Some of the multi-talented, multi-millionaire pop stars of the music industry are taking their magic dust and sprinkling a liberal amount onto their fashion pursuits.
Take Rihanna: the first woman – and black person – to establish her own maison with LVMH, joining the ranks of Dior, Fendi and Louis Vuitton. And she's already setting the stage for the rest of her contemporaries: from Zendaya staging a Paris Fashion Week show for Tommy Hilfiger; to cult club icon Honey Dijon launching a brand with Comme des Garçons; and South Korean DJ Peggy Gou joining the ranks of fellow DJ and Off-White founder Virgil Abloh with the launch of Kirin. Not to mention Kanye West’s Yeezy, now estimated to be worth US$1.5 billion.
It's clear that the same creative force inspiring them to make hits is also pushing them to cover new ground in fashion. So it’s not that surprising that over the years the two worlds have increasingly bled on to each other. Style is style--whether it be sound or look.
They're also becoming more business savvy--especially in taking ownership with their own brand ecosystem and growing their fan base.
Music and Fashion: More Things in Common
There are parallels in the creative process of putting together an album and a fashion collection. For Abloh, artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, a background in DJ-ing informed his approach to fashion, namely sampling classics and moving across genres to create something original and fresh. “DJing is like going to the gym, and doing the collections is the Olympics,” he told i-D earlier this year. “DJing uses the same part of the brain as fashion design, you want to make a whole room of people come to the same consensus and feel enjoyment from it.”
Does it matter that the new wave of musicians-turned-designers can’t sew and didn’t study at Central Saint Martins? Not at all. “As consumers, we like to box people in, but the person who designed the iPhone could make a great architect and vice versa,” says Benji B, the Radio 1 DJ who has worked with Virgil for almost 15 years and is now Louis Vuitton’s official music director. He previously worked with Phoebe Philo at Céline, and notes how important music is when staging a show. “There is a history of artists not wanting to be restricted to one medium, and when I look at most of my interns they know how to use the music programmes but also how to use Photoshop or InDesign. You no longer have to exist in these linear streams of definition.”
For the millions of plugged-in fans of artists and DJs, it’s music to their ears.
Music and Fashion is Ripe for Disruption
At the end of the day, the music and fashion industry are still businesses. And in business, when something works, you ride it until it doesn't. This is how Rihanna built up her music base and now her fashion base.
You can now follow Rihanna on Instagram, stream her music via Spotify, dress in her Fenty tailored denim, buy her cosmetics at Harvey Nichols and sleep in her Savage x Fenty pyjamas. All bases are covered. With fashion becoming increasingly centred around direct-to-consumer ‘drops’, the music industry’s streaming model lends itself naturally to the disruptive spirit adopted by forward-thinking fashion brands.
“There is no six-month wait, you get it when you see it,” Rihanna told Vogue at the launch of Fenty fashion in Paris, noting that her collections will be available to buy immediately at Fenty.com. “There’s no tease. You see it, love it and want it. And that’s because I’m like that, I want things right away.” Such a strategy is a first for fashion’s biggest, and perhaps most traditional, conglomerate. “I really appreciate that LVMH is flexible enough to allow me to have a different perspective on how I want to release things,” she added. “Mr Arnault [Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO, LVMH] is a very smart man and he’s open.”
Rihanna is bankable, no doubt, but her ascent in fashion resonates with a wider shift in consumer demand for diversity and inclusivity. It’s no coincidence that Rihanna, Kanye, Virgil et al, are all people of colour, reframing what it means to be a fashion designer — and tapping into the subcultural connections between music and style. They follow in the footsteps of artists, including P Diddy, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, who ventured into the clothing world to create for the same market, widely people of colour, which was all too often ignored.