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Will Kanye West’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton usher in a new era of respect for hip hop among luxury brands?

by: Jennifer D. Carroll

Looks like your boy Kanye is positioning himself for a full fledged takeover of the fashion industry and by the looks of things that takeover is starting in some unlikely circles.

While everyone who truly cares has already  heard word about Nike’s partnership with Ye in form of the upcoming release – the Nike Air Yeezy; I will admit that I was more than a bit surprised to hear about his upcoming partnership to release a shoe under the luxury Louis Vuitton brand.

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A blurry sneak peek at a prototype of Kanye West-designed Louis Vuitton kicks, worn by the LV Don himself

I say this not because  I question your boy’s style sensibilities, but more so because I question the willingness of the Louis Vuitton brand to partner up with hip hop in any form.

Hip Hop has always had a way of making brands hot.  Run D.M.C made you want to rock Adidas.. Nelly hyped you to want  two and three pair of those Air Force Ones…and Air Jordan’s were always as hip hop as they come.

There has definitely been an evolution in hip hop that includes a tremendous fascination with luxury brands.  This is evidenced in the standard format of hip hop videos: __insert artist’s name__,  rolling through in a Ferrari or Bentley…hittin up a club with a bunch of sexy, half dressed models…and of course poppin’ champagne bottles with a fat diamond encrusted chain. The latest trend is the introduction of a metrosexual swagger into the game – where the artist has a Louis Vuitton scarf draped around his neck…or is walking through the spot with a Gucci murse in tow.

Kanye has seemed to bask in his role as hip hop’s high-fashion poster child, even declaring himself the Louis Vuitton Don. So assuredly this new endorsement must be one of his proudest career moments.  My question is why would he want to be associated with a brand that has proved itself to be anti-hip hop?

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Many top shelf hip hop artists can speak to this fact.

  • T.I.’s high budget video “Swing Ya Rag” was recently pulled because he dared pay homage to the hood fascination with all things Louis V.
  • Female hip hop artist Da Brat and even American Idol Rubben Studdard were sued by the luxury giant for using LV branded products in their videos.

In my mind, this brand has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for not only hip hop, but urban music as a whole.  While it obviously has a right to defend its brand image,  should the the hip hop community continue to celebrate Louis Vuitton as if it is the pinnacle of social aspiration while it continues to reject us?

cristal banned by Jay-Z

This hasn’t been the first time that a luxury brand has turned up its nose at urban artists. Jay-Z announced a boycott of French champagne Cristal in 2006 in response to the brand management’s statements that seemed to imply they would rather not be associated with the hip hop lifestyle.

Frederic Rouzaud, CEO of parent brand Louis Roederer, was asked by The Economist if the association between Cristal and the “bling lifestyle” could be detrimental. Rouzaud replied:

“That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

Our community has tremendous buying power and social influence on mainstream culture and apparently this is a fact that the company could not continue to ignore.   Maybe this partnership is the company’s long awaited acknowledgement of this fact and the beginning of something that will spurn a new level of respect for hip hop by luxury brands in general.  I guess we will have to wait and see…

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