Hip-hop style has fully invaded fashion, and it is glorious.
Kanye West, purveyor of all things cool, fashion icon, proud father of a fashion icon who happens to be a hip-hop star, showcased his collaboration with Adidas during New York Fashion Week this past February.
While it may seem like a seamless transition — a rapper turned fashion designer — it’s a mark of a sharp turn in cultural history. The front row of fashion week now consists of hip-hop royalty, whose presence at the temples of fashion would have seemed implausible decades earlier. Beyonce, Rihanna, Jay Z — they all rub elbows with Anna Wintour, the powerful editor of Vogue.
That’s progress, but it’s also enlightened self-interest. Vogue may need Kanye more than Kanye needs Vogue. Today, hip-hop has become one of the biggest influences in runway trends. High fashion has been channeling street culture even more rapidly than usual, from high-end streetwear seen in Givenchy’s 2012 collection with its 40 oz stars to the renaissance of sneaker brands like Adidas as chic wardrobe staples.
A new documentary, Fresh Dressed, reveals the history of hip-hop culture’s expansion through the lens of its fashion choices and influences. Spanning ages, races and generations, it includes Marc Ecko, experts like André Leon Talley, and rappers like Kanye.
The film’s director, Sacha Jenkins, decided to explore the culture through a sartorial lens.
“Fashion was never used as a medium to talk about [the history of hip-hop], Jenkins toldMashable.
Hip-hop fashion today, according to Jenkins, is “what it has always been: An attitude.”
“Hip-hop is the spirit of something that speaks to a lot of people who have a similar mindset. It’s really about the energy, the internet has made the world small, hip-hop has always been about sampling. It’s how it’s worn as opposed to a particular item of clothing. Guys like Kanye and Pharrell and Jay Z are still very inspired by the energy of hip-hop,” he says.
The documentary traces hip-hop to its inception — the Bronx in the seventies, when DJ Kool Herc began rapping and a cultural movement was ignited. Rapping developed as a direct response to what was occurring in society.
“Fashion is a reflection of the environment that created hip-hop,” says Jenkins. “Inspired by biker culture, films, inspired by Hell’s Angels and other motorcycle groups. The folks…what they wore was a reflection and a reaction to the tough and rugged environment they lived in.”
As seen in the film, there was a lot of emphasis on clothes as a tribal signifier throughout New York City. In addition to being based on gangs, “it was strictly drug culture,” ’80’s hip-hop designer Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day tells Mashable. Street culture began to develop along with New York City communities. Men from Brooklyn dressed a certain way to mark them as separate from people who lived in Harlem. Fashion was, in other words, a utility.
“In the inner city, fashion isn’t really a privilege,” Jenkins says.
Day was one of the first people to make designer clothing available to those on the streets. He would illegally put well known logos onto clothing items as a means of replicating counterfeit goods. Dapper Dan made highly desirable items an option to those that otherwise couldn’t afford it.
“It sent me down a bad road, doing things I shouldn’t have been to get the clothes,” he says. “Until I said, why do I not just sell clothes, and let the end meet itself.”
Besides its extensive popularity, there was something different about hip-hop culture that attracted designers.
“There is a certain energy, a certain looseness, a sort of disinterest of how things are supposed to go that comes from hip-hop,” Jenkins says. “There is so much creative energy that comes from the street or inner city. Some designers and other folks in the media or popular culture have a real admiration from the artists who come from that and a place of struggle. Struggle is universal and people are so enamored with the way African Americans used their creativity to challenge adversity and to maintain this level of pride and dignity.
The growing hip-hop population became a target audience for mainstream designers, thanks to the rise of celebrity rappers.
Run DMC [was] the first black group to cross over and have this mainstream success. [They] dressed like all the kids in their neighborhood.
Run DMC [was] the first black group to cross over and have this mainstream success. [They] dressed like all the kids in their neighborhood. Once Run DMC had this global platform, we started to see the influence of hip-hop fashion,” Jenkins explains.This then caused designers to market their clothing towards prominent rappers and hip-hop artists. The documentary discusses how everyone from Tupac to Nas were sporting well-known designers in ad campaigns.
Hip-hop culture sparked a streetwear movement, first seen in the brand, Stussy, which took luxury brands like Chanel, and played on their logos to create a new way of dress. Today, the Stussy brand, along with other streetwear brands like The Hundreds, Sumpreme, among other, still take cultural references to current events and explores them through apparel.
Then there was hip-hop stars who expanded into the mainstream, like Sean “Diddy” Combs and his Sean John fashion line. It was one of the first times that a rapper successfully transitioned from musician to mainstream designer. a signal that hip-hop was more than just for African Americans, a major coup for music genre, one that would open doors for others, like Kanye West.
“The more risks you take, the more respect you get,” Diddy says in the documentary.
Kanye West created a line with Adidas, Jay Z is the cofounder of Rocawear, and Pharrell has become a fashion icon.
Over the years, hip-hop has managed to bring people together and Jenkins hope that understanding the creation of hip-hop culture and fashion will positively influence those who view his documentary.
“It will help us address a lot of issue that we are still facing today,” he says.
“I felt like fashion would be a great way to tell the hip-hop story, and help people understand where hip-hop came from and hopefully that understanding will cross over to where we are now and hopefully these discussions that come out of the film will help people get to a better place and get us to a place where can not continue to make the same mistakes that were made 40 years ago.”
“Hip-hop influence on fashion is not going anywhere anytime soon.”