Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead

A spotlight shines on British Roadman style this year, with London grime artists now influencing the fashion lines of some of the most famous music moguls Stateside

Drake’s new fashion venture, OVO (October’s Very Own), with it’s all-over logo repeat prints and slim-cut tracksuits, channels what is known in London street slang as Roadman style: the aspirational sportswear of London’s council estates, inner cities and suburbs. Following the successful launch of stores in New York and Toronto, a Soho branch of OVO will open in London later on this year.

The last Drake album, or ‘playlist’, features guest verses from UK grime stars such as Giggs, Sampha and Santan Dave. Drake is also a member of the UK grime collective BBK (Boy Better Know), and has bought the rights to Top Boy, a gritty crime drama set in Hackney starring Ashley Walters (formerly Asher D of So Solid Crew). OVO is the latest chapter in his ongoing love affair with all things London, which has included, bizarrely, getting a tattoo of the Stone Island logo – the designer label being synonymous with Roadman style.

US hip-hop’s love affair with London’s urban music and fashion was writ large during Kanye West’s 2015 Brit Awards performance, in which a posse of London grime artists – dressed in black and toting flame-throwers – formed a mob on stage to perform his track All Day. Like a grime version of an installation by Vanessa Beecroft, with whom West regularly collaborates for fashion shows, the performance demonstrated that London was now on the radar of the world’s biggest hip-hop stars.

West, of course, has his own fashion line, Yeezy, featuring sports- and military- inspired pieces cut in loose, oversized silhouettes, in neutral tones. While the likes of Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, Gucci Mane and Travis Scott have all put their names to urban brand collaborations of late, West fancies himself a bona fide designer, and since Yeezy’s debut at Paris Fashion Week seven years ago, West has established his fashion presence. Despite a lukewarm reception from critics, West has remained characteristically unfazed. ‘When I’m sitting there at a fashion show, I’m there because I appreciate Phoebe Philo, I appreciate Raf Simons, I appreciate Riccardo Tisci. I look at them as my peers, as creative people who dedicate their entire life to making something better for the world,’ he explained in a BBC Radio 1 interview.

‘The reason sports-casual style is hot right now is that it merged with music – specifically 90s garage and now London grime. The music takes it worldwide’ DJ Kish Kash

Meanwhile, London’s very own hip-hop star, Tinie Tempah, launched his What We Wear fashion line earlier this year at London Fashion Week Men’s. The collection consists primarily of athleisure wear rendered in clean-cut lines, a loose silhouette and a minimal colour palette of blue, black and white. Tinie Tempah is one of the first British artists to launch a fashion line and is offering the kind of outfits his fans can wear to the gym and to his gigs. Natch.

Hot on his heels is UK grime sensation Skepta, who playfully teased Instagram followers with posts revealing key items from his new clothing line Mains before its launch at Selfridges in July. The first piece he unveiled – an olive green tracksuit – is the one he wore to the 2016 British Fashion Awards.

Today’s urban sportswear trend – combining grime chic and high fashion – is perhaps the most significant style movement to emerge from London since the Mod scene of the 1950s and 60s. The origins of the look can be traced back to the early 80s, both on this side of the pond and Stateside. But whereas in American street culture, sportswear as a fashion statement has always been linked to hip-hop, the UK’s sports-luxe aesthetic was largely confined to football terraces – where fans paraded the latest European sportswear labels such as Lacoste and Sergio Tacchini.

In the US, hip-hop transcended seamlessly into fashion, with rappers such as Jay Z and Puff Daddy creating multi-million dollar clothing brands (Rocawear and Sean John, respectively). In the UK, however, terrace sportswear style was never aligned to a particular genre of music. But with the advent of grime, everything changed and now American rappers are co-opting British sportswear chic in a big way.

And the Roadman-inspired look is rapidly gaining popularity in the US, as evidenced by UK streetwear label Palace, which references terrace style in its T-shirts, tracksuits and cagoules, opening a new store in New York in May this year. Meanwhile American label Supreme, closely associated with New York’s skate and hip-hop cultures, has started collaborating with European labels such as Stone Island and Aquascutum.

While sports-inspired style has been popular for decades, it has never been so explicitly ‘fashionable’ before – so why now? ‘Sportswear in general has become more relevant to people’s lives because we’re all into looking good and going to the gym,’ says Kish Kash, a hip-hop DJ – and London’s most prolific trainer collector. ‘But the reason sports-casual style is hot right now is because it merged with music, specifically with black music scenes – such as garage in the 90s and now London grime. The music gives it the extra stickiness to make it go worldwide.’

With the likes of Drake and Kanye taking their cues from the UK’s Roadman style, sportswear-as-fashion is firmly back on the sartorial map – and without a football shirt in sight.

  • Words: Alf Tong

  • Photography: Alamy, Rex, @skeptagram