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As the show approaches, the building hums with nervous, excited energy. This year marked round two of Astral, the ongoing collaboration between ROCKET and Students of Hip-Hop Legacy (SoHHL), which showcases the most talented rappers and designers this region has to offer. Models take to the runway as artists perform in a space where the theatrics of music and fashion fuse together.

Design by Nikki Price.

From the ROCKET website: “Astral serves to highlight the intersection of fashion and hip-hop on the William & Mary campus.” Having heard stories from Astral’s first show, I expected to be with hit a barrage of energy as the final moving pieces came together. When I walked into the Integrated Science Center the afternoon of the show, I could feel the anticipation all around me. Purposeful modifications were being made to lighting and wardrobes while performers made choreographic adjustments to their sets. Model headshots of all colors were methodically taped to a whiteboard in the styling room above backpacks and clothes which were arranged about the space. Though people were flying, they appeared calm, enveloped by a sense of security brought by the experience of having once already managed the intricacies of transforming an academic building into a catwalk.

Design by Nikki Price.

The first designer to show is ROCKET’s own Nikky Price, who is accompanied by SoHHL’s rapper, Pres. Nikky’s clothes pull from several decades, reinvigorating older garments with refreshing bursts of deconstructed color. Her technical skill is obvious. The clothes, combined with Pres’ level-headed, confident verses immediately demonstrate the abundance of talent on campus and the ease with which hip-hop and fashion, like, go together.

Design by Jonathanstwelveboat.

Jonathanstwelveboat, headed by Richmond-based designer Jonathan Matthew, is next. The brand pays special attention to industrial garments, and the impact of human touch on the uniform. As a sea of ecru-dressed, quarantine-chic models swept down the runway, I thought back to a phone conversation I had with Matthew. When discussing his influences, he mentioned people in fine arts, fashion, and music. He shared, “It’s the same. Like if I want an orange pattern on this taupe, cream outfit. With music, it’s like ‘I want that one beat to touch people’. And that’s the same with art. I want that one splatter of orange on that cream canvas. It’s all about touching people.” Matthew’s focus on color and detail pulls inspiration from the everyday that others don’t pick up on, like the accents in airline logos, to better understand the individual.

Design by Jonathanstwelveboat.

After Matthew’s ode to spectrality, models in pieces of VICTIM15 c/o Shareef Mosby’s rebellious collection proceeded down the runway in a snarling procession. At first, VICTIM15 struck me as most influenced by the invective designers of the Y2K era. Silhouettes conveying discontent immediately suggested the youthful rebellion of 2003 Raf Simons or the proportional play of early Margiela. A teal rain slicker modified with patches captures my eye, as Richmond rapper OG Kee$h exasperates, “I’m sick of working for these temp jobs.” An intense warmth has enveloped the room as the emotional intensity of performance and design meet each other from opposite directions, and the range of moods blur.

Design by VICTIM15.

Design by VICTIM15.

An intense warmth has enveloped the room as the emotional intensity of performance and design meet each other from opposite directions, and the range of moods blur.

Following a conversation with Mosby, I think labeling his art as solely shaped by fashion’s (comparatively) old giants is reductive. Rather, we discuss how important the stylistic bridge created by rappers like A$AP Rocky “bringing skinny jeans to Harlem” was to his art. Mosby’s generation of designers is more influenced by the rebellion found in streetwear’s rise to high fashion status – the do-it-yourself mentality rooted in houses like Off-White or Supreme seems more akin, visually, and philosophically to the ideas presented by Mosby and his contemporaries.

Design by Open Forum.

Design by Open Forum.

Simeon Rideb’s Open Forum, a cross between a fashion collection and an art performance, closes out the show with a dive into concepts of identity and dysphoria. Inspired by Balenciaga, Rideb reconfigures the familiar in ways that are unexpected, attempting to visually display the confusion we reach when we explore internally. Elongated, pooling hems and intentionally-unconventional cuts contribute to a physical manifestation of anxiety. He puts it best: “Our clothing codes our bodies.” It’s an array of Holzer-inspired text, knit cocoons, and purposeful riffs on the wedding dress. Open Forum is deliberate and sharp. Light reflects off the glass staircase as a buzz reverberates through the building.

The crowd is exuberant and loud, stoking the energy of the room as it bounces between the clothes, the models, and the performers. Anticipation morphed into frenzy. “Y’all have a really supportive school here,” Bliss Foster, VICTIM15’s stylist comments as we watch from the balcony. We talk a little about how important energy like this is for models and performers alike. It’s too loud to hear or record, so I ask spectators to write down their comments. “I’ve been looking forward to this all week,” sophomore Callie Robinson effuses to features reporter Alijah Webb. “There’s this incredibly cool, diverse, and artistic and creative aspect of William and Mary that I really think is underappreciated,” comments junior Eliza McKenny. This type of support boosts the intensity of the room. It shows the demand for, and importance of creative spaces on campus.

The ongoing conversation between music and fashion continues to inform popular culture now, just as it did when the Ramones made Schott Perfecto leather jackets cool, or when Madonna shocked audiences in her now-emblematic Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra. It’s clear that an interplay between the arts is a constant. However, the types of artists that influence culture are in flux. In this moment in time, hip-hop is undeniably the biggest artistic force in driving what is deemed cool. This is why the infusion seems so natural; this is why Astral works.

This is why the infusion seems so natural; this is why Astral works.

2017 continued the acceleration of sneaker collaborations, exclusive t-shirts, designer name drops, and artist sponsorships between hip-hop and fashion. With the recent appointment of Kanye’s former, and Off-White’s current creative director, Virgil Abloh, to the helm of Louis Vuitton, this trend shows no sign of stopping in 2018. Beneath the literal, fashion and rap music are both currently characterized by liberation from a singular path in the creative process. Together, they share in this unique freedom. As a response to a world growing increasingly formulaic, they provide a space where Soundcloud rappers can become international stars and designers can achieve international fame without a degree.  

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Photography by Andrew Uhrig.

Originally published in ROCKET Volume VIII, Issue 2.

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