Culture III” printed on the crotch and distressed T-shirts bearing flaming skulls that appear to be a nod to vintage band merch. T-shirts for $125 and denim that costs $1,200 are admittedly steep when it comes to album merch for the average music fan, but the pairing certainly makes sense.
Drake took a break from his minor Chrome Hearts addiction to show some love to Gallery Dept. recently. He posted a photo with Doe Boy on Instagram. While the Atlanta rapper opted to wear a ski mask, a New Era fitted cap, and a CdG Play striped shirt to complete his fit for the hookah session, Drake went with the cozy Gallery Dept. sweatsuit. He paired a vintage black hoodie with a pair of heather grey sweatpants. Both feature the DIY paint splatters that have become a signature feature on many of the brand’s pieces. Is Gallery Dept. the latest brand that Drake won’t stop wearing? We will have to wait and see.
We know that Virgil Abloh designs desirable clothing for Off-White and Louis Vuitton, but he still shows love to other brands and Virgil’s supported Gallery Dept. for a while now. He’s rocked Thomas’ popular hoodies like one that came in a Lakers-esque purple and yellow colorway in Paris back in 2019. Back in February 2020, he posed alongside Bella Hadid before the Off-White Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 show in Paris wearing a pair of Gallery Dept.’s distressed carpenter pants. Ironically, he styled the pants with a pair of Lanvin’s chunky, skate-inspired Curb sneakers before both brands officially worked together.
When speaking to MR PORTER last October, Thomas said this about his flared carpenter pants: “They’re such an iconic workwear piece, to get it to be a fashion piece… They encapsulate the ideology of taking something that you might see on a construction worker and then someone wearing it as luxury. The contrast is so high-low.”
Unfortunately, the Sixers are no longer in the playoffs after a tough elimination thanks to the Atlanta Hawks. However, when they still were, you could expect to see local rapper Meek Mill sitting courtside at the Wells Fargo Center more often than not. On this night, he opted for a stealthy, all-black fit to attend Game 5 of the Sixers-Hawks series. It featured a Lanvin x Gallery Dept. T-shirt layered with a Vanson x Supreme leather vest and black leather biker pants. It looks like he hit the studio later that night to record some new music, too.
If you scroll through Fabolous’ Instagram feed, it’s clear that he and his wife Emily B appreciate a good matching fit moment from time to time. This particular night was no different as the couple decided to step out in flame print pieces from Gallery Dept. Fab opted for a camp collar shirt, while Emily B wore a pair of shorts. Many people may gravitate toward Gallery Dept.’s splattered sweatsuits, but the brand’s offering doesn’t start and stop there. Other examples include these tie-dyed 501 jeans and patchwork camo chore jackets pieced together using vintage surplus gear.
Roc Marciano has been rocking with Gallery Dept. for a while now. Both parties linked up in 2019 for merch celebrating the release of Marcielago. One year later, the rapper tapped founder Josué Thomas once again to design the cover art for his 2020 project Mt. Marci, a pile of money splashed with paint in similar fashion to many of Gallery Dept.’s popular pieces. Special merch accompanied the release as well. Thomas created a cream long sleeve featuring the album’s artwork on the front with logos for Gallery Dept. and its Art That Kills multimedia imprint stacked on the back, as well as a reversible black T-shirt with the Mt. Marci logo hit on one side and “Art That Kills” printed in slashed red letting on the other. Given Roc Marciano’s close relationship with Thomas and affiliation with Art That Kills, it only makes sense that he keeps Gallery Dept.’s gear in heavy rotation. One of his most recent posts on Instagram sees the New York rapper posing in almost entirely Gallery Dept. items including flame print shorts, a logo trucker, and cream thermal.