The Genteel
April 21, 2021


The Rat Pack boasted artist personas informed by their personal style (Source: .

Whether it's the music, the personas, the fashions or a combination thereof, the music industry manages to engage the music consumer on many levels. But far from being solely constructed by the artist and the industry, an artist's persona and style is often largely influenced by audiences. It's a reciprocal relationship, leaving one to wonder which is influencing the other.

Lenny Kravitz in Rick Owens boots

When it comes to an artist's style, some artists are in complete control of both their private and public images, while others yield to their stylists and record labels to create their public and "private" personas. Often enough, however, artists have some input into their styling, and those like Lenny Kravitz began with a stylist but started to style himself as his career progressed. As a starving musician, Kravitz understood the importance of image in breaking into the industry and asked his friend Arianne Phillips - now known for being nominated for an Academy Award for her work on Walk the Line and working with Tom Ford on A Single Man - to be his stylist. With Phillips by his side, Kravitz came into the spotlight with a vintage '70s style that fit his music, but he is now sourcing his own wardrobe and bringing designers like Rick Owens from the street to the stage. Kravitz's choices are personal and high-ticket enough that his label isn't using his style to sell merchandise or certain brands - the majority of his audience probably won't be clamoring to purchase, nevermind afford, his choices. Similarly, artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z consistently wear and write lyrics pertaining to houses like Louis Vuitton, while few of their listeners will ever own such products (albeit, there is a business relationship there, as both own a selection of one-of-a-kind LV pieces and Kanye worked on a shoe line for the brand). There is also a large culture which relies on utilizing the upper-class rich image in a manner which isn't related to what the artists actually own or provide for themselves. Although Kravitz, West and Jay-Z have the means to afford the items they write about, hip-hop's façade of a rich lifestyle in music videos is, often enough, literally rented. Labels pay artists advances upon signing a record deal that go towards video costs (which the artist must pay back), and most of the jewellery, cars, and other status symbols are rented or borrowed. While some artists choose to relay their personal style interests to build their careers, others rely on staging this lifestyle by pretending they are at the same level, yet both groups find increased interest from the public by portraying style in such a way.

During the post-Bogart, Rat Pack era, artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. accentuated their crooner personas by adopting the style of the well-tailored gentleman. Even outside of music and film, Sinatra was respected for his personal style and often gave advice to individuals and columnists on how to compose oneself in a dapper manner. A good example is the postmortem collection of personal anecdotes in The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin' (1997). But the Rat Pack's image was actually one that mirrored Western society's - and by extension, their audiences - expectations of a proper and refined gentleman. Sinatra was an example of an artist whose style was influenced by socially-constructed archetypes such as suits and fedora, although he did add his own take on existing trends (for example, cuffs one inch outside of the suit jacket and a diagonally-tipped fedora). 
Although Kravitz, West and Jay-Z have the means to afford the items they write about, hip-hop's façade of a rich lifestyle in music videos is, often enough, literally rented.

When it comes to clothing labels created by musicians, many artists aren't as closely linked to the end product as the average person is led to believe. While G-Unit Clothing, L.A.M.B., Billionaire Boys Club, and Rocawear were/are owned and operated by musical figureheads (at least in part), brands associated with many pop stars are often subsidiaries of their record labels. Hannah Montana, Stuff by Hilary Duff and Jonas Brothers Watches are owned by their label, Walt Disney Records. The clothing lines are often a part of the artist's contractual obligations. The label leverages a famous name to sell merchandise in line with a performer's perceived lifestyle or image to a target audience at a price point that the basic young listener (or their parents) can afford. In this sense, the industry creates an artist's style and informs listeners on what to wear, despite the fact that the artists themselves may not be involved in product creation.

What about the link between a musician's sponsorship and endorsement of apparel and consumer goods in today's social media age? Digital technology amplifies the effect that artists have on audiences and brands. Platforms such as Twitter allow designers to leverage the perceived image of an artist by instantly access the artist's audience and sell more product. A social media influencer can charge sizable sums for a simple Twitter message; the teams of Justin Bieber and Ludacris can charge over $20,000 for a single endorsed tweet. The surge of online street style photography has resulted in many more musicians inadvertently endorsing brands, thereby increasing the clout (and sales) of a brand without being paid to do so. Designers can instantly make a name for themselves if an artist is photographed wearing their piece on the street, such as Lenny Kravitz's early adoption of the Damir Doma's work.

Kanye West and Louis Vuitton Creative
Director, Marc Jacobs, show off a pair
of Louis Vuitton sneakers designed by West

In the past decade, a new type of stylist has emerged that is bridging style and the music industry. These stylists analyse their client's living and work space, wardrobe, and general lifestyle and provide them with playlists that fit their images. This practice mirrors what stylists and designers have traditionally done for musicians, taking the sound and persona of an artist to create their wardrobe and video/photo set designs. Groups like Muzak, Audiostiles, and Audio Sushi have been around for several years, helping to create the audio identity of music seekers and branding businesses looking to please their clientele with music that represents their physical or web space. Just as some people access visual stylists to help them create a physical image, this new breed of stylists help create the auditory personality, as they further the circular relationship of music and style.

While the music and entertainment industry strongly influences the public, it is important to recognize that the public creates just as many trends which artists pick up. It's a two-way street that furthers the personal and professional style of musicians and the public alike. While big business sometimes co-opts the image of artists to move products, often the artist's personal identity finds an avenue to reveal itself to the public. In doing this, the performer and observer further their relationship in a co-dependent manner that allows both parties to expand their interests and their own styles. 




Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from The Genteel.

About Us

The Genteel unearths the forces shaping global fashion and design through the lens of business, culture, society and best kept secrets. 

More about us

Our Contributors

A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.