As he releases his SS19 Golf Wang collection, we chart the ex-Odd Future rapper’s rise from weirdo LA skate kid to Andy Warhol-wigged IGOR icon
Tyler the Creator first exploded into public consciousness as a founding member of totally wild alternative hip hop collective Odd Future back in the mid-00s, before his debut solo mixtape, Bastard, dropped soon after in 2009. His early music, both what he created as part of Odd Future and when he was out on his own, had a punky, raw, DIY feel to it: a sharp contrast to the excessive, luxe aesthetics of hip hop at the time.
But it was his 2011 music video for his single, “Yonkers”, with its simple, black and white one frame shot of the rapper wearing a five panel Supreme hat and a graphic, short sleeve button up shirt with an oversized beetle crawling over his hand, that brought him the most mainstream attention yet. “Yonkers” went on to win Tyler the Creator Best New Artist at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards and, later that year, a one-record deal for a studio album with XL Recordings.
If “Yonkers” laid down the foundations for Tyler’s taste for the surreal, it also had all the early markers of what is now his impossible-to-miss personal style and his penchant for using clothing to play different characters. But, whether it’s preppy skater, louche grandpa or nightmarish Teddy Boy, every character bears the same cornerstones: kaleidoscopic and outlandish, and always with an element of the absurd.
Here, we chronicle Tyler the Creator’s style evolution and his influence on streetwear: from selling Odd Future merch on LA’s Fairfax Avenue to rocking a peroxide wig outside Buckingham Palace, after Theresa May did the right thing for once and let him back into the UK.
ODD FUTURE SKATER NERD
When Tyler co-founded Odd Future in 2007, merch culture was in its infancy, and Supreme, though a cult underground skater brand, was nowhere near the apex of following it would reach in the late 00s. In both his solo projects and as a member of the Odd Future collective, Tyler’s style channelled an easy California cool, one part punk, one part preppy weirdo skater in single pleat chinos and collegiate short-sleeve button ups.
In 2011, the group opened an Odd Future store on LA’s Fairfax Avenue, around the corner from Vans and Supreme, where LA skaters would hang out. Meaning that, more than just having a group of ready-made fans and ambassadors, the OF line was also heavily influenced by the scene around it. As repped by Tyler and the whole crew, cartoonish prints (graphic donuts were the OF signature) and hoodies with select OF members’ faces printed on them were a staples, and no one, particularly not Tyler, went anywhere without a five-panel cap.
Members of the collective, among them, Frank Ocean, Domo Genesis, Syd (formerly tha Kyd) and Earl Sweatshirt continued to put out solo project – singles, YouTube skits – but what held them together was the aesthetic language established through a shared style, which, looking back, gives the Odd Future scene of the era and Larry Clark-esque wash.
THE GOLF WANG AMBASSADOR
The Odd Future store eventually expanded with Tyler’s own line, Golf Wang, which outlived the shop as OF eventually disbanded. More than just a clothing line, it grew into the pin that held together everything in Tyler’s aesthetic universe, from his album covers to his Camp Flog Gnaw festival. By the time his 2015 album Cherry Bomb dropped, his blend of stoner naivety stirred with a pastel coloured acid trip became the definitive style among the LA hip hop and skate scene, and was in fact beginning to leave its mark on menswear-at-large.
Tyler was, in part, inspired by Pharrell, another polymath with an affinity for candy colours, though it’s around this time he first expressed some signature divisive thoughts on the fashion industry: “I fucking hate fashion and everything about it. I just like making stuff and it happens to be in fucking cotton and, like, materials,” he told Billboard in 2014. Nonetheless, despite himself, Golf Wang grew from merch-adjacent into a bonafide streetwear hit – Supreme’s James Jebbia was an early supporter.
In 2016, Tyler staged a fashion show and live performance in LA, and in 2018 he dropped a collection video featuring longtime friend and sometime collaborator A$AP Rocky and a live lamb. After a controversial break-up from Vans in 2016, Golf Wang has been collaborating with Converse on the Golf Le Fleur trainer, which repeatedly sell out (most recently, it released a limited edition pair for Pride). Not bad for someone who just “make(s) the clothes I want to buy.”
With the release of Tyler’s third album, Flower Boy, came a new area of dressing for the star: not a complete departure from his skater roots, but rather a tailored, more grown up version of it. He seemed to have developed a new taste for suits of all kinds: tailored and floral in the music video for Kali Uchis’ “After the Storm”, and boiler and similarly floral performing with the singer on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), as well as the sweater vests and louche slacks seen as part of his AW18 Golf Wang collection.
He also perfected the socks and sandals combo (mostly simple, white cotton with a classic pair of Tevas), crowned with a Golf Wang collaboration with the cult Japanese kings of orthopedic footwear, Suicoke. “I like dressing like an old man,” he told Fantastic Man in 2018. This new evolution, while it fit into the larger stylescape of fantasy dressing and nerdish sensibilities (championed by the likes of Gucci) also bears Tyler’s signature hand for unexpected tailoring, and comfort, all mixed up with an absurdist edge.
AN ODE TO DENNIS RODMAN
For the 2018 Grammy’s Tyler donned a periwinkle blue coat complete with matching LV scarf, an ushanka and a Dennis Rodman dye job, then was seen a few days later sporting a bottle green suit with a yellow sweater, bucket hat, and bedazzled Chanel brooch. This look solidified a new era of dressing for the rapper, as he outgrew his status as a oddball skater with an outlandish sensibility, into fully fledged style icon. As he graced several best-dressed lists in 2018, it seemed like the menswear world finally took note of what streetwear-obsessives and Tyler-fans already knew: the rapper is a master of dressing for every occasion while always unfailingly managing to look like himself.
The rapper released his latest album, IGOR, in late May 2019, (and caused considerable havoc making his first UK appearance after being banned to enter by then-home secretary Theresa May in 2015, commanding a hopeful crowd to the Bussey Building and then leaving them waiting in a sort of Fyre Festival-lite.) A music video for his single EARFQUAKE was released shortly after the album, with Tyler, clad in a sky-blue fitted suit and peroxide wig, dancing around a TV studio draped in tinsel, as it slowly goes up in flames. With IGOR, a new persona was born: one part Bowie, one part washed-up Elvis impersonator, with an array of candy-coloured suits and a peroxide blonde wig that’s been referred to as “Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson” which is terrifying and, also, sort of true. (Here he is in one memorable Instagram, posing outside Buckingham Palace).
Tyler’s always toyed with expectations of masculinity (though his own relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community was complicated and rumours about his sexuality were unconfirmed). IGOR the album is a contemplative, cross-genre narrative about love and heartbreak, and IGOR the persona is a fitting visual extension to this new era of vulnerability: a softer, more adventurous silhouette, rooted in androgyny – but with all the same offbeat Tyler trademarks. What's next? Stay tuned.