Latinx Music Has Lent New Vision to Fashion

The 2020 MTV VMAs, held in August, was the first awards show to attempt an in person component in the strange new normal that is pandemic times — i.e., the first major red carpet the music industry’s biggest names would dress for since the Grammys in January.

For the occasion, Maluma opted for a lemon yellow double-breasted suit by Balmain, which read as relatively standard fare for the Colombian-born 26-year-old, often seen in bright colors, patterns and bold suits. But the suit — which Maluma in fact designed alongside Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing — and its accessories were carefully selected to be both a high fashion statement and an homage to his home country.

The yellow suit was meant to pay tribute to the yellow in Colombia’s flag and “encompass a strong Latin culture,” his stylist Ugo Mozie 3rd says, and the blue used in his ring, necklace and grill was the exact color of blue in the flag.

“One of his favorite colors is blue, and I love the blue that’s in the Colombian flag,” Mozie, who started working with Maluma in January of this year, explains. “So we always reference that same blue when it comes to certain accessories. It’s really in the fine details. He’s so passionate about representing his culture on a global stage. When it comes to his biggest moments, it’s really important for him.”

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Maluma in Balmain at the 2020 MTV VMAs. Courtesy of MTV

Maluma is among the biggest musical acts from Colombia recognized internationally, and he’s made obvious his affinity for fashion, showing up in the front row at shows like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Off-White, and becoming a commodity for major brands to dress and work with along the way. And he’s an example of a Latinx music star who has brought his culture into his clothing.

“The part about Maluma that I was very intrigued about was his authenticity to culture,” says Mozie, who has also styled the likes of Justin Bieber, Travis Scott and the Jonas Brothers. “Within his music, within his brand, everything he does is really so true to his Colombian heritage, his Latin heritage, and I love that. He’s a modern Renaissance man of Colombia who’s really global with everything. He really doesn’t allow his culture to be a boundary in anything. He’s able to bring his culture whether he’s wearing high-fashion clothing or he’s wearing street clothing, and bring a bit of his culture in his day-to-day style both on and off the camera.”

Something similar could be said for Rosalia, a Spanish musician and one of the most watched style stars in music right now. She had a major breakout in the U.S. over the past few years, and has often effortlessly mixed Spanish heritage items and trends with current runway pieces.

“I was really excited to work with her because she just seemed to have a really fresh approach to fashion,” says stylist Samantha Burkhart, who has styled Rosalia for two years. “I really responded to her wearing things from, say, Palomo Spain to Versace, and I really liked the confidence of wearing smaller brands. I think the really cool thing about her, and why she’s such an incredible artist and so many people are excited about her, is that it’s like there’s never really a conversation about it. She’s someone who just incorporates her Spanish culture and heritage into her music. She’s classically trained and she’s very educated and aware of her country’s history and the history of what she does. And so I feel like she just has a really natural relationship with [her heritage].”

Burkhart, who also styles Billie Eilish, says Rosalia never walks into a fitting label-oriented, something she likes about working with her, and the singer has also educated her about the history of Spanish fashion along the way.

“Instead of being a cliché, it’s sort of more just like, ‘Oh, this is something we grew up with and my mother wore,’” she says. “She does love like a mantua or a flamenco fringe or even just like a classic Spanish earring or a matador shoulder. And she really does try to bring these things into what she’s doing in a way that just feels really authentic.”

Sita Abellin, who styles J Balvin, says a love of color was how she and Balvin bonded.

“We became friends and we always had kind of the same taste — all these colorful pieces and all that,” Abellin says. “He really likes fashion.”

Color play is still a large part of what they do together fashion-wise, and she says it’s how they collectively pay homage to his Latinx heritage.

“He wears a lot of color — that reminds me of Colombia,” she says. “His message for me, I translate it to joy and happiness, having fun. And I think that’s what we do when I dress him up.”

Sita Abellan with J Balvin, wearing Dior. 

Lunay, the 20-year-old Puerto Rican rising reggaeton star who has racked up more than a billion views on YouTube with 8.8 million people following along on Instagram, says his approach to fashion is mood-dependent, which is how he chooses the colors he wears, too.

“My style is when I wake up, whatever the vibe that I’m feeling — like today I want to dress in everything black,” he says, over a Zoom call from Miami following rehearsals for an upcoming virtual show. “If the mood is a sunny mood I go more yellow, more orange.”

When it comes to fashion, Lunay looks up to A$AP Rocky as another musician who shirks trends in favor of his own style.

“I want to make my own vision in the fashion industry. That’s it,” Lunay says.

When asked how he incorporates his Latinx heritage into his fashion, he lifts a leg to show off his sneakers with a smile.

“In Puerto Rico, it’s like the dream. We always — Puerto Ricans — we always have to have this on point,” he says of his sneakers, naming Air Force Ones as local favorites.

Another face making waves is Sebastián Yatra, whose sound is more traditional Latin pop versus Lunay’s reggaeton. With more than 12 billion streams and a combined 35 million follower count on his social media and YouTube channels, the 25-year-old Medellin, Colombia-born artist was recently tapped as the host of the Hispanic Heritage Awards, which were shot virtually this year and aired Tuesday on PBS. During the broadcast he also received the “Inspira Award” which was created to honor inspiring young Latinx role models.

Sebastián Yatra 

“It’s a mix between the two cultures, and they’re awards that unite and bring us together,” Yatra says over Zoom of the awards show.

The artist, who has done collaborations with the Jonas Brothers, Halsey, One Republic, Daddy Yankee and more, says he is just starting to get more into fashion.

“I wear different brands. You try to create your own style. And now, in this part of my career, it’s something I want to get into a lot more,” Yatra says. “That’s fun for me, especially entering more of the U.S. market where you have more access to these different brands and designers. Our goal this year was to go to New York Fashion Week and Milan and Paris; with COVID-19 it’s something we’re moving for next year, but it’s definitely a priority for me. It’s something that I want to learn a lot more about.”

The most Latinx thing about the way he dresses, he says, is a preference for having a loosely buttoned shirt (and yes, there was a demonstration via Zoom).

“That’s a very Latin thing. A lot of people, Spanish singers, started doing it as well. But it was something that I did very naturally because of where I come from. Latins were so relaxed all the time. I’m such a free spirit,” he says. “I love wearing whatever represents my heart, and that represents how chill I am and how much love I want to share with people. Things that reflect my personality.”

Julian Rios White was working at The Webster in Miami as a salesperson where he started getting asked to help the teams shopping for J Balvin and Maluma. One day Maluma called him and asked whether he could help style him, and before long White was styling the artist full time, traveling around the world with him. He spent three years with Maluma and now works with Yatra.

“I always feel like once you start working with someone and they’re from the same place or same groups, you have the same values in a way, that’s a plus,” White says.

When it comes to elevating Yatra in the fashion world, White says the aim is to figure out how to blend his rock and rock aesthetic with his Latinx roots.

“I’m taking his style and his view of things — he’s very rock-‘n’-roll-based in his style. He likes this grungy rock-‘n’-roll look. Obviously, we don’t have that much stuff [from the Latinx world]. We don’t have so many artists or bands from the Latin history that were rock bands or that were huge rock artists. Obviously he loves Colombia. He’s very passionate that way when he speaks about Colombia, and we want to keep that. We want everybody to know that he’s from Latin America, in Colombia.…So obviously, if we can work with as many Colombian designers or Latin designers, that would be amazing.”

For emerging electronic artist Ela Minus, who is from Colombia and trained at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, incorporating her roots into her onstage fashion choices as she makes a name for herself in music, is essential.

When Minus started playing solo shows, it was the first time she’d started to think about what she wore onstage and what kind of a message she wanted to send. She sought out dresses, because of the tension it gives off with her music, which is “hard or not so feminine,” she says. “But if you’re wearing really feminine dresses, it’s like, I don’t know. I loved the image of it.”

While shopping in Colombia one day, Minus hit on a store that only sold clothing made by Colombian designers. She fell in love with some of the pieces and reached out to the designers to inquire about working together.

“I always play in the U.S. and Europe, so I love being able to only wear Colombian designers because there’s so much talent and it’s so different,” Minus says. “I love being able to showcase them because I do think they have incredible talent, and I think there’s a big opportunity of people who aren’t from Colombia or Latin America to broaden their scope of what Latin American fashion can be or is now.”

For her, that means wearing more muted, monotone colors like black and white dresses, rather than the colorful prints people tend to associate with Latinx fashion. “I especially like ones that aren’t necessarily evidently Colombian. I’m not wearing colorful, Latin American, more stereotypical [pieces],” she says.

Among the most influential of Latinx artists right now, is Bad Bunny. His stylist, Storm Pablo, works with him exclusively and says Bad has a very strong individual sense of style.

“He has his own fashion sense. And it can be something crazy, like something he wants to do with his hair. It’s all him. If he wants to paint his nails, that’s him,” Pablo says. “I think when it comes to his style, especially now, it’s going much farther than just being fly, and stuff like that. It’s like he’s fighting battles with the way that he dresses. He’s fighting different battles for a lot of different people with the way he looks. And we have fun with it, but also everything we do is very strategic.”

Storm Pablo with Bad Bunny. 

Whenever possible, they try to incorporate Latinx designers, Pablo says, citing their recent shoot in Puerto Rico for a Corona commercial as an example.

“Wherever we are in Puerto Rico and also at all times, we always try to use local Latin designers and really shine light on his people,” Pablo says. “I think that’s something that we really try to do with his culture. Of course we wear everything else. But that’s something that we always try to incorporate into every outfit, whether it be jewelry or it could be one earring. But it’s always got to be in there.”

According to Pablo, Bad loves the emerging Japanese brand Doublet, an LVMH Prize winner, as well as Gucci, “of course.”

“But honestly, as far as brands, besides the whole using Latin designers thing, we don’t really pay attention to it,” Pablo says. “We kind of just go on with whatever feels right. And I think that’s kind of what we do right.…It doesn’t always have to be a big designer or anything like that. It can be someone off of Instagram that has 25 followers. Or it can be someone that has 150,000. It doesn’t really matter to us.”

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