For decades now, merchandise has been essential to the music business, a way for fans to deepen their connection to artists, and for artists to extract more profits from their fans. This has taken many forms, from the parking-lot goodies at Grateful Dead shows to the extreme rock ’n’ roll logos of the 1980s to the bootleg hip-hop T-shirts in the 1990s. Today, merchandise — sometimes made in partnership with actual fashion companies — can be as crucial to a musician’s rise as the music itself.
The past five years have been banner ones for merch. Kanye West revitalized it as a space for experimentation, and more recently, his merch aesthetic has been absorbed into high fashion, thanks largely to the work of the designer Demna Gvasalia at Vetements and Balenciaga.