Introducing Tyler, the Creator, the two-time Grammy-winning artist with exceptional taste in Cartier watches, old-school cars and more
Written by Paul Croughton, Editor-in-Chief and Paige Reddinger, Watch Editor
Style is never dependent upon resources, just as taste isn’t determined by a price tag. The truly stylish, and those with intriguing taste, rarely begin developing their personal aesthetic at the point when their bank balance reflects their success. For Tyler, the Creator, two-time Grammy-winning artist, producer, director, composer and designer, the collecting bug that set in motion the eclectic nature of his passions and career started with, well, Hot Wheels.
“I didn’t play with toys much as a kid,” he says, “but Hot Wheels… was definitely my number one collection. I had probably seven, and some I kept until my teen years.”
Tyler Okonma, as he was known back then, is a professional chameleon. His past several albums have involved creating personas he inhabits for the promotional cycle of the project and then switches out for whatever’s next. His last two releases both won Best Rap Album Grammys and brought him global attention.
Of all the obsessions you see on these pages—many long-lived, some relatively new—music remains his first love. On the days we spend with him in LA, Tyler, 31, is constantly humming, crooning and rhyming. In the past 15 years, he has veered from alt rap to rock to soul and R & B, but always with hip-hop overtones, knowing wordplay and a raised eyebrow. And in the accompanying videos, which he directs himself (as Wolf Haley), he has offered glimpses of an interior world he’s fiercely protective of.
He’s never invited anyone in—until now. “I’m a pretty private dude, so doing this for Robb Report was, like, a big task for me,” he says. So why do it at all? “I think you guys are very tasteful and just cool,” he says. His next response, though, speaks to how he approaches his work and, to an extent, his life.
“I said, ‘F*ck it, I’m going to change all the colours of my cars anyway.’ I might as well get the ill photo of the whole collection, and I might as well show all these cool trunks because who knows, man, something could happen in three years where I try to go bald and become vegan and start a family and I don’t want any of this sh*t anymore. So why not document it while I have the most pride for it, which is the era I’m in right now.”
It’s a one-man concours. While there’s a supercar in there—the McLaren 675LT under the tree—and you’ll spot the obligatory SUV, nothing about this grouping is predictable, whether for a car collector, a musician or whatever is next for Tyler, a mogul-in-waiting. Asked to give his garage an overarching theme, Tyler offers, “Boxy cars, pastel colours.” And it’s clear that this aesthetic is no whim.
“I’ve always liked cars,” he says. “I remember being 11, and I had a toy version of a 550 Maranello Ferrari, and I was so obsessed. And then I turned 15, and I was like, ‘Man, that Golf GTI Volkswagen looks so cool.’ ”
He got his first set of wheels for his 19th birthday. It was “this gross, square-ish Honda Accord. Then I got my [BMW] M3 E92. Frost white, two-door. I loved that car. And then, I always wanted a [BMW] M3, an old-school E30. And once I got that, I saw what a Lancia was. I was like, ‘What is this? This car is cool.’ And once I got into that and understood what that ’80s rally shit was, it was a wrap.”
Tyler had no qualms about changing the colours of his rides, switching out tyres and accessorising. He doesn’t hold with the “keep vintage, vintage” brigade. “That shit is so corny, bro,” he says. “ ‘Oh, it was made this year. Don’t touch it.’ Why would you buy something and not make it yours? People be like, ‘Oh, it still has the original engine.’ I don’t give a f*ck. That engine is slow as hell. Update my shit. I want AC. It’s hot in this car.”
“And f*ck the original paint,” he adds. “Or if you love the original paint, more power to you. But if you want to make it black, and you’re like, ‘But this paint was put on before the internet was made,’ then change it. You bought it. Why not enjoy it? ’Cause you could die tomorrow and be like, ‘Always wanted it black, but everyone on this car forum and message board is going to respect me because I kept the original paint, even though I’m dead.’ ”
Tyler’s collections don’t sit there gathering dust. “I drive most of [the cars] when I can… My Cullinan is my everyday. It’s truly a first-class seat on a plane. But then my BMW—if I had to rob a bank, I would probably use that car. Because I just know it so well, I control it differently. I drift in it, making a little left turn and letting the ass shoot out and stuff, before I go back on the straight.”
While he’s pretty happy with his current lot, there’s always space for one more. Maybe three. “I want a LaFerrari. That’s my dream. Make that shit dark Kelly green. When I get that car, I’m driving eight kilometres per hour everywhere. I want everyone to see me in that vehicle. One day I’ll have a F40. One day I’m going to get the Lamborghini truck, the old one. Jay-Z pulled up on me in one, and I was like, ‘You are a psycho, man.’ ”
Who says fast food isn’t good for you? The unlikely piece that informed Tyler’s current collection of predominantly vintage Cartier was a SpongeBob SquarePants watch he found in a Burger King kid’s meal when he was around 13. “I based a lot of my watch taste just off of how light it feels and how it could be colourful, too,” he says. “It doesn’t always have to be gold and iced-out.” In fact, that’s just not his style. “I’ve seen some cool vintage ones which I really like, but aside from that, I’m just OK with the Cartiers. They bring me joy.”
As was obvious from his willingness to kneel perilously close to the swimming pool’s edge to get the perfect light for this shot, Tyler is decidedly not precious about his precious pieces. “I perform in my watches,” he says. “I’ll jump in the water. I’ll bike with them. I sweat in them.” Like Andy Warhol, he rarely winds most of them, not least that highly covetable Cartier Crash—a watch that became red-hot after being seen on both Kanye West and then Tyler a few years ago—which has never told the right time more than twice a day. “The battery doesn’t work,” he says. “The f*cking strap is sweated through. It’s dirty; it has dents in it. I’m not spending all this money on these things that I claim I like and not enjoying them. I’m living in all of it.”
Each piece is loved for different reasons. Speaking about his striking square-faced, red-strapped Obus—a Cartier from the 1980s he successfully bid on at a live auction in Monaco last year—he likens its oversized blue Roman numerals to a Picasso, saying it looks sketch-like, whereas the strap reminds him of places he has stayed in Rome and Paris. “It’s [like] these super-over-the-top gaudy hotels where it’s lamps everywhere and red velvet, and it’s like, ‘Dude, I just need a bed,’ ” he says. As for his Crash, he loves its references, intended or coincidental, to surrealism, with which he is well versed, reeling off modern adherents Marion Peck and Mark Ryden: “I love these things that are regular, but kind of skewed.”
“I got into magazines pretty heavy,” Tyler says of his teenage years. “Anything with N.E.R.D or Eminem or skateboarding. And because those are three different types of things, it opened my eyes to so many other things. And it just grew.”
He has an extensive library of magazines and coffee table books, ranging from Japanese and British style mags to US hip-hop and street culture titles, vintage newspapers and large-scale monographs on fashion, art and history as well as random subjects such as street style or architecture. For Tyler, the accumulation of knowledge is a pleasure. “I do like learning and having random facts about stuff… I’ve always liked books and [finding] information. I wish more people did that. I wish more people were on the internet sharing information of shit they like and not spending that time talking about, ‘Oh, I’m disappointed in Ron,’ ” he says, referring to some fictional celebrity. “Ignore it and tell us some information, so I can learn from that.” Not a fan of gossip, then. “It’s terrible.”
To explain fully what music means to him, Tyler talks about death. He wants to explore loss—not of life but of opportunity. “I’m not scared of death in itself. What I’m scared of is the music that I won’t get to hear after I’m gone,” he says. “That’s the biggest bummer. Every day I’m on YouTube, scouring, looking, listening, clicking, learning. Like, dude, isn’t it crazy? One of your favourite songs of all time, you haven’t heard yet?” The moment of discovering something new is magical. “Shout out Shazam. Shazam is truly like inhalers, insulin, the internet—like, greatest inventions of all time.” What’s the last track he identified with the app, then? The iPhone comes out. “ Breeze by Stuts. I haven’t listened to it since, ’cause it was in a random restaurant, but it probably had some good chords that I liked.”
The varied selection he picked for the shoot includes Brit acid-jazz group Jamiroquai, trip-hop pioneers Portishead, ’70s French jazz experimentalists Cortex and some classic Stevie Wonder, among others. Tyler is an equal-opportunity listener. “I love music so much, man,” he says. “I mean, I cry to that shit, right? All the time.”
“As much as I love music, I’m not a super snob—yet!—about hi-fi and McIntosh and stuff. But I do have some really nice speakers set up in my room, not too much low end, not too crazy. I listen to most of my music in the car, but sometimes, if an album’s coming out, I’ll invite friends over and we’ll listen to it in the front room, front to back. We don’t speak, we’re not on our phones. And that’s fun.”
“These trunks, I used to throw them in the street as soon as I bought them,” says Tyler, by way of establishing that he isn’t overly delicate with his collection, a theme that runs through our conversations. When he talks about them, though, it’s with a breathy kind of awe. “Sometimes, I’ll just look at this trunk wall and some of these wood canvas boxes, which to some is just luggage, but I’m just looking like, ‘Man, the time they put into this,’ ” he says. Like his cars and bikes, the steamers serve their original purpose. “Anytime I travel, I use these,” he says. “When I played at Something in the Water, Pharrell’s festival, I put all my shit in here—my toothbrush, clothes and boxers.”
His interest in trunks was initially piqued by the colourful prints Takashi Murakami created for Louis Vuitton, and he tried to make his own back in 2014. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when he saw Balenciaga’s colourful, oversized and striped picnic-style laundry bags, that an infatuation began. “I wanted every f*cking colour, but I couldn’t put my computer and stuff inside of it because it wasn’t protecting it,” he says. “So, the first little briefcase I got was a Louis Vuitton one with a taxi on the side, or some bullshit they painted on it. Ever since that moment, I was like, ‘Oh shit, I could fit clothes in this. This is the perfect size and shape. How did they make this?’ Then the obsession started.” Never satisfied with just collecting, he wanted to know everything about their origin. “I dive into that time, and I just get obsessed with the history of it.”
His collection is broad, ranging from vintage to ultra-rare to modern, vibrant pieces he has designed himself. One Vuitton trunk from 1904 still has its ripped label stuck on from when it boarded the Queen Elizabeth in 1949 and is embellished with hand-stitched cotton LV monograms embroidered onto the leather. Another has a blue, green and pink leopard print—Tyler had it made for his Golf Le Fleur fashion label.
Whenever he’s on tour, Tyler goes treasure hunting at antiques stores, but his latest acquisition came after he spotted a guy at Virgil Abloh’s in memoriam Louis Vuitton show in Paris, for which he composed the soundtrack, holding a particularly striking Louis Vuitton carrier. “I’m like, ‘What the f*ck is that?’ ” he says. “I needed it. I had to have it.” But this piece, which looks like the trunk version of his Cartier Crash with its asymmetrical wave shape and blurred monogram LV logos, is proving to be a bit more precious. “I will say, that’s the one trunk I didn’t throw in the middle of the street when I got it.”
Giant daisies, a palm-sized bellhop figurine and a re-creation of his own Igor character face are just a few examples of the gem-encrusted pieces in Tyler’s over-the-top jewellery collection. If his watches feel almost reserved, his neck candy is straight-up in your face: each one a custom creation. Early pieces were made by LA jeweller Ben Baller, but recent designs have been executed by Alex Moss, based in New York City. Both Baller and Moss were tasked with creating the artist’s more outré pieces referencing characters from each of his albums. Caryn Alpert, another LA jeweller, is frequently tapped for Tyler’s less flamboyant pieces—a necklace she created using four of his draft sketches ended up encrusted with large amethysts, sapphires, rubies and diamonds, among many other stones.
His creativity, however, gets more fully expressed in his thematic pieces revolving around previous albums. “You got the Cherry Bomb piece of the face, and then you got the Flower Boy necklace, where I was like, ‘Man, I want a garden. I want to wear a garden on my neck.’ So, I f*cking drew [it] up and figured out like, ‘Oh, I’ll do the bumblebee, and I’ll do the flower, and this and that.’ ” One of his pride-and-joy pieces is the Bunny Hop necklace featuring a yellow-diamond-encrusted bellhop (that alter ego again) holding two pink-sapphire cases that open at their hinges. It hangs from a chain of gem- encrusted “gumballs” and received endless press after he wore it at the BET Hip Hop Awards last year while picking up another gong.
But his collection is as much for his own pleasure as for public consumption. Even the undersides of some of his pieces come decorated. One example: The flipside of his flower necklace spells out “Scum F*ck Flower Boy.” It’s certainly not the kind of thing you would find at any Place Vendôme jeweller. But hey, that’s precisely the point.
Tyler, the Creator is a biker. And like his love affair with cars, this one runs deep: He can recount every bicycle he has had since his mom gave him his first to teach him to ride without training wheels. Mountain bikes, BMX, one that “got stolen from my grandmother’s house. I was bummed,” all the way up to what you see here, just a handful of the two-wheelers in his collection.
“They’re the coolest thing ever to me,” he says. “I love biking. It’s freeing. It’s meditation. It’s a massage. It’s peace. . .Sometimes we’ll do 80 kilometres on the BMX.”
The bike with the basket at the back of the shot is very special. By Louis Vuitton, it’s a collaboration with Tamboite, an artisanal Parisian bike maker established in 1912, and was something Tyler had his eye on for a while and was given—two, actually—after scoring the LV presentation. Because of that, it comes loaded with meaning. “When I rode the bike at the show earlier this year, I was happy,” he recalls. “Because one, just doing it for Virgil. That was a sick moment. Love to that man, for everything he’s done, not just for me but just in general. Two, hearing my music being presented in that way, with the orchestra, is something I’ve always dreamed about, but a lot of people never gave me a chance. So that was a moment. But three, I was on a bike that I wanted. If you see me, I’m just smiling and grinning the whole time.”
This article was first published on Robb Report US