Words by Katherine Bernard
Photos by Brock Fetch
A$AP Rocky is the high priest who wed hip-hop and high fashion. After decades of flirtations, dates, and sex followed by unanswered phone calls (then awkward codependence), the two high-power art-industries have finally come together as equals in 2013. Rocky grew up looking up to them both, which explains the origin of his hallmark sneakers with a trim silhouette. Back then, there was high fashion and hood fashion. Rappers have always changed the way people dress, but not always the way designers show what’s next on the runway. Now, we’re in an era of high-hood.
Rocky inherited a stunning legacy of personal style from the genre’s greats, but what makes him different is his God-given ability to pull disparate references into a look, to at once represent Harlem and Paris, past and future, and gravitate towards the undiscovered. Designers aren’t referencing a culture—A$AP style is culture. So standing at the church altar, in a crisp white Raf Simons collar and Saint Laurent denim, Rocky is standing for an unprecedented permeability. A mutual appreciation. Now, it’s A$AP Mob’s reception—we’re just dressing in it.
Rocky is getting a pedicure and manicure (I be that pretty muthafucka) at a quiet nail parlor in Harlem where the shades are pulled down and Biggie’s piping in over the speakers: I turn those hoes in NY onto DKNY. I climb up into the pedicure chair next to Rocky’s and it’s like we’re in twin thrones. We talk about how black socks stain your feet, and even worse, how raw Japanese denim stains your legs. The hazards of dressing.
It’s a week before the video for “Fashion Killa” drops on GQ, and Rocky’s discussing taking a break from “outlandish and extreme fucking fashion statements.” Like what? “Dead mooses on you and walking around in the waters with flies and gnats and shit. Lady Gaga wannabe stuff.” Sunglasses on and green Band of Outsiders hoodie up, he tells me he’s “dumbing it down” style-wise. He’s ready to graduate from the shock-and-awe of his style choices into a space where it’s all part of a consistent mode of performance—a lifestyle. “I got this,” he says, “I do what I do and I don’t wanna go outside looking like a complete idiot. I wanna express myself sometimes and sometimes I don’t.”
As it turns out, the “Fashion Killa” video landed with impressive style impact. Rather than a flashy swag parade to match the litany of designers in the song, Rocky opens with Rihanna coming off the elevator to hang in a modest apartment. On their late-night private shopping tour, the two wear chill-at-home tees by cult skate brand Supreme and 1992 retro-remake DKNY. They don’t buy anything. No Benjamin fans flapping. Sure, Rocky’s sporting Raf x Adidas shoes that aren’t out yet, but you only know that if you know that. In “Fashion Killa,” the girl wears John Paul Gaultier glasses ‘cause they match with her persona. It doesn’t matter if she thrifted them or had them hand delivered by the designer—it’s how they look on her that makes them notable. This track is about appreciating the way someone dresses. Having the refined taste to dissect a style palette.
Taste level (not financial flaunt) is the new cultural currency in hip-hop and fashion. A$AP style is what it was before Rocky’s come up. “I knew my designers like I know my presidents,” Rocky says. “We used to be kids that got the rich girlfriends to buy us shit cause we couldn’t afford it. We used to sell packs to try to afford this shit. That was the struggle.” Rocky says that even though his crew was crashing parties, they became a welcome fixture in the downtown party scene. “We would crash parties in Williamsburg and that other shit,” he says. “That’s what we were known for, to the point where we got so cool with these motherfuckers, they didn’t take it as disrespect when we were crashing.” There, A$AP Mob had a receptive audience to its unique fashion rubric.
Back in the day, rappers wore Gucci and Louis Vuitton—anyone could identify it. You saw sweeps of Vs and locked-up Gs and you knew a person had X amount of money. Now, the statement is in unidentifiable clothes, in wearing what only an elite few will recognize, and what even fewer will understand. Style is almost more elusive than wealth. It’s not part of the American dream, it’s not something you can hustle or acquire looking at street style pictures on the web (there are multiple Tumblrs that track Rocky’s looks down to his foot-staining black socks). Style is closer to talent; you have to be born with it to an extent, and it hinges entirely on the individual.