Long before Jay Z rapped on fashion designer Tom Ford, Pharrell Williams pitched for Chanel or Kanye West was front row at Givenchy, kids customized denim jackets with spray paint and accessorized toed Adidas shoes. seashell with starched laces.
Hip-hop fashion, which originated from the music scene, has become a global business and pop culture phenomenon which is explored in “Fresh Dressed”, Sacha Jenkins’ new film which opens on Friday.
The film is a fun and colorful album with references ranging from Little Richard to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and interviews with rap artists, designers and executives such as Williams, West, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kid ‘n’ Play, Nas (one of the film’s producers), Damon Dash, Jeff Tweedy, Riccardo Tisci and many more.
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“In the world of hip-hop, fashion is a language,” said Jenkins, 43. “But I also wanted people to understand the climate and the environment that created hip-hop.”
It traces the roots of hip-hop fashion to New York City in the 1970s when, against a backdrop of racial and economic tensions similar to those making headlines today, gangs customized their jackets and jeans to forge an outlaw look.
“The Bronx was burnt out, the education system was screwed up and all these gangs were scolding,” says Jenkins, a longtime hip-hop columnist who created his first zine (on graffiti art) when he was not. as a teenager and is currently the Creative Director of Mass Appeal magazine. “It was an aggressive world and the clothes were very aggressive.”
In the 1980s, the oxen were tuned to the microphone by rap. “Fresh” has evolved to mean fresh out of the box dressing, brand new and perfectly crumpled. “Being fresh is more important than having money,” West says in the film. “The whole time I was growing up I just wanted money so that I could be fresh.”
“It makes you think about the importance in the downtown area for others to understand that what you are wearing is brand new,” Jenkins says.
The film highlights hip-hop fashion pioneer Dapper Dan, the Harlem haberdasher known for creating crazy custom looks with allover logos from Gucci and Louis Vuitton. (“Dapper Dan’s was Tom Ford before Tom Ford,” Nas says.) The Shirt Kings, who airbrushed crack-smoking Mickey Mouse t-shirt designs and more, are also featured.
As rap began to permeate pop culture, artists developed a more accessible style, which was broadcast worldwide in magazines and on MTV. “[Hip-hop artists] dressed like street kids dressed, not like Grandmaster Flash or Parliament-Funkadelic, ”Jenkins explains. “Run DMC’s ‘you guys’ style was comfortable and accessible. And once hip-hop became accessible, fashion became accessible and spread like wildfire.
Rappers looked to old school status labels like Vuitton, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger until African-American entrepreneurs created their own lines in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These included FUBU from Daymond John in New York and Cross Colors by Carl Jones and Karl Kani by Carl Williams, both in LA. Music moguls Dash, Combs, Russell Simmons and Jay Z followed suit, and urban fashion became a behemoth of the multi-million dollar brand.
Loose pants and bucket hats became mainstream when LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and Biggie Smalls wore them. “Until then, no one was making clothes for this contingent,” Jenkins says.
Hip-hop fashion also spilled over to the catwalks, influencing countless high-end designers and spawning its own successes. In 2004, the Sean John line from Combs won the Council of Fashion Designers of America Men’s Fashion Award. The public school, designed by alumni Sean John Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, won the same award in 2013.
And yet, today’s rappers seem more interested in promoting luxury brands than their own local labels. In 2013, ASAP Rocky rapped “Rick Owens, Raf Simons usually what I wear”, and Jay Z is more associated with Tom Ford than the Rocawear label he created with Dash.
“Kanye, Jay Z, Pharrell, the worlds they travel in are far from housing projects,” Jenkins explains. “I wanted to make a movie that… got people thinking about how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. Why is it so important for inner city kids to wear and own brand name clothes they can’t pronounce? Because they feel marginalized and there is a lack of opportunities and they feel that clothes can make a difference.
“Fresh Dressed” opens at Laemmle NoHo and is available anytime at freshdressedmovie.com.