He's styled videos for Wiley's On A Level and his own Ladies Hit Squad, he's walked Nasir Mazhar's LC:M show and his all-white ensembles have been the freshest thing about men's fashion this past year. So it's fair to say Skepta is a fashion don. GQ magazine agree, placing him at No. 7 in their Top 50 best-dressed list, with designer Astrid Andersen celebrating his inclusion by saying, "Best-dressed should not just be about being able to buy the most expensive suit, but about influencing a culture and for understanding how to bring a strong personal sense of view across."
Skepta may have dabbled with luxury labels for a period and enjoyed the flashiest of fashions, but now he's put his Gucci and LV in the bin, going back to the sportswear of his youth. For Skepta, a crisp, affordable, logo-free tracksuit is the ultimate in democratic style. Not only does the look appeal to him, but as an idol to kids coming up, he thought it best stop creating unhealthy label obsessions among his young followers. All of this makes him the ideal choice to be one of six diverse London faces fronting Uniqlo's new campaign to relaunch their Oxford Street store. We caught up with him over olives and a glass of blush to talk about the Beckhams' "borderline chav high fashion days", the status of his new album and his own forthcoming fashion line.
The campaign is "a celebration of London's vibrant scene." What do you think of the London scene right now?
We're the main hub of multi-cultural creativity. We are the motherboard. We've been that since I was at school. Even when I travel the world, people still say things to me about race and I proper don't get it. I say to them, "When I was at school, they had 50 different nationalities and I had to learn all their surnames." New York, the youth of today, like A$AP Mob, The Zombies, Ratking - that's all gelling so well now. That's why I can chill with Ratking for a whole month and not feel out of place or doing anything that I wouldn't normally. When I first went to New York, all the Asians would hang around together, all the blacks, all the white people. Now they're being more open and not going with these old-skool ideologies and these boring old ancient ways any more. I feel that there's a real strong connection between the New York world and the London world. Everyone's really seeing eye-to-eye, because they're finally being as open-minded as we've been for all this time.
When you were growing up, who were your fashion idols?
When I was younger, my icons were all the old-skool street guys from where I live. They were all pulling up in flash cars and wearing new clothes, big chains, all the newest designers. They were the people who inspired me. Their influences must come from Jamaica, Africa, old-skool kings. They were street guys just wearing jewels and looking nice. They always wanted to look nice. Being a London boy, walking around, I just saw it all. I've got the African side from my parents and I was really into Jamaican music a lot, so there's that side. And then being from London, you see how everyone fuses it together. I'm just a fan. Even music. I'm such a fan. I make it myself and I'm blessed enough that people are fans of what I make. When I was in GQ, I never thought that was going to happen. I'm just a fan of buying clothes. I count all this stuff as a blessing, because everyone's a fan of something, but they don't get that chance.
I'm glad you beat David Gandy!
Nah [he's never heard of him]. I want to beat David Beckham next year though, because for me, his early style with Posh Spice -- those borderline chav high fashion days -- that's where I'm really at. Both of them as a couple really clinched real high-class chav, and I want to get there! Posh had the Bianca from Eastenders silver puffa.
Can we talk about your fashion evolution? You wore sportswear earlier on, then moved into more high-end designer, then denounced it on That's Not Me, saying you'd put all your Gucci in the bin. Now you seem to have come full circle and be back into tracksuits.
I was just getting tired of going to the area where I hang around and different estates and seeing the kids hanging round always looking stressed out and troubled. But they'd always have a £300 bag and Balenciaga trainers. Big superman boots on and jeans with 1000 rips in. You can do so much with that money. When I was younger, I was influenced by the guys who were older than me, so I thought maybe it was my time - because I can afford to buy Gucci or Louis if I want, let's be real - to sacrifice, because I thought maybe these kids are doing it because of me. So I wanted to get back to wearing clothes that are for us. The marketing teams at Nike and JD Sports, they came for us. The people modeling in the windows are people like Jamal from SBTV. I want the kids to see that maybe they should be aligning themselves not just with a price range, but the people who are designing for you.
Can we talk about your recent brilliant head-to-toe white looks?
They are difficult days! I've got Paddy [manager] around me always like this [motions keeping a protective circle round him to stop it getting dirty] when I'm wearing all white. He's got to tell me the routes and everything! They're hard days. Most of the time I do it for shows or video shoots. I didn't think it was going to make as much of a statement as it did. I thought with wearing tracksuits, I just didn't want it always to be black. I thought putting on a white one was more vibrant. There is another side to this tracksuit thing. It's not always wanting to be discreet, wanting to be incognito. Sometimes it is about being flamboyant. You can be flamboyant in a tracksuit.
Can you tell us about your ongoing relationship with independent London designers like Nasir and Cottweiler?
Those guys are around, innit. I feel like at the time when I stopped wearing designers, something happened to me: before I was a kid and I became a man and I understood everything a bit clearer. I could see that Nasir and Cottweiler were doing the same thing as me, but just in a different field of work. They're hustling, they're going out, loving what they're doing, investing their time and money in what they're doing and doing it with people from their area. I wanted to not just work with musicians all the time. I'm not just a rapper. I like to make things. Supporting them, and them supporting me is the same as me supporting another musician. I feel like they've got the same ambition and drive and energy that I have. You can work better if someone's on the same page as you. It's another field of work, but it's still what I do. I will support Cottweiler and Nasir to my dying day because that's what they've done for me.
And on the other extreme, you're working with a huge multinational fashion brand like Uniqlo. How come you decided to get involved in the shoot for the new Oxford Street store?
This is my favourite shoot I've done with clothes. Everything can come down to a millisecond of a snap and I have to live with that photo for the rest of my life. I've got pictures of me that I hate, that I'm like, "Nah, I can't believe it!" This is a big thing. I went in there, put the music on, picked the clothes - obviously me seeing the tracksuit and us being on our tracksuit thing for this much time, it just felt right. With shoots and stuff, some people don't have any style, but with me, because I have a style, the worst thing would be if I look at it and it doesn't look like me.
Did you actually buy Uniqlo before this?
I'd actually started to shop at Uniqlo. We'll [him and his crew] do this thing where we're like, "No-one eats olives…olive boys! That's what we're gonna be!. Eat four now!" [eats four olives off the table]. We'll tweet a picture: #OliveBoys. In the same way, we were #UniqloBoys for a while. We went to America for Travis Scott because he wanted to bring me out at his show in New York. I was like, "OK, well we'll be repping London, so we need to be looking levels, yeah." We went to every shop - and this is New York - and couldn't find anything. We gave up and we were going to rustle something together. We were going back and we saw Uniqlo, went in there and I got the sickest outfit together. I got two outfits. I threw them both on the bed to decide which one to go for. Cause it was gonna be dark I went for a full white tracksuit and along blue mac and I looked sick. I looked very sick. That made it so right.
What else have you owned from there?
I've got this gilet, but the one with the sleeves in black, in blue, in dark red army print. I've got tracksuits, the mac. I just love plain clothes. I don't like logos. Even my Nike ticks, I'll destitch them. I'll cut them out my pants and shit. All those hats I wear are Nike, but I take the metal thing off.
Do you know anyone else in the campaign?
Yeah, I know Benji B. He's my good friend. He's been on my shoulder for the past couple of years, always giving me good advice and pointing me in the right direction. Radio 1 is not really a place where I'd call them friends, but he's really been a friend to me. He's steering me in the right direction and helping me along. He's himself. He's not trying to be in Boy Better Know, or get a cut of my album. He wants to build me up to be great, so that when I'm standing next to him, we're both great. And that's why I really respect him.
What's the best thing about being plastered all over Oxford Street in this campaign?
That all my exes have to see me! I get to stunt on them. An ex called me a joke one time. She's gonna have to see that. And it's good that my mum will get to see them as well.
The campaign is called This Way To Utopia. What is your idea of utopia?
Just being at a place of complete peace with myself, by myself. Being like that allows me to be at peace with everything else. Sometimes I try to be at peace with everything else, but not with myself, and that doesn't work. I have to start with myself first, get to utopia and then it just spreads around.
You styled a Wiley video. Have you done any since?
I styled my recent shoot, Ladies Hit Squad. That's it. I don't know what happened to me, but growing up there were a few deaths close to me and when you're young, you get into this mode where everything's forever, nothing's going to go. Just wait, do it tomorrow. But when people started dying and I was about to have a child, but had a miscarriage, it became clear what was important to me and what wasn't. So I started eradicating everything that wasn't to do with me. I started to concentrate on everything that mattered. To me, all the stuff that people were wearing in videos, what the videos were about, how flashy they were, how pretentious they were, I really got to a point where certain things didn't matter to me. And people could look at that styling job and be like, "Aw, he's amazing at styling." I'm not! I just didn't care about bullshit any more and that made that video good and made the styling good. I'll probably take any job on in my life at this moment. I don't think there's anything I wouldn't do. I would do it with the motto of only care about what you're supposed to care about. As long as my heart is in it, it's gonna come out great.
Do you hope this campaign achieves anything?
I hope this is a thing where all the kids on the roads aren't just seeing me as a fashion icon, but are seeing these as clothes that are right for the roads. I'm not a fashion icon trying to make them wear what they wear. It's about cool, unlogo'd brands.
Might you bring out a Skepta line with them?
I'm gonna bring out my own brand soon. It's gonna be for the streets, for your everyday person who doesn't want to wear jeans all the time and wants to be comfortable. You won't feel inferior in my sportswear!
What else have you got coming up?
I'm finishing my album Konichiwa this week. Finished! Done! Three years of my life encapsulated on a CD.
You've got the Japanese connection now, with an album called Konichiwa and working with a massive Japanese brand.
Amazing bruv! I cannot believe this. I'm going to Japan in a minute to do my first show ever, because of my album. I'm in a tracksuit by Uniqlo. Nigo wants to meet. Japan's been trying to get me out there to do shows, but I didn't want to go there without my album. I want my whole Konichiwa setting to be correct when I go there. I've gone to Australia, New Zealand, killed that, went to Hong Kong, killed Europe, went to Nigeria, killed Africa, went to America, smashed the East Coast and the West Coast. You see what I'm saying? But I've never been to Japan, so to go in May with this, I'm buzzing. Life is sick, don't cry for me when I die.