Essays, Fashion, Opinion

The Importance of Creative Directors to Musicians

I came across an interesting article on Billboard recently about how in the digital age, a musician or an artist having a creative director in charge of their branding is more important than ever. This makes sense, especially because being in the social media spotlight can be highly beneficial to an artist and the key to gaining this kudos is by having a clearly defined and well managed brand – something cool for people to look at and aspire to. Branding is everything nowadays whether you like it or not. We all even have a personal brand, even if it is not monetized. If we all have a brand, are we all creative directors? Maybe on a micro-level. An artist needs to hire somebody to direct their brand because it is the most important thing they have, arguably. Songs can blow up and become a summer jam but are easily forgotten about a year later. A brand leads to longevity – something that is vital, and often missing, for musicians today.

So what does a creative director do exactly? To my understanding, a creative director is in charge of how things look overall. A wide, encompassing statement, I know, but I think it all comes down to imagery. Creative directors control the vibe, the style, the look of everything. Whether that be the clothing worn by the artists (acting as a wardrobe stylist, deciding not only tour outfits for on stage but everyday looks in case of candid paparazzi shots or the all-important Instagrams), the style of photography used in Instagram shots or album covers, or the color schemes, products, and locations used in music videos. Anything that you see can be, and is likely, conceptualized by the creative director and brought forward to the artist. That’s not to say that the artist is not in charge of their own style in any way. It is more so that the creative director comes up with ideas and then work with the artist to make something that feels authentic and right for the artist instead of a singleminded vision: a collaboration.

Virgil Abloh and Kanye West

I think the importance of a creative director can be best demonstrated via Kanye West and his longtime collaborator Virgil Abloh, who has become a star in his own right in the past year. Abloh has his own brand (Off-White, formerly operating another brand called Pyrex Vision), he DJs, he hosts events and parties all around the world, and he has degrees in Architecture and Engineering. He’s a smart guy. He’s also partially responsible for keeping Kanye West so relevant as he knows exactly what people want. Abloh has his finger on the pulse and has no problem telling people that he listens to the kids on Tumblr and realizes their spending power and also their knowledge of fashion. No bullshit passes by Tumblr kids, especially the fashion ones (myself included) as we have been given the resource to learn everything online. Abloh understands this and uses it to his advantage. He has taken things that he has found on Tumblr and presented it to West in the past, as mentioned in one of the interviews linked below. It’s no secret that West loves fashion and has tried various times to break into the industry, with his Yeezy line for Adidas being extremely commercially successful but other ventures failing or floundering. West has also found great success in the merch game, perhaps solely starting the trend of people wearing concert merch as fashion items, beginning back on the Yeezus tour in 2013. We hit peak merch in 2016 with the Saint Pablo tour and the trickle-down effect with merch-inspired pieces being sold in fast-fashion stores like Forever 21 (who were accused of copying West multiple times) and Zara. H&M currently sell a range of “band t-shirts” with various rock bands’ graphics printed on them. Everyone jumped onboard – retailers and other artists alike. Now everyone needs to have merch, and to have merch that sells you need a brand. That’s where your creative director comes in.

West is not the only musician with a creative director. In fact, most of the biggest stars in the music world have one right now. The Weeknd has La Mar Taylor, a friend from Toronto who created the now iconic mixtape trilogy covers and continues to manage the artistic outputs. The XO brand, the collective of individuals associated with The Weeknd, has gone from being an underground icon, big on Tumblr with a cult-like following but not yet mainstream, to being an easily recognized symbol that is even tattooed on loyal fans. The Weeknd recently done a collaboration with H&M, featuring shirts with the XO logo prominently posted. That wouldn’t’ve been possible if he didn’t have the brand. Some other stars just have stylists. There’s a difference. A creative director’s role is much bigger, and arguably much more important. I could go on for days and days about this topic because one of the things I love the most in life is seeing how fashion intersects with other industries. In this sense, fashion and music and art all collide into one, and everything, in turn, becomes one commercial product. That’s not to say that art for art’s sake doesn’t remain, it’s just that everything nowadays is monetized. Pure artistic endeavors still exist, but creative direction takes something from that level and makes it something bigger. Something that can help you pay the bills for years to come.

The Weeknd’s brand is XO

Further Reading

“The Secret to Being A Modern Pop Star? A Creative Director Pulling The Strings” – W Magazine, September 2016

“Virgil Abloh: From Pyrex to Paris” – Dazed Digital, 2016

“The Life of (Virgil) Abloh” – GQ, August 2016

“From Kanye to Kings of Leon, Why Artists Need Creative Directors in the Age of Instagram” – Billboard, April 2017

 

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Celebrity & Red Carpet

Nicki Minaj was EMAzing

Nicki Minaj hosted the EMAs (European Music Awards) on 9th November, wearing a grand total of 10 outfits. The award show, intended to be about music but really ended up being more about the stars (it is an MTV production after all), honoured artists in various different categories and saw performances by a selection of artists including Ms Minaj herself. But really, who cared about the music, or awards for that matter, when Nicki was hosting? She is a naturally funny, charismatic woman and, not to mention, stunning. Her outfits at the EMAs were probably the sole reason I kept watching, anticipating a change every time she emerged – and she didn’t disappoint.

I have managed to identify some of the looks that she has worn but others I am unsure of, they may be custom made? Here is a round up of everything that she wore, starting from the very beginning.

  1. Nicki opened the show wearing an sparkle encrusted bustier and a long, ruffled skirt made by Peter Hidalgo whom she has supported on many occasions before. She was suspended from the ceiling, showing off the length and intricate design of the actual skirt which was likely over twice as long as she is. 
  2. Secondly, she wore this beautiful red mini dress, which may be my favourite of the night. It was scalloped with pleated, shell like pieces of fabric to create a ruffled effect. She teamed it up with strappy red heels and a heart shaped cuff. Really, she looked radiant. I loved this. I haven’t yet found out the designer of this dress, so if anybody knows please tell me.
  3. Next up was a floor length black gown which clung to her body in all the right places and just oozed sex appeal. The entire top half was sheer with just a v shape of diamonds covering her up. And as for the dinosaur in the background, the theme of the show was time travel…nicki-minaj-ema-4-1415568930
  4. White hot in Roberto Cavalli, Nicki looked incredible a dress from his Spring 2015 collection, worn by Malaika Firth on the runway. The actual dress on the catwalk was a shade of brown, whereas Nicki’s was white but that is not irregular for colours to be changed for customers. She simply glowed in this look.
  5. The next time Nicki returned to the stage was to perform. Singing an old classic, Super Bass, a new smash, Anaconda and debuting a single off of her upcoming album, Nicki put on a good show. As always, there is lots of dancing and gyrating on the stage so she needed a costume to accomodate this. For her performance she wore a lace, full body catsuit, similar to many that she has worn in the past (which has been identified as from American Apparel but I think this one is slightly different).
    It was so hard to find a photo of this outfit, I apologise that it isn't a very good one

    It was so hard to find a photo of this outfit, I apologise that it isn’t a very good one

     

  6. After her performance, she returned in a geometric Gareth Pugh cape and dress, straight from his Spring 2015 collection (minus the wild headpiece). The print is a bit of an optical illusion so I’m not wild on it but it reminded me a little bit of what Nicki used to wear, when she was more wild and outrageous as opposed to just beautiful and sensual now. PS – the bob with bangs made a return, one of my least favourite Nicki hair styles. Overall, this look was a bit of a miss for me.
  7. Then there was a emerald green sparkling dress that was worn when she attempted to take a selfie more epic than Ellen’s infamous Oscar image. Unfortunately, the photo was ruined by the return of the giant dinosaur so we never really got a good look at it. It is actually mildly difficult to get an image of the dress so apologies for that (seriously, I can only find a gif).
  8. Then it was Alexander Wang’s Spring 2015 tennis dress that made an appearance (the one that is designed to look like a pair of Stan Smith trainers). Nicki wore it for a segment where she played golf because seemingly that is a very Scottish thing to do? Perhaps I have just missed that wave..
  9. Dazzling in Saint Laurent, which I have already posted about in a “Shopping Find” post, Nicki’s final presenting outfit of the night was one that you cannot forget. Covered in sequins to create a leopard print pattern with a risqué hemline, the dress was brilliant. Nicki has worn Saint Laurent often recently and she always manages to make it something completely different than on the runway. Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent girl is rock’n’roll, skinny and smoking (both literally and metaphorically) yet Nicki is the opposite. She is curvaceous and sexy and manages to transform Hedi’s girl into someone a hell of a lot more interesting and relatable on a wider scale.
  10. Last but not least, the after-show outfit. Nicki wore a black dress (which could also be a playsuit, I’m not 100% certain) and an oversized green brocade jacket. I didn’t love this look really, I think the dress/playsuit/whatever didn’t look very well made but that may just be the photos.

So that is it, although that seems like a bit of an understatement. 10 outfits in the space of 2 hours is a pretty big deal, especially since many of the outfits will have cost thousands of dollars a pop (the Saint Laurent dress is $15,900 retail). I guess Nicki doesn’t have to worry about cost-per-wear… Or maybe she was sent outfits/borrowed them for the show? Either way, she looked damn good and made the EMAs really a one woman show. Forget the awards, forget the performances: the truly memorable thing about this show was the host herself.

 

Most images were from mtv.com, style.com or various Google images searches.

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