The Pop Effect

Fashion and pop music are a match made in heaven

Words: Modupe Oloruntoba | Photographs: Rex Features + WWD/Puma

Music and fashion work together, feed each other and reflect one another constantly. You only need to look at how Janelle Monae's off-centre, black-and-white wardrobe connects with the personality and message of her music, or how Solange has used avant-garde pieces to support A Seat at the Table to see how fashion elevates music and vice versa. The effect of hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and rock on contemporary fashion over the last century is evident on streets everywhere and cannot – should not – be downplayed. If fashion itself were a living breathing thing, pop music would be its twin. 

Pop has had more in common with fashion than most music genres, as it's evolved and transformed faster than any of its counterparts. It’s more reflective of our era’s global culture and the people who live in it than most of us are ready to acknowledge. Fashion is the same, repackaging old truths to make them feel novel again for a whole new generation of consumers. 

Both pop and fashion are masters of reinvention. Sampling and recycling the past – whether to celebrate it, vilify it, or dissect it – is in their DNA. It’s in Rihanna sampling Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit 'Wanna Be Starting Somethin’' for her 2007 single 'Please Don’t Stop The Music' when Michael had already sampled the same line from a Cameroonian musician’s song 'Soul Makossa' from 1972. It’s also in Raf Simons' reinvention of the archival Dior Bar Jacket for his debut as the fashion house's creative director. The same goes for the intentionally ironic referencing of retro fashion brands and subcultures in collections by labels like Vetements and Off-White. Christina Aguilera's quick transition from bubblegum pop princess to sexed-up rebel and then glam pin-up girl echoes a similar sentiment. 

Both pop and fashion take on the flavour of their surroundings. In the 60s when The Space Race was all anyone could talk about, designers that were sending mod style down their runways took inspiration from the galaxy in the form of space-age silhouettes and metallic materials. Just before that Mayan apocalypse business went down in 2012, we got a new round of dancefloor anthems about the end of the world (shout outs to Jay Sean and Britney Spears). In line with recent headlines, pop and fashion can be found among the industries leading the resistance against Trump’s problematic presidency and immigration ban. Pop artists like John Legend and Lady Gaga are a testament to this, as is editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth.

These similarities flow from a common trait: open-ended identity. Neither fashion nor pop music are so anchored in their identities that they cannot morph or evolve with the times. It’s an endless game of adding, subtracting and renovating, always embracing change, forever in a state of flux.