why hip-hop loves craig green

When hip-hop, a genre still beholden to binary ideas of masculinity and heteronormativity, begins to embrace fashion that is a little more gentle, a little more tear-inducing, there's change afoot.

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Aug 20 2018, 11:38pm

One of my most distinct memories from interning at i-D in 2014 is the time two fashion editors returned to the office after attending Craig Green’s debut show at LC:M; his first after graduating from Fashion East. They both announced to the office that the collection was so powerful, the majority of the audience at the show -- themselves included -- had spontaneously burst into tears during its finale. I didn’t know much about the emotional value of a fashion show, but it felt like as good as any Not In Kansas Anymore Toto moments one could hope for when interning at a fashion magazine.

In reality, Craig’s show set the bar a little too high in terms of how fashun working in fashion would be. I don’t think I could name another example of something quite so fanatical happening. In fact, to this day the show still remains a reference and talking point in fashion criticism -- such was the abnormality of what happened. The reason why the audience experienced such a visceral reaction was likely informed by a number of things beyond the clothes, namely the recent passing of Central Saint Martins Fashion MA leader Louise Wilson, who’d given Craig a full scholarship to study some years before. Not helped too by the affecting Enya soundtrack. Craig himself said “It was an emotional time,” to i-D some months later. But while his subsequent shows haven’t elicited tears en masse (I can’t speak for every attendant) the praise and adulation has remained just as emphatic.

Kendrick Lamar on The Damn Tour

Craig’s designs hold a highly important space in London’s fashion scene. His shows are continually inventive. Since 2014’s he’s continued to define and refine his aesthetic, while his collections exist laterally to the passing trends other labels absorb.

On a venn diagram of London’s menswear -- between suits and streetwear -- Craig’s is one of the few brands that comfortably exists somewhere in the middle, alongside similarly well-defined London labels like Wales Bonner and Per Götesson. When he took a season out from the LFWM schedule to show at Pitti back in June this year, his absence was felt heavily, and not only within the cloistered world of The Fashion Industry. In the last four years Craig Green has become a go-to brand for some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, particularly hip-hop artists on tour.

As fashion continues to grow in relevance to the brand message of a hip-hop artist, invariably so too has the importance of their tour styling. Long are the days a male musician would tour globally in little more than a white vest and jeans. Yet among the proliferation of Gucci, Versace and Prada (the three most rapped about fashion labels in of 2015, according to this study) smaller, homegrown labels like Craig Green are finding themselves on the backs of internationally-acclaimed rappers.

Jay-Z on his 4:44 tour

The first big example of this was Drake. For his Would You Like a Tour? tour back in 2016, Drake sported an autumn/winter 15 wrap vest in black. Though he’s long bragged about the illustrious brands his success can afford him, fashion has never been something so integral to Drake’s brand in a way it has to other mainstream rappers and, when one thinks of Drake’s fashion, you’d likely think of Lakers jerseys, Stone Island jackets and Timbs. The wrap vest, and its quasi military style, fit exactly the tone Drake should be trying to achieve on stage. Clever designs without ostentation. Craig combines the uniformity we expect of the strong, venerable rapper, and an understated nod to the fashion world.

Unlike fellow Dover Street Market-stocked brands like Off-White, which have found themselves a comfortable home in hip-hop, Craig Green’s designs have a distinct silhouette that carries an impact and power without identifying too heavily with a current trend. It’s likely a tone Jay-Z also wanted to hit on his 4:44 tour last year, when he wore the Craig Green Crew Neck String T-shirt -- a simple short sleeve-tee with straps along the side-seams and back collar and an overlay panel at back. Pusha T, arguably the much more fashion conscious of the aforementioned artists -- at least in the last couple of years -- wore the autumn/winter 17 Carpet Tapestry Vest on the cover of XXL magazine last year, and has since worn a custom Flag Suit on his current DAYTONA tour, as well as a Craig T-shirt at his album listening party. What could be more of a cosign than that.

Pusha T on his DAYTONA tour

Then there’s Kendrick. For 2013 Good Kid, M.A.A.D City World Tour, Kendrick can largely be seen wearing plain black T-shirts, beanies and baseball caps and jeans. With the much greater scale of his The Damn Tour, which began last year and ended three weeks ago, so too came a much more ambitious wardrobe. Kendrick can be seen wearing a number of different Craig looks as he moved from stadium to stadium. He moved between seasons too -- including autumn/winter 15, the season that preceded the collection that left fashion editors in tears four years previous. For an artist as political as Kendrick, the undertones of military armour and religious wear seemingly carry much of the impact of his music. The workman style of his full body looks, too, seem to convey a message of hard graft, of toil and fight.

For Craig himself, the novelty of seeing his designs on such internationally-acclaimed artists hasn't worn off. "I remember once seeing someone wearing one of the autumn/winter 13 hats in the street, I thought just that was amazing," he explains. "That people think it's worthy to wear whilst on tour, to wear in front of all those people is a really exciting thing. Especially if someone thinks it's showy enough to wear as a tour outfit, or to make a statement on stage. Because the clothes aren't geared or directed at any specific person, really, it's more of an idea."

But this isn't simply a moment for a single designer. This is a moment for London's growing menswear brands in general. In appearing on Kendrick, Jay, Drake, Pusha, Craig Green truly opens menswear up into a new realm. Yes, his designs are popular among a far broader crowd; Amine, Skepta, Marilyn Manson, The Weeknd and Rihanna have all been spotted in his clothing. But when hip-hop, a genre so fiercely traditional in many ways, still beholden to binary ideas of masculinity and heteronormativity, begins to embrace fashion that is a little more gentle, a little more poetic, a little more tear-inducing, a change can certainly be felt in the air.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.