Musical eras evolve nearly as swiftly as fashion trends, yet reggaeton is only getting started. A semi-new genre, the Latin American beat effortlessly swept up our world’s entire music industry. Perhaps the extent of your reggaeton expertise is the lyrics to Luis Fonsi’s 2017 mega-hit, “Despacito,” or you’re a seasoned expert on the countless remixes made by Bad Bunny and J Balvin. Either way, a compelling cross-industry explosion of reggaeton culture is upon us.
Reggaeton’s early roots can be traced back to a Latino infusion in classic reggae throughout the ’80s. During the Panama Canal’s construction, a melting pot of Jamaican culture and Latin American customs generated reggae en español. The official term of reggaeton and its inclusion of rap materialized in the ’90s, along with a formula development of 808 drum beats and a tropical dance nature. Puerto Rico and Colombia proudly curate the Latin genre, each developing their own signature lineup of reggaeton stars.
Flashing forward to the digital age, reggaeton’s vibrant aesthetics and often risqué content are blowing up. No members of the niche sector were widespread household names until just recently. Other than the work of classic Latin pop pillars such as Shakira, J.Lo, Ricky Martin, and more, Spanish-speaking music catalogues largely remained within their respective cultures aside from an occasional breakout hit.
But reggaeton has an unstoppable ability to reach every genre of music. Rap? Latin stars have been featured on Akon, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Travis Scott tracks to name a few. Pop? Collaborations with hits by Beyoncé and Justin Bieber have been wildly well-received.
Fashion is reggaeton’s current takeover, more notable than any cross-genre remix. Latino visionaries are finally earning a seat in high fashion. For CRMEN18, J Balvin was the cover star. In April 2021, Maluma collaborated with Balmain to design a limited-edition capsule. Bad Bunny’s eccentric style has inspired the tiny sunglasses obsession and prints-on-prints. The list goes on.
“We were the weird ones, the different ones, with different colors in my hair every time,” J Balvin told CR when addressing his and Bad Bunny’s originality. “It’s the fact that we’re adding something new to it; we’re doing something that wasn’t happening before in the Latino market.” Unconventionality works.
Reggaeton’s timely fashion moment is largely based on rising acceptance of the genre’s limit-pushing elements. Menswear tends to be dimmed by dated expectations of subtlety, and reggaeton is anything but. Songs in the category often include overt sexual references and the not-so-occasional offensive comment, so the fashion often matches. A rainbow of neons, colossal chains, blinding glitter, maximalist accessories, and cartoon-like prints are the recipe to achieving the ideal look. Streetwear on steroids, yet somehow it works.
For his collection with Balmain, Maluma fused reggaeton aesthetics with the luxury brand’s timeless appeal. Designing with Olivier Rousteing directly, Maluma was heavily involved in the artistic process as both muse and co-creator. Though the collaboration began by creating tour outfits, Balmain ended up releasing a capsule that perfectly embodied Maluma’s trademark Miami vibe.
J Balvin has approached his own fashion moments quite similarly. In addition to a CR cover, the Colombian artist was featured as a special guest for Louis Vuitton’s Menswear Fall/Winter 2020 show and boasts multiple design roles with Nike, Guess, and Takashi Murakami. A placement that is unprecedented for Latin artists, which J Balvin recognized himself.
“You know, rappers did this before, with the collabs with Murakami and things like that, but never in the Latino market,” J Balvin told CRMEN. “I was the first one who started working with KAWS on a chain, and with master Takashi Murakami doing the [Colores] album cover . . . just trying to be creative and show different sides of this stereotype that we used to have as Latinos.”
“Vibras,” J Balvin’s extensive reggaeton campaign with Guess in 2019, included a 42-piece ready to wear line that resurrected ’90s Miami. In 2020, another collection titled “Colores” in tandem with his new album was released in June after the initial capsule’s success, including over 100 pieces of womenswear, menswear, and children’s clothing. Instead of the Miami theme, “Colores” drew upon J Balvin’s Colombian roots. Reggaeton sells.
Despite the lacking female representation in reggaeton, certain women have made their own mark on fashion as well. Karol G, known for her myriad of Latin music hits, has the ultimate Miami style topped off by her bright aquamarine hair. Music videos by the star are filled with her eccentric pairings and you guessed it: the reggaeton fashion formula. Maximalism meets streetwear.
But unlike her male counterparts, Karol G’s extent of fashion collaborations is her mini-collection with Kappa, a streetwear brand with not nearly the amount of prestige as European high fashion. Becky G, another cornerstone of reggaeton, has worked with fast fashion giant Pretty Little Thing, but no luxury brands in sight.
Additionally, reggaeton fashion for women is primarily visible through the clothing on male stars’ backup dancers. Which, aligning with their lyrics, is often very sexualized. Women seem to be props for the male stars on stage, only to be affirmed by the costumes selected. Female reggaeton artists are just as prominent in the genre’s space… when will they be at Maluma’s relevance?
One exception to the pattern is Sita Abellan, who is very closely tied to the genre’s scene through her work as a DJ, stylist, and model. Having collaborated with Fendi Vertigo, Loewe, Jeremy Scott, Armani, and more, Abellan’s avant garde style is nothing short of iconic. Especially considering that she is the creative brain behind J Balvin’s fashion.
After meeting J Balvin at Coachella in 2018, Sita became his personal stylist and even now, she refuses to take anyone else on. A total dream team, J Balvin and Sita collaborate for designing collections, award show looks, and public appearances. Singlehandedly transforming fashion and music alike.
Sita Abellan and J Balvin’s relationship is living proof of reggaeton’s fashionable influence. If the pair’s dual accomplishments are any indication of the future, trends will only further embody reggaeton. Though a multitude of style icons and designers are Latinx, a gap remains. Will reggaeton be the unexpected bridge between Latin culture and ethical representation in prestigious fashion spaces?END
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