A brief history of the most iconic fashion brands in hip hop.

The kind of brands that can relay a cult following within hip hop are few and far between. If we don’t have majorly regarded stars in music co-signing or starting brands like Sean John, Rocawear, Apple Bottoms or FUBU – “urban wear” is harder to sell unless your taste favours high- fashion and well-established brands like Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Marc Jacobs. Style changes exponentially in hip hop over time but a lot of things remain the same including brand names.

Brands like Ralph Lauren have been able to stand the test of time within the culture of style in hip hop. RL, Ralph Lauren or simply ‘Polo’ are all synonymous with the brand’s identity. Many fashion houses try to replicate the American designer’s aesthetic and some go straight to the horse’s mouth – all puns intended. High-end streetwear brands like Virgil Abloh’s Pyrex Vision ‘re-appropriated’ Rugby Ralph Lauren flannels for pieces to be sold at $550 under the Pyrex Vision brand sold in high-end street wear boutiques. Vintage Ralph Lauren remains a million dollar find at thrift shops and retailers alike. Ralph Lauren’s label in hip hop symbolises a level of stature and taste that is seemly acquired with success. One of hip hop’s finest producers, Just Blaze, talked about what the brand means to him, “It’s more than just a brand… It’s the way you carry yourself, the way you walk, the way you talk, the kind of places you frequent.” Ralph Lauren is an identifier in hip hop that musicians were proud to wear because they felt like it showcased who they were without words. Ralph Lauren is known as one of the heavyweights of nineties vintage apparel that musicians will wear without fear of trolling.

It’s the most worn brand in hip hop that continues to sell, even if it’s masked as another brand. In an XXL interview, Raekwon from Wu-Tang expressed his views on wearing ‘Lo: “It expressed you had money. It’s like when you think of that horse on your shirt, that horse symbolises them cats out there playing polo. You know majority of them is well-off— is comfortable. So it kinda made us feel like, if you got anything Polo on, you got money. You got a certain amount of status in the neighbourhood. Don’t get us wrong, we love camouflage jackets and all that good shit. But at the same time, when it was time to get fresh, if you ain’t have a good Polo shirt on, or some Polo sneakers, or anything like that, we didn’t consider you really that fly when you came out that day.” Today, brands like Play Cloths, BAPE, Billionaire Boys Club and more draw inspiration from the American designer.

This is an extract from the Autumn/Winter14 Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here.

Photos by Mark Peace
Styling by Charlie Brianna
Words by Tyrell Johnson

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