When we look at the relationship between music and fashion, and the relationship between fashion trends and youth culture, we get a clearer understanding of the times we live in. In this series, Tsuya-chan, the writer behind the article “2010s Analysis: A Look at Trap Music, Fashion Trends, and More,” analyzes current cultural events by examining contemporary music, with a focus on Japanese hip hop.
Previously, she wrote about the possibility of rap music, seen in how agile the word “Gucci” is. This time, Tsuya-chan looks back on how the brand has developed its notion of “sexy” through three of its creative directors post-Tom Ford. Further, she digs into how the word “bitch” in hip hop has changed alongside that.
The term “bitch” has transformed alongside Gucci
In the third part of this series, I explained how Gucci’s agility could also be seen in rap music. Lyricists with a keen ear pick up on such words. If we trace back to 1978, we’re able to observe the following lyrics in “Matsuri no Kekkon,” sung by Hiromi Ota and written by Takashi Matsumoto (included in the Umi ga Naiteru compilation: “The first speech is by Sayoko/A slightly sad Sayoko/It was a fashion craze back then/She carried a Gucci bag.”
Here, Loewe doesn’t work, and nor does Burberry. Prada was in a deep slump during the 70s, so that wouldn’t work either. The only brand that works is Gucci because it fits the short verse and shows that Sayoko has a luxurious and sophisticated leather bag. The flexibility of the brand name paired with its lavish image has been used to add flair to many pop songs and has made Gucci an appealing brand.
I’ve already talked about how the “ch” sound at the end of Gucci creates a flirtatious and vulgar feel before, but one undeniable factor is the intimate relationship between Gucci and the term “bitch.” “Bitch” is often used to rhyme with Gucci in Japanese rap, and the abrasive, bouncy sounds of these words have continued to impact the listener. Simultaneously, it can be said that the meaning of “bitch” in Japan has changed drastically alongside the brand’s evolution. In the same way, Gucci is understood as the colloquial equivalent of “cool,” the traditionally crude term “bitch” is on its way to becoming a common slang word.
What is Gucci’s idea of “sexy,” according to three of its creative directors?
The “dirty” image connected to sexuality is on the verge of transforming. By looking at how Gucci has taken on the theme of sexuality over the years, we could dissect the development of its meaning. When Tom Ford became Gucci’s creative director in 1994, the brand was going through a tough time, but he successfully revived it. He did this by creating a dynamic sex appeal by striking the perfect balance between sophistication and vulgarity. As a result, Gucci became the brand of the moment and gained enormous profits. In Sarah Gay Forden’s book, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, Ford talks about how he pushed the sexy aesthetic to the limit. His creations, often referred to as porno chic, expressed an expensive, physical sexiness between men and women with its visible thong lines, body jewelry, and more.
Gucci appointed Frida Giannini as the creative director from 2005, and she tried to update Gucci’s traditional core values. She also incorporated her idea of “sexy” into the clothes, which had become one value of Gucci since Tom Ford, but instead of the steamy sexiness of Tom Ford’s vision, she channeled a girlier, more youthful feel. Frida Giannini’s touch, from charming accessories that make the heart sing to new fragrances and makeup for women, was light and carefree. This brought about an added value to Gucci.
Today, Gucci has entered a new era of sexy thanks to its current creative director, Alessandro Michele. In his dreamy, fairy-tale world, it’s as though there’s no difference between genders. However, there is hidden dark imagery regarding sexuality there too. We can see this in his 2018-19 AW collection or his 2020 SS Ready-to-Wear collection, where he used bondage/BDSM-related motifs in his accessories. Such motifs are one quietly violent part of his romantic universe. It appears sexuality is only allowed to exist as a metaphor in our increasingly hygienic world, and this repression creates darker, alternative expressions of sexuality. It’s like Michele has reflected that to reality.
The use of “bitch” a la Elle Teresa, Sophiee, and Tohji
In Japanese rap music, the way Gucci is used is changing notably, and so is the meaning of “bitch.” Following the footsteps of American artists that use “bitch” in their songs, Japanese women artists have adopted it too. In Elle Teresa and Sophiee’s song, “KUNOICHI MONEY” (2016), Sophiee says; “The bitch that takes off her Gucci belt/Is me, of course.” The term has traditionally been used as a derogatory insult, but the song reclaims it proudly. This song gained popularity on Tik Tok and spread among young women. From looking at women that playfully show off their Gucci belt, we can tell society is catching up to women that openly celebrate their girly, feminine sexiness, as depicted by Frida Giannini.
Moreover, “bitch” has become a well-used word among men too. For instance, Tohji, who’s arguably the most influential rapper in the Japanese hip hop scene today, released “On my own way” in 2019. In it, he raps: “I ignore those that waste my time/Don’t touch my body, bitch/Bought this Gucci from a cheap place/I am god’s child, yeah bitch, for real/You look lonely, bitch/Making you cry, I’m the bitch/For everything to go well/I need to do what I can.” In 2002, ZEEBRA also used the words “bucchi” (ignore) and Gucci, and Tohji revisited this 17 years later. He went further and added, “bitch,” stating that both he and the person he’s addressing are bitches. Much like Michele’s vision of sexuality, which exists outside of rigid gender roles, Tohji expresses himself similarly. His effortless flow is also akin to Michele’s darker aesthetic.
I would also like to turn your attention to KEIJU’s long-awaited first album, T.A.T.O., which came out this year. Gucci has established its presence even in his music, namely the melancholic number, “Play Fast” featuring Gottz. The lyrics, “I don’t want no friends/I got Gucci on my belt/Run fast, every day is a race/Tattoo everything I don’t want to forget” are rapped against a beautiful backtrack. His sentimental words appear forth like a water-color painting. In this way, Gucci continues to shine in various rap songs.
Why has Gucci become so dominant in hip hop?
One characteristic of Italian fashion is how it tries to incorporate luxury into daily attire. In Gucci Strategy: Miraculous Revitalization Through Brand Innovation (2014), Taro Koyama explains how luxury is “Lusso” in Italian, and that their idea of luxury is closer to “Gusto,” which points to having good taste. He goes on to talk about how Italian good taste isn’t limited to the rich but is also democratic in that people of all creeds could wear such things. One aspect of hip hop culture is boasting about wearing luxurious things daily, and so Italian fashion such as Gucci goes very well with it. That’s why I have no doubt Gucci will continue to add flavor, edge, and color to rap music.
My research on fashion brands that excite people continues. I will direct my gaze to France in the next installment; it’ll be about that legendary fashion house that lost its designer last year.