âGrowing up as an inner-city black kid, I wasnât the most masculine,â a shirtless, deep-voiced Tyler, the Creator told a sellout crowd of two thousand at the L.A. Live complex, in downtown Los Angeles, on Saturday. âI wasnât into sports,â he continued. âI liked pink and shit.â
The speech was the twenty-five-year-old rapperâs third of the night. After dÃ©buting a blinding line of apparel, footwear, and accessories from his Golf Wang clothing label, Tyler had screened a product clip with a pre-recorded voice-over, and then emerged to perform a scathing new diatribe called âEgoâ in a silver, glittering polo top. Now, fearing that he sounded like a âbroken record,â Tyler hammered points home about identity, individuality, and ownership with his mix of sincerity and trademark vulgarity. He recounted a scene from his teen years, before 2010, when his self-directed music videos catapulted his Odd Future collective into the limelight. At a local shop after school, he recounted, Tyler was âmade an example ofâ by a store worker for wearing a pink hoodie. âThatâs not a real man,â the shopkeeper had taunted in front of others. âThatâs not what real men wear.â
Barely an hour after the runway show had ended, Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The heinous act cast an especially dark cloud over an already drizzly weekend in the city, where L.A. Pride Week had brought thousands of revelers out to L.G.B.T.-themed events in the days before. By Sunday morning, the worst fears were confirmed: news outlets reported that a man armed with assault rifles and explosive chemicals had planned to target the parade before being arrested by local police. The parade proceeded that day as planned.
Tylerâs had a complex relationship to the L.G.B.T. community, rife with contradictions. Heâs been criticized for his use of slurs in his lyrics, resulting in a ban from the U.K. and New Zealand for perceived hate speech, while simultaneously claiming two outwardly gay members in his flockâprogressive for any hip-hop groupâand openly (if sardonically) professing his attraction to several men, including Leonardo DiCaprio. Throughout the show, his repeated nods toward these controversies seemed to weigh down what shouldâve been a proud moment for the young artist. He emphasized clothing as a tool of communication, and even dissentâa message that was ultimately inseparable from the horrifying attacks on identity and individuality that would unfold soon after.
Tylerâs clothing line combines the loose fits of hip-hop and skate styles alongside prim collegiate silhouettes, all in bursting primary shades and soaked with repeating patterns bearing Golf Wang insignia. The flat-brimmed caps, striped polos, and high-water cuffs, childlike in their slants and sags, insist upon their early-nineties influence, the formative years when street wear first began to take shape, and when many of the models in the show were young enough to still be dressed like miniature versions of their parents. The clothes bear a strong hand, and seem intent to stand out against even the most closely comparable lines. âThe difference between me and these niggas is that I make what I like,â Tyler explained, of his design choices, in subtle criticism of predictable looks that bow to seasonal trends or the Web-driven menswear community. If producing what you âlikeâ in spite of a market demand is an act of insubordination, then shifting tastes can be considered a marker of progress, and a fashion presentation a vehicle for protest. The Golf Wang runway, flanked by a clear blue sky, pillow-sized sunflowers, and patches of fake grass, was just short of a rainbowâmodels of various ages, races, and body types cruised around a summer vacation on mini bikes and skateboards. Fans swarmed the stage at the showâs end, tearing off keepsakes and trying out the six-foot-tall chairs fashioned after Coke cans. The Golf Wang pieces do not aspire to practicality: they are meant to be the loudest items in your closet, statement pieces delivered with a shriekâbarely palatable, but impossible to ignore.
Most notable was Tylerâs announcement of a new sneaker line, Golf Le Fleur, a move he described as âtaking a leapâ after releasing several designs with the shoe company Vans. The tested concept of brand collaboration between small shops and large corporations caught on when James Jebbia, the founder of the iconic New York shop Supreme, wanted to release a sneaker in the early nineties. âThe first thing James had me working on was just Vans,â the Supreme creative director Brendon Babenzien recalls in a 2014 interview. âHe said, âI want Supreme sneakers, but Iâm not going to go make my own sneakers, because Iâm not gonna make a better sneaker than Vans or Nike.â So he started working with Vans to make unique colorways for the store.â Decades later, Tyler, visibly emboldened by the oft-mocked rhetoric of Kanye West (who attended the show, and mustâve been pleased with how much âEgoâ sounded like âNew Slavesâ), boasted of forfeiting the infrastructure Jebbia sought in exchange for a distinctly capitalist affirmation of identity. âYâall know I did collabs with Vans and shit and all this stuff,â he explained from the stage. âBut I just realized, black people donât really own shit. So I said, fuck royalty checks, Iâma start my own shit, and if it fails, it fails. I decided to start my own shoe company and shit,â he continued. âItâs Golf Le Fleur in fucking French, and it means âflower boy.â I like flowers.â
Displays like these from known provocateurs like Tyler and West are confounding to many: Why hang such ambitious social critiques on T-shirts and sneakers? As Tyler described his conception, production, and design choices, it was clear they were meant to poke holes in ideas of ownership and identity, and question how our style choices articulate stances in these arenas. Tyler is hardly the first rapper to claim an affinity for pink, for example: his longtime idol Pharrell Williams, the cult hero Camâron, and the seditious auteur Lil B have all bet entire campaigns on the hue, and have all fielded murmured suspicions about sexual orientation as a result. Subversions like theseârappers recoloring masculinity across runways, and inviting the bewilderment it spursâpush against the ostensibly insurmountable human instinct to stratify and separate; the kind that presumes which color a âreal manâ should wear, or, worse, whether a life lived differently from oneâs own is one worthy of living.
Itâs almost trite to point out how the fashion industry uses the language of divisionâlabels, linesâto organize its moving parts. But itâs noteworthy that in an increasingly digital market for music, clothing remains a physical product of clear value to buyers, who consume it with dedication. Designers often distance themselves from the industry of âfashion,â dancing around the suggestions of trendiness and vanity. But the shared observations found in the work of the best designers suggest that the labels on our clothing are of exponentially more value as communicators of identity than the labels we ascribe to the bodies beneath them. Or perhaps, that if we saw as much value in our markers of identityârace, religion, orientationâas we do in the labels stitched on fabrics, we might wake up to a world where we look that much better, and feel that much closer. The young ticket-buyers that filled the pews covered a broad swath across all spectrums, but almost all showed up sporting Golf Wang designs, and all walked away with a reserved pair of Golf Le Fleurs. Tyler likes pink and flowers; his fans like Tyler. Even if they arenât all the same on the inside, they look the same on the outside, which in the pursuit of commonality, of shared pride, must be a start.