Jay-Z has long been a purveyor of hip hop culture. He sets trends in fashion (remember button-up shirts?) and music. When he determines a trend is over, it’s over. The same applies to the clothing business.

Rocawear recently invited me to their Style Suite to introduce a whole new brand, at Jay-Z’s direction. The takeaway? Rocawear is no longer “urban.” As Jay-Z said in an official statement:

“We don’t envision ourselves as an urban brand or streetwear brand. We wanted to show people how we’ve evolved and repositioned ourselves, without abandoning our original DNA.”

The change is a response to a shift in hip-hop culture as a whole, Jay-Z explained.

“It’s all walks of life. When I played the Glastonbury Music Festival, people said a hip-hop artist couldn’t play a rock festival. But culture isn’t segmented like that any more. There’s so much cross-pollinization and the same thing is true for clothes.”

This cross-pollinization materializes in the new Rocawear aesthetic with smaller cuts, slimmer fits, denim treatment, cleaner looks, artistic graphics and nondescript logos. A stylist at the event, Latisha, called it an “evolution” and said “it’s been in the works for over a year and a half.” At the Style Suite, a tailor was on hand to ensure a personalized fit. Hors d’oeuvres were served. There was no bar; instead, expensive wine was poured into our glasses by waiters from the bottle. Jay-Z was clearly making a statement.

Some say he’s selling out while others view it as a shrewd business move. My response is: Well, who’s left standing in the urban fashion market?

I was one of the first people to wear Baby Phat my sophomore year in high school with a tee that proudly displayed the logo, cat and all. During that period, I wore Coogi, Iceberg, Mecca, Fetish and others, and watched their popularity rise and fall. When I finally aged out of the demographic and my taste and style changed, hardly any of those same brands were still in production. The brands that always seemed to stay above the fray in terms of commercial success were Sean John, Baby Phat and Rocawear.

Sean John garnered the most mainstream attention with its sophisticated logos and relatively fair construction. But recently rumors have flared that they’re facing financial trouble after the close of the 5th Avenue store. Baby Phat was an urban female phenom, even inspiring tattoos, until Kimora Lee Simmons unceremoniously separated from the brand taking many of her fans with her. And then, there’s Rocawear which no longer identifies as urban. Is this the end?

To be fair, the urban fashion brand always seemed to cater to a younger community and they’re fickle by nature. They’re more fixated on the trend of the moment than loyal support of a signature brand. And if you look at some of the most successful fashion companies, like Chanel for example, their success is rooted in their loyal consumer base not trendy shoppers.

So what will happen to the urban fashion brand now? Have designers turned their backs on that market? What’s your relationship to urban fashion brands? Do you support any?

-Jessica C. Andrews

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  • keke

    I think the last urban clothing lines I wore were Karl Kani and Cross Colors and that was in elementary school. By the time I went to high school I stopped wearing urban brands and wore Guess, Levi’s, Nautica, New York and Company Jeans and other brands like that. It’s not that I thought I was too good for urban clothing lines, it’s just that I wasn’t really into the flashy styles and printed logos anymore.

    But I have to be honest, I think the urban clothing market pretty much turned on itself. When the late 90s rolled around many clothing lines were created by hip hop insiders and rappers or they at least put their images and names on the clothing brands. But after a while, you didn’t hear these rappers talking about their clothes, they were too busy talking about high end designers. Then all of a sudden you looked lame if you were wearing urban clothing cause all the rappers were too busy bragging about blowing stacks on Gucci, Chanel, and Louis. So the audience that tries so hard to emulate the rapper eventually decided that urban brands were not good enough and everyone wanted to go for broke on high end fashion.

    That is not to say that people would not have outgrown those clothing lines anyway, most adult consumers do. But even now the young audience doesn’t want anything to do with urban lines. They have become a lot more fashion savvy or maybe they just want to flash designer labels like these rappers.

    But I will say that I do hope that Sean John can pull through the slump. I am not the biggest Diddy fan but he has certainly had a personal style evolution throughout the years. I do think that it was great to see Sean John entering the high end fashion market and producing clothes that came from the hip hop community but had a more clean and adult look. Hopefully they can get that fashion house on track and back in the spotlight.

    • LN

      So true!!! I didn’t even realize it but you’re right.

  • Amber

    I blame the fall of urban brands on fast fashion/The Quick Response model(google it). Places like Forever 21 and H&M can create trendy pieces quick and cheap, which stole the urban fashion market’s nice of making trendy clothes. In the recession, what black teens do you know that were willing to pay $40 for a Baby Phat/Rocawear tee? Also, look at what Black celebrities are wearing these days, it’s far from the flashy/overworked styles these urban brands are serving up.

    Honestly, I don’t think Rocawear can re-position the brand without a name change. I’ll always associate them with rhinestone embellished jean pockets and the big RW logo.

    • Amber


    • Amura

      u crazy!!!! my boo still rocks rocawear hard!!! he got a couple of suits, button downs, polo fits. jeann, the whole nine. he is a die hard fan and loves the fact that Jay-Z has grown his line with his age.

      yall must not have seen some of his stuff!!! it’ll put these thousand $ styles to shame.

      but on another note. how u gone have a clothing line but only talk about high end stuff. why would people WANT to rock ur stuff when u dont?!?!?!?! lol that’s y Roc-a-wear is still relevant. he may not wear it all the time, but he wears them. Also, didnt he sell the company???? oh well, he still getting paid cuz know he’s the spokesmodel!!!!!!!

      oooooo n Dereon’s urban line is done, but the coutour faction is still thriving. All Bey has to do is get rid of (condense) the fluer de lis, n she’ll b fine. that symbol makes the clothes look cheap.