A recent article from Grailed opened with this statement about the intersection of art and streetwear: “Over the past decade, the gap between the art and fashion world has all but diminished. While fine artists are still held in higher regard than fashion designers by cultural critics—though, that model is changing—the cultures surrounding the respective disciplines have largely become one and the same. Today, fans are as just as likely to wait in line for a limited Takashi Murakami or James Jean print as they are for a Supreme or Off-White drop.”
Artist James Jean
If those names are not as familiar to you as you might like, we can turn to a Hypebot article that spoke of the ways that music and fashion “thrive as one.” In it, they say that big bands are leaning on big brands and described the “symbiotic relationship between band and brand” as mutually beneficial.
The article goes on to explain that fashion retailers and brands are noted for associating themselves with playlists on sites like Soundcloud and other similar entities, playing the lists for “in-store” experiences or emphasizing specific artists and collaborations during runway shows or other events.
Clearly, music and fashion are a natural link, but what about those artists who want to pair and merge their work with fashion and music?
We can return to that Grailed article that described the artist known as KAWS. Describing him as a “Jersey-born artist, Donnelly’s penchant for collaborations, evocative illustrations and toys have made him a fixture of 21st-century pop culture.” Saying he is influential in all spheres and “culture at large,” it examines his path specifically to consider how art, music, and fashion are coming together more than ever to enable all involved to authentically express something new.
KAWS as Example
Kaws grew up skateboarding and doing graffiti, which led him to New York. The article explains that ” when he was growing up, graffiti was really the one outlet for young creatives who had an interest in art but limited access. After graduating high school in 1993, Donnelly began experimenting with his trademark ‘X’ and skull and crossbones, rather than just lettering.”
This inspired him to seek a formal education at the School of Visual Arts, and to art as a viable career. He began illustrating and cartooning, and this led his graffiti to a newer level. As he said, “Managing to procure a key that unlocked the advertising panels of phone booths and bus stands,” he soon was “subvertising” by adding his tags to famous fashion ads. Once thought of as vandalism, such acts today are looked at as art, and soon he set his sights elsewhere.
He headed to Japan, where his “work with the burgeoning streetwear scene helped KAWS become global.”
By the early 2000s, KAWS had become a favorite of the emerging hip-hop scene in the U.S. and was a “buzz-worthy name not only amongst rappers but American street culture at large. As rappers began buying BAPE, they inevitably ran into the KAWS collaboration. By the latter half of the decade, KAWS wasn’t familiar to just Japanese tastemakers, but to Pharrell, Jay-Z and Kanye West, as well as anyone who followed street culture on the internet’s earliest forums and blogs.”
Clearly, that shows the easy flow and dynamic that can emerge as artists inspire fashion, and fashion catches the eye of musicians who lean into the message or dynamics at work. KAWS went on to appear in brands like OriginalFake (an influential streetwear brand), a line of Vans sneakers, Nike items, and more. Kanye West came calling in 2008, and art galleries were soon booking him.
Is KAWS the only example of his kind? No, we can look at scores of other names in any segment – Kanye West as an example, is a fashion designer, music maker, and performer, and artist. It is all about expression, and this merging of three single streams of creativity into one channel is an exciting reflection of our times.
KAWS x Dior Collaboration