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