In 2002, stylist Rachel Johnson walked into a Burberry store in New York to request some clothes for a photoshoot. Her client was Ja Rule, then promoting the follow-up to his Grammy-nominated, triple-platinum album Pain is Love. It was the kind of exposure that brands generally love, but Burberry refused to help.
“They didn’t want him to wear their stuff,” Johnson later told Newsweek. “People have this stigma with the urban community.” She bought it anyway and after she draped her client in the brand’s house check, his fans did too. A few months later, Burberry sent Ja Rule a letter of thanks.
A decade and more on, the brand has a different stance on hip-hop style. It’s dressed Skepta and Nicki Minaj and recently collaborated with Chinese rapper Kris Wu. Like the rest of the fashion industry, Burberry coincidentally overcame its distaste for rap just as rap became the loudest sound on earth; in December, Nielsen research found more people listened to rap than rock for the first time. Now it’s brands like Burberry that come knocking, and rappers who rebuff them.
“With hip-hop being the de facto sound of youth and rebellion, a lot of the prominent artists – be it Beyoncé or Kanye West or ASAP Rocky – are now like, ‘Why am I giving people free press?’” says Jian DeLeon, editorial director at Highsnobiety. Read more
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