Alicia Roache, Staff Reporter
FASHION AND music are inextricably joined at the hip. Musicians rely on fashion to ensure their visibility and appeal in an industry swamped with artistes of equal or better talent. While the fashion industry relies to a large extent on endorsements by musicians to maintain its financial viability in the marketplace. As the cases of many international artistes indicate, popularity and financial success relies less on talent and more on image and appeal.
Artistes such as Li'l Kim, J.Lo and P. Diddy know the importance of image and understand how to market the same. From clothing lines to colognes, these artistes create and capitalise on their popularity with the public.
The concept seems simple, when you look good people like you more. Dancehall diva CéCile affirms the undeniable connection between looking good and being popular.
"Fashion, along with the songs that you sing, is one of the most important aspects of an artiste. In terms of being an artiste, image is everything. It draws people to like you," she reasoned.
Dancehall designer Biggie, who has dressed the 'who's who' of local dancehall, knows about the importance of fashion to music. He agrees with CéCile.
"From ever since it's always been that way," he says. "Music and fashion is really entertainment and presentation, the artistry being in the lyrics and the presentation being the first glance on-stage."
In fact, how an artiste looks on-stage can, and in many cases does, influence his reception and his work, claims Biggie. "When dem look good dem perform more confident," he says. The hardcore dancehall crowd typically responds more wildly to an artiste who dresses more flamboyantly, because the outfit is as much a part of the performance as are the lyrics.
Ninja Man employed the services of designer Renee Luke to direct his image for STING 2003, as a priest. In previous years he appeared dressed as a martial artist (a 'ninja man'), a cowboy and a soldier.
Fashion not only contributes to the general image of an entertainer, but as in the case with Ninja Man, the image he wants to portray on-stage.
In some cases the outfits outlive the artistes' performance and their careers. Pinchers' made chunky jewellery and costume clothing fashionable in the dancehall long before the hip hop artistes coined the term 'bling bling'. Even if his artistic endeavours go unnoticed today, his ostentatious fashion fancy will always be remembered.
With the relationship between fashion and music so irrevocably bound by tradition and practice, it would seem the logical step for local artistes to follow their foreign counterparts down the catwalks, within the glossies and on the billboards that celebrate celebrity style. However, one has yet to see a local artiste develop and launch a clothing line that is uniquely theirs.
The right image is the first step in launching a successful attack at the music and fashion industries. According to Deiwight Peters, the CEO of Saint International, "imaging is critical" to an artiste's career especially as it relates to mass appeal. He should know. Saint has employed the services of well respected image makers to successfully propel the careers of their models on the international scene.
"The value of an artiste is not so much based on the amount of records that they put out," says Peters. "You can image an artiste so that they can command a wider cross section of the mass market," he reasoned.
"It's not just about one section of the market but developing it to a point where it becomes sophisticated enough to appeal to a mass market," he claims. "In terms of what we've done hiring top class stylists, make-up artists and photographers we can create an image that not just the record lovers will like but that the fashion lovers will like as well."
According to Peters, Sean Paul is an example of "the sophisticated way of packaging dancehall.
Steve Wilson, Sean Paul's co-manager and fashion consultant, agrees. "Sean has built a certain image, a unique image. It is not a hip hop image, the jersey and sweat pants, we specifically did not go that route. We did not go totally rock and roll either. It is more hip hop with a Jamaican flavour," he says. "Sean has impacted America with his style already," says a proud Wilson.
He definitely has. "When you get your artiste out there he has to have a certain look," says Wilson. For six months Sean Paul was poster boy for Ecko, an urban streetwear brand.
Also on Peter's list of potential clothing line contestants are reggae music's and dancehall's front runners Shaggy, Damian Marley, Brian and Tony Gold, Red Rat, Wayne Marshall, Elephant Man and Bounty Killer as well as female artistes Jana Bent, Nadine Sutherland and Nadz.
He maintains however that although each of these artistes have the type of look and image that can be successfully marketed in fashion there are certain 'checkpoints' or criteria which must be fulfilled before a level of success can be garnered.
Some have passed those checkpoints while others have not. One such criteria is popularity in the marketplace. Indeed popularity may be the reason for Puma, Germany's sports lifestyle brand, solicited the services of Elephant Man, Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder to promote the line.
Presence in the mass market is a necessary checkpoint for all artistes to pass before they can channel their energies into creating a brand around their image, suggests Peters.In addition, the artiste must be a potential spokesperson for the brand.
"You must be able to articulate. You are going to have to become a part of the PR culture for that brand that you are marketing. You must be able to represent the brand within the public and the mass media," Peters explained.
But as far as local acts are concerned the focus seems to be more on endorsing established brands rather than creating one of their own. The problem it seems, has to do with the cost to the artiste of getting a clothing line on the market."I wouldn't invest in a clothing line yet," says CéCile. "Its too expensive right now."
Shaggy, who says he thought of investing in a clothing line post his mulit-platinum selling album Hot Shots, says he stalled because of the financial uncertainty and artistic sacrifice he would have had to make for it to work.
"At that time the history of it wasn't successful," he said. "It didn't seem feasible back then, the people who have been successful have pretty much put their all into it, Puffy basically runs the Sean John clothing line and Russel Simmons quit music to focus on Phat Farm. These people make music secondary to their clothing line. That's not me and that's not what I wanted to do," he explained. "My career has been led more so by music than anything else."
He sums up why more artistes have not gone the route of launching a clothing line. "The reggae industry has not invested so much money on stylists and image makers for a reggae artiste because it has not been selling as much as it is now." However, he says, "The gate is wide open for a Sean Paul to do a clothing line and be successful at it."