Sicko Mode: The Destructive Force Of Travis Scott

The Washington Post called him “the maestro directing the chaos”. After this year’s Astroworld mahem, Travis Scott will forever be linked to the death of some of his rabid fans. Who would remember his connection to the world of fashion? Do we want to?

Warning: this post contains language and descriptions some readers might find offensive

Nike has made the first move, but Dior has largely kept mum. In the wake of the Astroworld tragedy, it is doubtful that Travis Scott’s very name can still move merchandise, massively. But his fashion collaborators seem to prefer to wait and see. Nike held on for more than a week before announcing that their collaboration with Mr Scott’s Cactus Jack brand on the Air Max 1 will be postponed “out of respect for everyone impacted by the tragic events at the Astroworld Festival”, according to a corporate statement issued on its SKRS app a few days ago. Delaying the launch is not canning it. At the moment, it is known that Nike has some ten styles in the works with Mr Scott. That is a staggering amount to do with a single fellow, without counting those already released and sold out, a sell-through situation no brand can resist. How long more does the owner of Air Max intend to wait is not known.

Also in with Nike’s now-troubled partnership is Japan’s Fragment Design. As we have noted before, collaborations these days can consist of three brands (or more), not just two. To triple the allure of the initial pairing, Fragment Design joined Nike and Travis Scott three months ago to reimagine not only the Air Jordan 1, but also to put out a three-piece apparel collection (that was, as expected, sold out), which Nike described as one “that satisfies the ‘rule of three’”. Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment Design has not issued a statement with regards to his past pairing with Mr Scott or future partnerships. His association with the rapper now under investigation, it seems, would not be severely affected as Fragment Design is still associated with credible, fashion-forward brands such as Sacai.

But perhaps the label that has to really deal with the increasing ignominy of the rapper is Dior. Hitherto, the LVMH super brand has not uttered a word about what has happened, nor the pal of Mr Scott, Kim Jones. It is known that Mr Jones had conceived the spring/summer 2021 collection almost entirely to benefit from Travis Scotts’s fame, more as a consumer rather than designer of fashion. In fact, the collab was dubbed Cactus Jack Dior, after the rapper’s own Cactus Jack Foundation. The first drop will likely appear next month, but would it have any pull? There is no doubt that, there would be those shoppers who will still bite not matter how contentious the sale of such a collaboration would be. The question is, how would Dior play down the fact they paired with a performer whose concert reportedly resulted in the death of nine people and who apparently went on singing even when attendees were screaming for the show to be stopped? Or is it too late in the progression of the production of the line to stop now? According to a WWD report two days ago, Dior is merely “evaluating the situation”.

It is often said that Travis Scott’s style “is as popular as his music”, admired globally, but no one can say with certainty that his talent in design is tantamount to that of his music

Dior’s predicament, if it sees itself in one, does open the postern into the persistent creative pair-ups between luxury brands and mega-successful stars that frequently ditch true design for brazen hype. It is often said that Travis Scott’s style “is as popular as his music”, admired globally, but no one can say with certainty that his talent in design is tantamount to that of his music. Or, that he understands what it takes to put a piece of clothing—any—together. The ability to dress himself in some semblance of what is deemed fashion overrides practical ability or manual dexterity. Popularity alone is often enough for brands to want to be associated him, from Bape to Saint Laurent. The merchandise, one Gen-Z fan described on Quora, “goes higher and higher in value just like brands like Supreme. Our generation loves that. We love status symbols.” That Travis Scott is a “status symbol by which the social standing of the possessor of his goods could be derived/assessed is not unusual—even if staggering—when consumers are eager to surrender to the power and prevarication of social media influence.

Mr Scott’s status in fashion is so lofty that collaborator Nike would even allow him to tamper with the Swoosh, a trademark so entrenched in popular consciousness that it would normally be considered sacrilegious to meddle with. In the Air Jordan 1 and the Air Max 1, to name just two, the Swoosh is placed as a mirror image on the sides of the shoes—the longer, narrower end does not emerge from the heel notch, close to the collar. While no Tinker Hatfield, he was able to have leeway to do as he pleases. It did not occur to Nike that it could perhaps be more convincing if he were to create a totally new silhouette, like mentor Kanye West has with the Yeezys. Could that be indication that Travis Scott has scant design flair?

Most alluring for both fans and some members of the media is his personal style. Last year, Esquire called him “a tastemaker par excellence second to none”. The taste, CR Fashion Book wrote, “typically features vintage t-shirts, denim, baseball cap, relaxed joggers, oversized jackets with bold brands like the Louis Vuitton LV logo or bright colors like pink and Nike sneakers”. Esquire also stated that Mr Scott “tends to stick to a few variations on the same theme when it comes to getting dressed, at least casually”. How all that is sufficient to allow him to be a trendsetter or dip his hands in the process of design is not clear. As the Rolling Stones correctly noted, “for close to a decade, Travis Scott has carefully positioned himself squarely at the center of hype”. He barely traipses into the unconventional, let alone groundbreaking. For sure, no dresses/skirts of A$AP Rocky or Andre 3000 for him. At the 2019 “Camp” Met Gala, he skipped the theme entirely, appearing in a brown Dior top and pants, with what appeared to be military webbing. Camp? Perhaps to those going from Ah Boys to Men.

From left to right: Cactus Jack Dior spring/summer 2022, Nike X Travis Scott X Fragment T-shirt, and Nike X Travis Scott Air Max 270 ‘Cactus Trails’. Photos: Respective brands

Although Mr Scott is known to encourage reckless behaviours during his performances and has, in fact, faced two charges before the Dior show in June for “disorderly conduct”, the French house did not see that their star collaborator’s brush with the law would be problematic or a blemish to their impeccable couture suits. In 2015, Mr Scott had allegedly urged his unthinking fans to climb over barricades at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, leading the repetitive shout, “we want rage”. According to media reports, the scene was so tumultuous that the police had to detain the rapper after just five minutes into his performance, but he fled. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charges. In 2017, during a concert in Arkansas, he again encouraged “rage”—so rapidly it escalated that the police accused him of “inciting a riot”. Just weeks after that, one of his concerts in Manhattan was said to be so riotous that a fan fell off a balcony and was left paralyzed after suffering a fractured vertebrae. Mr Scott was often quoted saying in past performances, “it’s not a show until someone passes out”. Does that apply to the fashion he peddles? Is raging and the resultant injuries, if not death, compatible with the culture of clothes?

Despite his disturbing track record, no one anticipated the tragedy of Astroworld. Earlier that fateful day, before the 500,000 concert goers stormed the NRG Park, Mr Scott released a single ironically called Escape Plan in which he rapped, “but wait, it opened gates and this shit just start paradin’, olé (Let’s go)”. While we are not certain what “it” refers to, the rest of the sentence seems to preempt the disaster that struck Astroworld. As much as this is considered a hackneyed view, rap music does seem to laud destructive behaviour. Mr Scott’s own lyrics don’t negate violence and such. In the 2018 release Sicko Mode, Drake used the expression to introduce his friend in the song: “Young La Flame, he in sicko mode”. The phrase, it is believed, refers to the rager mentality that Mr Scott encourages (his fans are known as “sickos”), with clear consequence now. But more than that, death was suggested too: “And they chokin’, man, know the crackers wish it was a noose”.

Born Jacques Bermon Webster II, Travis (also TRavi$) Scott and his rap contemporaries make and break in equal measure. However, some, such as Mr Scott, just more destructively than others. Stars are cancelled for saying and doing stupid things, but he, for whom inciting his fans to “free the rage” characterise him as a performer, is often lauded. In fact, after the Arkansas drama in 2017, he dropped a T-shirt on his website with those three words printed on the back. Unsurprisingly, they sold out. Now ensconced in his Houston “retreat”, Mr Scott seems to be waiting for the rage of the community to abate. How did he, a college dropout, become this powerful? Not that much, in fact, is known about him other than the rebelliousness with a rock-star stance that seems to have served him in good stead. Uncontrollable is a credo, a virtue, a merit. But, if social media is to be believed, many are now ready to denounce the unstoppable rager-rapper. Is Dior, then, brave enough to douse La Flame? And rip out Cactus Jack?

Illustration and collage: Just So

Travis Scott: Before This Shoe Drops

La Flame’s latest collaboration with Nike is overshadowed by the shocking deaths at his concert in Texas. But it won’t be doused

Three days ago, reports appeared that this Nike X Travis Scott Air Max 1 will launch in the middle of next month. The autumnal colours are expected to be a hit for this iteration of the Nike classic, as sneakerheads are also drawn to the impertinent mirror image of the Swoosh on the side of the shoe. Before Nike could even list the sneaks on their SNKR site, a tragedy related to Mr Scott unfolded in Houston, Texas earlier today (evening, US time). At the music event Astroworld Festival, the headlining show of Mr Scott, also the event organizer, saw an attendance of 50,000 people swarm the sold out mega-show, according to CNN. Tragedy struck past 9pm when ardent concert-goers who thronged the stage, surged forward, crushing people in the front. At least eight have been reported dead, with scores of people injured, including a child believed to be aged 10.

Initial reports stated that even before the deadly crush, attendees “were rushing through a VIP entrance, knocking metal detectors and sometimes other people” earlier, as CNN described. Videos shared online showed near-stampede: people dashed forward impetuously, with the same determination to get ahead as those waiting behind doors of stores on the eve of Thanksgiving to be the first to take advantage of the Black Friday sales. There were already reports of injury (even fights) during this early part of the annual music Festival. It is not certain what the rush was for or if the concert had already started and these people were late.

Travis Scott stopping his performance. Screen grab: CNN

According to the BBC, Mr Scott had “stopped multiple times during his 75-minute performance” when he saw the potentially devastating crush. He had also asked the security to help. But, things escalated too quickly and the emergency resources were, according to local police, “overwhelmed”. Netizens, however, thought that the rapper did not do enough. Many believed that he should have halted his performance altogether after seeing even the slightest problem. Why did he allow the show to go on for that long (this excludes the “30-minute countdown” before the appeared on stage during which the pushing already intensified)”? Videos started appearing on social media showing the audience chanting “stop the show”(one even revealed a young woman climbing up to a platform on which a crew or cameraman was standing and saying the same thing), but the consumate performer continued to sing and urged his audience to make the “earth shake”, as reported by Reuters. Others blamed the ongoing pandemic: “people were desperate to live again”, one commentator wrote on Facebook.

As more of what happened came to light, attention, too, was drawn to Mr Scott’s own record of ensuring safety when it comes to the unruly audience in his concerts. Back in 2015, the rapper was arrested and charged with “disorderly conduct” after he encouraged attendees of Lollapalooza (another music fest) to “climb over security barricades and storm the stage”, according to Rolling Stone. The father of Kylie Jenner’s daughter Stormi further incited the crowd with chants of “we want rage”. He was again arrested after a 2017 Arkansas concert when that “rage” was also vehemently encouraged. In his 2018 song Stargazing, which referenced Astroworld, he even rapped, “it ain’t a mosh pit if it aint’t injuries”(his mosh pit, according to Forbes, is “a febrile atmosphere Scott stoked from the stage”), adding, “I got ’em stage divin’ out the nosebleeds”. In rap speak, the highest seats in a stadium are referred to as the nose bleed sections. His fans—he calls them “ragers”—would jump from these elevations and literally suffer from nose bleeds. It is also possible that he was referencing a New York City show when a fan was pushed off a three-story balcony—he was paralysed.

Kim Jones and Travis Scott in a publicity photo shared by Mr Jones after the Dior menswear spring/summer 2022 show in June. Photo: mrkimjones/Instagram

It is hard to say how this latest “mass casualty incident”, as authorities have called it, will impact the many fashion-related products with Travis Scott’s name stamped on them that will be up for grabs. As of now, the Air Jordan 1 Low that came from the Nike X Travis Scott X Fragment trinity in August—“the collaboration to end all collaborations, according to Highsnobiety—is asking for more than USD2,000 in the resale market, a staggering 100 times more than the original retail price of USD150. Hip-hop stars have become far too powerful, not just through the music they make, but also the wide range of ridiculously hyped products linked to them, never mind the controversy they have stirred. We are not referring only to concert merchandise. Apart from the ongoing collaboration with Nike, Mr Scott has also paired with Dior, an upgrade and a highlight of his fashion career. He gratefully referred to Mr Jones on Instagram as “my bro 5 (sic) life”.

In fact, his tie-ups with popular brands go back to 2016 when his name appeared atop A Bathing Ape in the limited-edition pieces of Baby Milo tees. In fact, they span the high- and low-brow—last year’s with McDonald’s being the more accessible. While fashion folks are divided over whether there is truly a wow factor to his personal style, or whether he’s a taste-maker or a hype-maker, Travis Scott—“one of rap’s most ambitious figures”, as The New York Times described him—is doing everything to put himself up there, god-like, so that devotees, unable to be satiated by sneakers and such, can bask in his mighty presence—only this time, deadly. Are fans no longer able to tell the difference between scoring kicks and getting kicked? Or, must the show, amid people dying, really go on?

Updated: 7 November 2021, 8am

Product photo: Nike. Photo illustration: Just So

Music Cred To Boost Whatever That Needs Boosting

Dior has enlisted Travis Scott for input. Is Kim Jones showing off just how well connected he is?

Why do it alone when you can do it with someone else? Serial collaborator Kim Jones is at it again. Just fresh off a design partnership with Sacai, he has paired with Travis Scott to give the hip-hop star, considered one of the most stylish of them all, a jab at designing luxury clothes. Mr Jones’s Dior is increasingly a community club for people he appreciates to come and lend their voices. Many are not from fashion, but the art world. Sacai’s Chitose Abe was the second fashion professional after Shaw Stussy (the collabs with Alyx and Yoon Ahn yielded only accessories) to be invited. Ms Abe is considered a mountain of a talent and will soon present her debut haute couture for Jean Paul Gaultier, yet she was asked to collaborate on a 57-piece, off-season capsule Dior collection. Mr Scott, whose fashion talents are as a “style icon”, with a “cool wardrobe” and prolific drops in sneakers and other streetwear items linked to his name, gets to do the main line of a main season.

It is not likely Travis Scott’s input is the same as Chitose Abe’s, yet the Dior spring/summer collection features him as their star collaborator. For those in doubt of Mr Travis’s skill level (admittedly we are among the many; we still are), Dior released a video clip on Instagram, showing La Flame working (er, looks to us he was struggling) at a sewing machine. But that perhaps doesn’t matter as fans of the brand and the man would likely find that cute. What matters is the name—also the father of Kylie Jenner’s daughter (we do not know if the parents are married or if they are even together). Perhaps, just as importantly is Mr Scott’s standing as a fashionista and a fashion impresario. The collab is known as Cactus Jack Dior, so named because of the support to youngsters that Mr Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation, a spin-off of his Cactus Jack Records (there is also a books division Cactus Jack Publishing), offers to those seeking fashion education. There were initial problems with the use of the Cactus Jack name—even the WWE tried to stop it being trademarked as the professional wrestler Mick Foley shares the same (nick)name—but Dior presses on with the association.

The image that the cactus often brings to mind is a desert, and it is in this (make-believe) setting that Dior’s show was staged. (Arid lands are themselves a recurrent set theme this menswear season.) This desert tableau is, according to the house, to “celebrate” Christian Dior’s first visit, in 1947, to the United States, where his first port of call was Texas (Mr Scott is Texan!), “whose grand canyons and huge dusty deserts made a lasting impression”. But the runway now isn’t quite that arenaceous vastness; it is prettified—to better frame what pre-show publicity had the media called a “blockbuster collaboration”. Everything is oversized: the desert roses, the cacti (naturally), fungi and a cattle skeleton head. So is the star power. Following the show, the press called it “the first major celebrity fashion moment”. The clothes? Just watch what Travis Scott wears!

In a 2017 interview with GQ Australia to promote his collaboration with the Aussie brand Ksubi, Mr Scott said, “I’m not like a fashion designer, but (the output of the collab) is like a piece of my brain.” In all likelihood, fashion for surviving the desert is the furthest from the designing duo’s minds. It is not immediately clear what is Mr Scott’s contribution to the partnership (other than the graphics such as the cartoonish Dior logotype), but styling tricks are more apparent than disruptive designs. Recurrent are the jackets, worn with the peaked-lapels upturned to reveal their bi-coloured underside. Other lapel shapes are given similar treatment so that the look is near-Edwardian primness and slimness. The lapels, with the left over the right, are held up together with brooches, designed by Dior’s resident jewellery designer Victoire de Castellane, that are attached to a chain and secured to the left ear, just like an Indian nose chain, except fastened to a spot on the jacket just below the collarbone. Every model in such a get-up looks affected. More dressed down are the oversized T-shirts, pulled over tailored looks (lapels worn conventionally), like a teen mistakenly wearing a concert tee instead of a sweater, over a suit instead of under. There are, of course, sweaters, but what their specific place is in fashion, set in a desert is not quite clear.

Not to be left out are the feminine silhouettes seen elsewhere during these past fashion weeks. Floaty poncho-shirts with busy scribbles by American artist George Condo, bell-bottom pants and those that could be unzipped from the hem of the outseams to give a wider leg opening, and layered shorts that could give the impression of skirts at a quick glance keep to the overall mood of the moment. Accessories are similarly less mannish. Apart from the jewellery (and whatever those sparkly danglies swinging from belt loops are), there are the getting-smaller-by-each-season bags (is the man bag still of popular usage?). For once the Saddle bag—now even with a saddle handle!—seems be to be set in the right context. Giddy-up! This is perhaps a cross-border triumph of inclusivity for Dior: a British designer collaborating with an African-American designer from Texas. The brand has a Black-creative ally. At last.

Photos: Dior