Marcus Paul: The Stylist With a Mission to Make Hip-Hop Move Past Streetwear & Embrace Alt Brands

Aaron Richter
“If you think about it, the hip-hop world is about uniqueness,” says Paul, photographed Aug. 18 at Idol Brooklyn in Brooklyn. He prefers to dress clients in indie brands like By Walid as well as high-end European labels Haider Ackermann and Maison Margiela. 

Sartorial derring-do has long defined hip-hop’s streetwear fashions. But with hoodies and sweatshirts reaching critical mass, a refined take on hip-hop style is emerging. Brooklyn-based men’s stylist and former model Marcus Paul is an evangelist for the movement, taking a polished-is-better approach when dressing stars like LeBron James, Jay Z, Pusha T and Desiigner. “I care about the quality of the garment, which a lot of younger people don’t seem to care about.”

To that end, Paul leans on tailored indie brands and highbrow European labels for the artists he styles.

For Pusha T’s 2015 album Darkest Before Dawn, Paul selected a fitted embellished sweater overcoat by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, whose fabrics and use of color and patterns “are amazing,” says Paul. “I don’t have anything against streetwear, but I’m looking for details and not necessarily brands.” 

If hip-hop long has had a love affair with popular brands, Paul sees this moment as ripe for subtler exploration. “Before, you only had the major [labels]. That’s what people recognized. Now, there’s an openness — I’m looking at designers from Georgia, the country, and South Korea.” One-offs — like those by London-based indie brand By Walid, which Pusha T has worn —are a go-to, too. “If you think about it, the hip-hop world is about uniqueness: ‘I have this first, and it’s a one of one,’ ” says Paul.

 When Paul dressed “Panda” hitmaker Desiigner for the MuchMusic Video Awards in June, he veered the rapper away from “comfortable streetwear” and put him in little-known label Ab [Screenwear]. The fitted jacket with minimalist lines and plastic coating spoke to Paul’s interior design background (he studied it at college: “I know about textiles”). It doesn’t hurt that Desiigner is “the perfect build — sample size,” says Paul.

 While Paul makes modern dandys of hip-hop artists, he’s also exploring new paths. He’s dressing Swedish singer-songwriter Zara Larsson, whose hit “Never Forget You” reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June. For debut TV appearances, Paul has put her in streamlined looks with interesting fabric choices. For MTV’s Video Music Awards
on Aug. 28, where the 18-year-old is nominated for best new artist, he hopes she’ll wear Alexander McQueen but he’ll be happy with any of the European labels he pulled for her. “She looks great in everything!”

Dressing Up the Red Carpet at the VMAs

​Here are three decidedly non-streetwear looks Paul wants to see guys rocking Aug. 28 at Madison Square Garden:

Dries Van Noten, Fall 2016: “This bomber jacket’s beautifully embroidered gold bullion details are stellar. Embroidery is a Dries speciality.”

Faith Connexion, Spring 2017: “An oversize white tweed field jacket with hand-embroidered detailing is classic but with an anarchist vibe. [Designer] Christophe Decarnin’s approach is genderless and revolutionary.”

Saint Laurent, Fall 2016: “This look is unapologetic as it commands attention. [Former Saint Laurent designer] Hedi Slimane captures the edge of a rock n’ roller and translates it into interesting garments.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3 issue of Billboard.