The Labels Musicians Love
From Tom Ford to Saint Laurent, here’s how to rock a brand like a band .
Music and fashion have long enjoyed a tradition of creative cross-pollination, with clothing designers taking inspiration from emerging musical subcultures while musicians look to clothes as a secondary means of self-expression. There’s a good reason why some of the most iconic names in music over the past 50 years – such as Mr David Bowie, Prince and Mr Kurt Cobain – are also remembered as style icons.
For certain acts, image is just as important as music, if not more so. Think of the Sex Pistols, who shocked the establishment not just with the way that they behaved on and off the stage, but also with the way that they dressed: their tartan bandage trousers and studded leather jackets were designed for them by none other than the grande dame of the punk movement herself, Ms Vivienne Westwood.
In fact, it was Mr Malcolm McLaren, the man responsible for launching the careers of both Ms Westwood and the Sex Pistols, who gave one of the best explanations for the love affair between music and fashion. “[They] are [both] expressions of the same needs,” he wrote in his introduction to Mr Paul Gorman’s 2001 book, The Look. “[They] are the natural expressions of youth’s need for confrontation and rebellion.”
Designer brands benefit hugely from this mutual love-in. A cursory name-drop in a hip-hop track can be worth an international billboard campaign in terms of exposure. A front row appearance by The Next Big Thing can switch a whole new generation on to a designer label. It’s little wonder that brands go out of their way to foster relationships with musicians. At the Milan shows last month, Missoni handed over control of its Snapchat channel to the freak-folk singer Mr Devendra Banhart to striking effect. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Italian tailoring house Brioni introduced the face of its new campaign: the thrash band Metallica.
With all that in mind, and in celebration of our Music Issue, we thought we’d shine a light on how brands and bands make beautiful music together.
Musical fans: well where do we start? Mr Hedi Slimane, Saint Laurent’s previous creative director, instilled his passion for music into the brand, casting musicians as campaign stars, models and muses. Some of the musicians to have become associated with the brand during this period include, but are not limited to, Mr Harry Styles of One Direction, Mr Alex Turner of the the Arctic Monkeys, Mr Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, and a whole bunch of wilfully obscure indie bands that you’ve almost certainly never heard of.
Why they love it: the writer Mr Tim Blanks once described Mr Slimane as “fashion's foremost curator of pop arcana”, and his four-year tenure at Saint Laurent saw him taking inspiration from 1960s mod, 1970s disco and 1990s grunge alike. The results were both achingly cool and instantly wearable, and the musicians, predictably, went crazy for them. Will the song remain the same for Saint Laurent’s new creative director, Mr Anthony Vaccarello?
Why they love it: Mr Mayer’s obsession with the cult Japanese brand is well-documented. He claims to have “good representation” from every single season, and keeps his collection – which was estimated several years ago as being worth around $55,000 – alongside his guitars in a storage space in Florida.
Musical fans: they are legion, but the brand’s most high-profile acolyte is without a doubt Mr Kanye West.
Why they love it: “What’s that jacket, Margiela?” So intoned Mr West in 2011’s “Ni**as In Paris”, and in doing so announced himself as the Mr William Shakespeare of the high-fashion name-drop. So creative! So subversive! So wilfully obscure! Maison Margiela, in case you didn’t know, is a brand that operates under a policy of near-total secrecy. Its founder, Mr Martin Margiela, was rarely seen in public during his three decades in charge. Its clothes feature no visible branding, save for the four white pick-stitches that hold the label in place. It is the ultimate anti-bling, anti-individualist brand. And by invoking its name, Mr West effectively turned the fashion name-drop game – which, before that point, was largely about showy displays of wealth – on its head.
Musical fans: trendsetters such as the K-Pop superstar G-Dragon, the Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky, and, er, Radiohead’s Mr Thom Yorke.
Why they love it: Rick Owens’ dark, rebellious aesthetic has made it a favourite with fashion-forward musicians – A$AP Rocky referenced the brand in his 2011 debut single, “Peso” (“Raf Simons, Rick Owens usually what I’m dressed in”) and Mr Kanye West is reportedly a big fan – but it also appeals to older guys, too, as Mr Yorke displayed in the video for Radiohead’s most-recent single, “Daydreaming”.
_Musical fans: s_ome brands go all-out to court the musical fraternity, but few go to the lengths of actually running a record label in tandem with their clothing line. Under the guidance of founders Messrs Gildas Loaëc, former manager of Daft Punk, and Masaya Kuroki, Maison Kitsuné has done just that. But it’s not just label signings such as Yelle, Two Door Cinema Club and Citizens! who are rocking Kitsuné’s Gallic-preppy stylings – Jay Z and Usher have also been keen to avail themselves of some ineffable Kitsuné cool.
Why they love it: “The music label brings the brand to places it may never have been otherwise, and it creates a sense of aura, of love around it, it tells a story,” as Mr Loaëc puts it. “When we do parties now, people come wearing our T-shirts. It’s like a live version of Kitsuné.”
Musical fans: Jay Z, very much so. But he chose a strange way to endorse the brand, seeming to suggest in the chorus of his 2013 single “Tom Ford” that it was some sort of aspirational alternative to taking ecstasy: “I don't pop molly, I rock Tom Ford”. (We think that was what he meant, anyway.) And Mr Justin Timberlake decked out his entire crew in custom Tom Ford – amounting to a staggering 600 pieces – for his 20/20 Experience World Tour.
Why they love it: music is an aspirational business. Jay Z makes no secret of the fact that he grew up in public housing in the 1970s. Now, he’s married to Beyoncé. How to dress to reflect all this success? Tom Ford – the epitome of luxury menswear – seems like the logical choice.
Musical fans: the Italian sportswear brand, with its distinctive Nasa-style “compass patch” on the upper sleeve of the left arm, rode the mid-1990s Britpop wave, championed by the likes of Mr Liam Gallagher. Fresh from doing no harm to the sales forecasts of both Moncler and Acne Studios, Canadian rapper Drake recently posted a picture of himself in a red sweater from the brand’s recent collaboration with Supreme on Instagram, ensuring the line was a sell-out.
Why they love it: the initial appeal of “Stoney”, as its adherents call it, was that it married performance expertise with stylish cuts and high-tech materials long before athleisure was a thing. Now that it assuredly is a thing, the brand’s unerring hip/functional aesthetic (jackets made from nylon monofilament derived from water-filtering technology, for instance) is right on the money.