EXCLUSIVE: Tinie Tempah styles it out
Here at Esquire, we don't tend to make a habit of referencing rappers when it comes to quintessential style. Let's face it, Kanye's Yeezy Season 2 isn't exactly the stuff made for timeless gentlemanly wardrobes. But British rapper Tinie Tempah is challenging norms in more ways than one.
The dapper 27-year-old rapper from South London, whose real name is Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu (he claims he chose his stage name after flick through a thesauraus when he was 12 years-old and saw "temper" under "angry"; he modified it with "tiny" and the added the misspelling to make it sound less violent), has stormed the music charts since launching his career in 2010.
He currently boasts more number-one UK singles, seven to be exact, than any other rap artist, ever. But rather than opting for the usual street-style uniform of multiple chains and low-hanging crotches, Tinie chose fitted double-breasted suits, bow-ties, sometimes even a cardigan, topped off with thick-rimmed glasses to energetically woo the crowds (and consequently collect awards) for his smash debut single "Pass Out".
Since then, he's become the first rap artist to be named as a London Collections: Men ambassador, and has sat front row, squeezed between the likes of Lewis Hamilton and David Gandy, at the SS16 shows last June.
Blazer and shirt, price on request, both Dior Homme
Coach creative director Stuart Vevers also personally plucked the rising star out to sit front row at his London show this season, and in turn Tinie has been sporting the revived US label on stage.
While no official contract has been exchanged, Tinie makes perfect sense for the urban streetwear brand, even heading to Dubai to play at Coach's ready-to-wear launch party in the region, back in April. It was there that we spent the afternoon with the star.
"My style is a balance between high-end formal and high-end streetwear, and I think Coach represents that perfectly," he tells us at the Jumeriah Al Qasr hotel. It's where he's staying while he's in town and it's also the location for our SS16 fashion shoot, which is rather convenient since he arrives a little late nursing the consequences of a long night at the nightclub, White Dubai.
Leopard print bomber jacket (Dhs6,300) and Sunglasses (Dhs1,050), both Coach
"Coach has always been a high end brand but since Stuart's arrival, he's brought a streetwear element to the collections, which suits me just fine," he tells us once he's brightened up a little.
Tinie has all the swagger of a serious rapper, but it's his big toothy grin, distinct lack of snarl and thoughtful sense of style that makes him stand out.
He's brought a few of his own pieces along, including a floral Gucci blazer that's almost identical to the runway suit our stylist hesitantly hoped he'd be cajoled into wearing. It turns out that no arm twisting was needed for the enthusiastic fashion lover.
Blazer (Dhs11,400), trousers (Dhs6,300) and shirt (Dhs2,000), all Gucci
But it's not only the mega-labels that interest him. "I love raising awareness of young, up-and-coming British designers," he continues over the hum of Kanye West's The Life of Pablo, his choice of sound track for the afternoon. "I love socialising with the other ambassadors and members of the British Fashion Council too. As a musician, fashion plays a big role in what I do and it's great I have the opportunity to develop relationships with designers I'm inspired by - it helps and directs me creatively and artistically."
Art direction is a big part of my career so it's nice that people from the fashion world are taking note of that and celebrating it
The attention to details has not gone unnoticed, and as well as topping the music charts and becoming a fixture on the Fashion Week circuit, his is now a regular name in 'Best Dressed' lists around the world.
"Whenever I used to see those lists as a young Londoner, there were never any young male celebrities - it was always quite mature and you had to be in the fashion world to be considered," he reminisces. "It's nice to be part of the diversity that these lists have now, especially being a young musician. Art direction is a big part of my career, so it's really nice that people from the fashion world are taking note of that and celebrating it."
Silk robe (Dhs5,650), Versace. Ring, his own.
Coming off the back of two successful albums (Disc-Overy in 2010 and Demonstration in 2013) Tinie released the mixtape Junk Food, his third album, filled with collaborations with a host of underground hip-hop and grime artists in December 2015. While the star is yet to announce further albums, he did release a new track, "Girls Like" featuring Swedish singer, Zara Larrson in March, with the video having over 80 million views on YouTube. So what's next?
"I'm happy to have achieved success to the point where I've broken records," he admits, looking back over his rapid career ascent. "But I don't really think about it too much because I like to keep it moving. I'm just happy it's happened in my career."
Is there anyone he'd like to collaborate with in the future that he hasn't already? After all, he can already cross Kelly Rowland, Ellie Goulding, Labrinth, Emeli Sande, Eric Turner, Wiz Khalifa, Swedish House Mafia and Dizzee Rascal off the list. "I know that you're probably asking me about my music, but I'd love to do a collaboration in fashion," he says.
Well, he's certainly got the fashion world's attention, which is a good a start as any.
Blazer (Dhs3,750) and trousers (Dhs2,300), both Coach. Horse-bit loafers (Dhs2,750), Gucci. All Jewellery, his own.
Photography: Vivienne Balla
Styling: Kate Hazell
Location: Jumeirah Al Qasr
Specail thanks: Coach Middle East