From 'Yeezus' to Lil Uzi Vert, band merch to Vetements, we break down the modern history of metal fashion and hip-hop intersecting, and how it all came to permeate pop culture.
Remember the days when dressing like a member of a metal band were woefully uncool? When baggy, ripped jeans, black oversized hoodies, gothic typography and spikes and studs seemed like a surefire sign of an outcast’s fashion-led rebellion?
For decades, from the early nineties to where we sit today, the metal aesthetic was a form of fashion expression that society at large couldn’t get their head around. Standing out was reserved for subcultures, but if any of them have spawned a monumental – if somewhat insincere – ‘expansion’ lately, it’s these guys.
Metal influences have always permeated other musical genres in some way, usually as a method to give saccharine pop stars a dangerous edge to their personas. But when it met hip-hop, it became the catalyst that would lead metal fashion into the mainstream. The same garments we once used to gawk at are now highly coveted, on trend and, for many designers, some of the their fastest selling pieces.
Nobody expected the velocity at which this intense trend would take off. At breakneck speed, the band tee had gone from a Hot Topic or thrift store throwaway to a reinvented, $400 designer garment. The '90s American mosher silhouette permeated the runway, and the seemingly endless line of “homages” seemed to spur wildly out of control.
So who do we have to truly thank for this? Well, like most millennial fashion trends, it seemed to start with Yeezy.
The Strangely Familiar ‘Yeezus’ Typography
The first notable instance of the modern metal revamp came some three years ago, as Kanye West debuted the new logo for his 'Yeezus' tour. Eagle-eyed fans of rock legends Metallica and Judas Priest instantly noticed his emblems were starting to resemble a strange hybrid of their idols’ logos.
And while some call it homage (by this point, Kanye and Kim had already been spotted donning Metallica and Megadeth T-shirts), there were other fans who weren’t quite as convinced. “Arrgh what a goddamn waste of space” one Redditor lambasted, while another labeled him “a f*cking insincere tool.”
Despite the hate, it goes without saying that everything Yeezy touches turns to gold; just recently, a low-cost LA streetwear label had their entire stock rinsed by fans who spotted him wearing one of their tees. Yeezy’s utilization of these rock legends’ aesthetics acted as a fashion starting point for metal in modern rap, which takes us neatly on to the brand that somehow shifted it all.
The explosive rise of Vetements
Demna Gvasalia is the closest thing to a fashion deity that has emerged in the last five years. The designer behind Vetements, who seemingly subverted the whole industry with his ironic, uber-expensive oversized hoodies, pants and big-name collaborations, has a tendency of shaking up tradition. Later, it’s this skill that would land him a role as the creative director of Balenciaga.
Vetements are appropriators of everything: from '90s romance movies to freight shipping companies to the grungy, black metal aesthetic that has permeated so many of their pieces. A notable highlight? One seriously sought-after hooded sweatshirt. With a print down the right sleeve that reads “Drink from me and live forever” and a Pentagram back graphic emblazoned with the phrase ‘Total Fucking Darkness’ in Halloween purple, it’s the kind of flagrantly gothic item that would make most modern celebrities cower in fear. Vetements, however, specialize in making this kind of standoffish statement piece of heavy metal homage cool.
It’s no surprise that Kanye himself was spotted front-row at the brand’s SS15 show in Paris, and that Demna was a designer on Yeezy’s first collection. The two names, by this point, were prime purveyors of metal style in the upper echelons of fashion and music.
Jerry Lorenzo, Fear of God and the famous Bieber tour merch
While the metal aesthetic (black metal in particular) is famed for dark colors, oversized fits and skulls, don’t forget that the cut-off sleeve plaid shirts and distressed denim were, until recently, reserved almost exclusively for thrash metal acolytes. By spring 2016, the wide acceptance of metal-sourced aesthetics being “in,” brought forth by both Yeezy and Vetements, had officially seeped into the most mainstream reaches of pop culture. In other words, Justin Bieber was now wearing T-shirts with Marilyn Manson’s face on them.
The man responsible for that was Jerry Lorenzo, the acclaimed designer behind luxury denim brand Fear of God. Having already taken rare band T-shirts and emblazoning the FOG logo on them for his own collections, he could hardly resist delving into the world of classic metal when he was asked to style Justin Bieber for his behemoth 'Purpose' tour.
Bieber, once the poster boy for kid-friendly pop music, was now donning Axl Rose-style kilts, band tees and plaid shirts on a pyrotechnic-heavy tour. Lorenzo’s hand touched a few items of the tour merch; Tees with Bieber’s name in a Metallica-like font with a crucifix back design and similarly-styled trucker hats were a couple of the collection’s most sought-after items.
Black Sabbath’s Supreme collaboration
Supreme joining forces with historical metal band Black Sabbath may have been a slightly off-kilter collaboration in the eyes of the streetwear obsessives who pick up something in every drop. After all, Supreme are famed for their strong alliance with street culture and hip-hop above all. This wasn’t the first time they had delved into the rock world – The Clash, The Misfits and many more had had their own collabs – but it was certainly the first time it felt a little forced. Arriving in the spring of 2016, this meeting of two polarizing masters didn’t garner quite the reaction its creators had anticipated.
Highsnobiety’s Aleks Eror called out the collab for how “inert, emotionless and functional” it seemed; a marketing ploy for a farewell tour the band were in the middle of at the time of its announcement. Their timing wasn’t great, either. The salience of metal imagery, with Vetements hoodies and Bieber merch dominating streetwear and fashion sites in a busy spring, meant we were all growing a bit tired of it. By this point, the crossing-over of dark, gothic imagery into mainstream fashion spotlights had become obvious; a rehashed fashion trope that the industry was trying desperately to get rid of.
Nu-Metal? More Emo
The outcast’s uniform had been adopted by hip-hop, commodified by fashion houses and spewed out in a mess of pop stars and high street retailers’ reinventions. Metal, after several shaky years in the hands of those perhaps unaware of its heritage, is now rightfully on its way back to the subculture that knows it best. Will it be able to shake the Bieber connotations, though? That’s a different story.
The glimmers of metal’s influence on hip-hop still exist, but they manifest in a way that alludes to the more contemporary emo/punk rock aesthetic. Lil Uzi Vert is a great supporter of this. With his rainbow dreads, candy striped tees and gold, spike chokers, he’s like a mid-naughties scene kid making Marilyn Manson-inspired rap – much to the discomfort of the hip-hop traditionalists. Along with him, Lil’ Peep - with his proud statements on his bisexuality, kiddish and colorful getups and music that sounds as much like a Linkin Park album as it does the latest thing in rap - is proof that there’s not much that separates the hip-hop, spiritually, from metal.
As such, appropriation doesn’t seem like the right term to use when describing metal’s ascent in the fashion world, by way of rap legends. Call it an alliance: two sets of social pariahs, meeting to prove to pop culture who’s really boss.
For more like this, check out our handy guide to the actual metal bands being appropriated in fashion.