Of all people, it was Mark Hoppus who predicted the shift. Speaking at the music industry conference Midem in 2013, the blink-182 member suggested the future of the music biz would involve more branded partnerships. “The brand influence on bands right now,” he said, “is something you’re going to be seeing a lot more of.” To this day it remains the most prescient statement uttered by a man in his mid-forties who still wears hair gel and three-quarter length board shorts.
Since then we’ve seen an influx in collaboration between musicians and brands, specifically those related to fashion. Kanye West and A.P.C. Rihanna and Puma. Beyonce and Topshop. Artists and labels have even kick-started their own bespoke lines (see King Krule, XL Recordings, Gucci Mane). This kind of cross-contamination isn’t new – remember JAY-Z’s Rocawear, launched in 1999, or the days when Sean John was new? – but it has progressed into a halcyon age of the music and brand collaboration. Products no longer resemble horrific sneakerhead fever dream swag (hello 2007’s Bape x The College Dropout collaboration). Instead they’re wearable, good – and available in a high street store near you.
Standing atop the high-street fashion throne is Tyler, the Creator. In 2013, when most labels were still schmoozing their way into a partnership, he was boasting on Earl Sweatshirt’s “WOAH” of having already made a quarter of a million off selling socks. So while you can blame him for the gaggle of teenagers who dressed like Easter egg baskets for a whole two summers back in the early 2010s, you might herald him as a catalyst for the increasing quality of musician-led fashion lines. Take a glance at the most recent look-book for his GOLF clothing line – a more brightly coloured LA-based rival to a brand like Palace – or his skateboard- and BMX-featuring 2016 runway show and ask yourself this: which musician has done something similar, successfully and at a reasonable price?
The honest answer, I think, is no one. Kanye’s Yeezy Season is a higher ticket item. And while it’s impressive ('did the Beatles ever sell make-up?!!') Rihanna’s Fenty beauty line operates in a different medium. Today Tyler releases the latest from his colour-drenched wardrobe – three new colourways from his Golf Le Fleur collaboration with Converse. A couple of things are important about this: one, the pink colourway is sensational; and two, it is available everywhere. ASOS. Goodhood. Offspring. Sneakers’n’Stuff. The handy online store locator shows that four shops within a five-minute walk from VICE’s London office are stocking the shoe, a massive increase from the bricks and mortar, exclusive experience of his 2012 pop-up shop on Brick Lane in east London. This relative accessibility interested me and so, immediately after dropping my bags in work, I headed to the nearest stockist to look and potentially make a purchase.
Streetwear heads often speak about the intoxication of a clothing drop as though standing in line for hours on end is equivalent to huffing a decent amount of good quality PCP. I’d never experienced this before today but it’s true. The line was minute, just myself and another person, yet the atmosphere felt punctuated with a light excitement. No words were spoken but silently we knew the reasons why we were both here. My mute partner immediately snatched two pairs. I bought just the one. At the till he asked me what colour I bought. Is this how friendships are made?
Back in the office I genuinely felt like I’d taken two espresso shots to the face or an early morning bump. Stevie Nicks in the Tusk era. The sound of this song made sentient. It’s easy to see how dangerous the streetwear copping game can be. Stimulation aside, the trainers are great. As it was once said on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “if the Devil wear Prada and Adam and Eve wear nada I feel fresher but with way less effort” and these are the shoewear equivalent of that. Here are some pics for the #heads:
Three different choices of lace? A nice eco-friendly carry bag that also doubles up as storage for perishable vegetables/garlic/ginger? Pink suede and stitching detail? That undersole? Easy colour coordination with any pastel outfit? Consider these well and truly copped out.
With this release Tyler, the Creator has made good on Kanye West’s initial promise when launching his clothing line – that creativity and good clothing shouldn’t have to “cost, like, a million dollars.” As more and more brand partnerships pop up and the amount of artists investing in clothing increases we can see Tyler’s individual GOLF line and this Converse collaboration as a blueprint on how to do things well. The same goes for those Rihanna and Puma sliders too.
The argument remains that brands are soulless sons of bitches who exist to do little more than make money. On the other hand however fashion and music have always been intrinsically tied, with each informing the other. Cam’Ron repping the freshest pink Coogi sweater in that Dipset freestyle. UK Garage and all-over Moschino prints. Lil B and The Pack breaking through with a song that may as well have been an advertorial for Vans. While these link-ups are natural, some of today's collaborations can feel lifeless, with artists repping a product for the money and the brand doing it for the clout.
This collaboration between Tyler and Converse feels different – and as organic as it is practical. The shoe isn’t dissimilar from the GOLF range, which he owns. The only difference is scalability, with Converse placing his creation in more places than ever before. You could say that Mark Hoppus is right and brands are having more of an influence on musicians than ever before, bringing them into campaigns that can sometimes feel sterile and little more than an extra revenue stream for both parties. In the case of Golf Le Fleur however, it’s the other way round. Hoppus is wrong. This time round the musician is having an unprecedented influence on a brand.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.