Since the days when Run DMC rapped about their Adidas, hip-hop has featured consumer-driven brand ambassadors who specialized in “fresh” – the genre’s longstanding slang for stylishness.
Even before the rap trio proved that there was money to be made by linking up with the tastemakers to influence the trends, style has been as synonymous as the beats and rhymes since the genre’s inception.
Hip-hop has also had its share of unwitting (and unpaid) advertisers that helped shape the culture through clothing.
“Being in New York, the streets were like runways for all of the fashion brands,” Rapper Nas said in the Sacha Jenkins’ documentary “Fresh Dressed,” which chronicled the history of the intersection of hip-hop and fashion.
The genre itself has gone from what was expected to be a passing fad, to a global multi-billion-dollar industry – with a say on what its broad listener base thinks, speaks and dresses.
“Being fresh is more important than having money,” Kanye West also said in “Fresh Dressed.”
“The entire time I grew up, I only wanted money so I could be fresh.”
With their latest in the Conversation and Cocktails series, The Saint Louis Art Museum will explore how hip-hop became a fashion force next Friday (September 1) with the panel discussion “Hip Hop and Fashion: From the Streets to the Runway,” at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The discussion, a part of the museum’s Conversation and Cocktails series, is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015,” which is on view through Sept. 17.
Rikki Byrd and Jeffrey Q. McCune Jr. will discuss the evolution of hip-hop culture and its impact on fashion, art and ideas of black masculinity.
Byrd, a faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis, is co-editor of the Fashion and Race Syllabus. Her research interests include Black studies, fashion history and cultural studies. McCune is the author of “Sexual Discretion: Black Masculinity and the Politics of Passing,” and he has been featured on the webcast and the television program “Bill Nye Saves the World.” He is an associate professor of African and African-American studies and women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
The panel will also feature Genevieve Cortinovis, the museum’s assistant curator of decorative arts and design and the co-curator of the St. Louis presentation of “Reigning Men.”
Much like the music saturated mainstream popular culture, so went hip-hop in the fashion industry. Stars endorsed their favorite brands. Designers like Karl Kani and Daymond John of FUBU created clothes specifically for the hip-hop community.
Some elite moguls – like Russell Simmons and Sean “Diddy” Combs created their own fashion empires. Simmons’ then-wife Kimora Lee Simmons, a St. Louis native, created the Baby Phat that was the women’s wear response to Russell’s Phat Farm. Rap star Nelly was also in the mix for a while with his Vokal Clothing and Apple Bottoms brands. Kimora Lee Simmons and Nelly enjoyed solid runs considering the “here today, gone later today” pace of trends and fads within the genre – both in the music and beyond.
And while fads have come and gone (Encye, Cross Colours, Rocca Wear to name a few) and the styles are constantly evolving, hip-hop’s overall place in fashion is permanent.
Combs’ proved this nearly 15 years ago when won Council of Fashion Designers of America award for men’s wear designer of the year in 2004.
“For Sean John, if Ralph (Lauren) was doing it, we wanted to do just as good or even better,” Combs said in “Fresh Dressed.”
A rapidly evolving machine, the looks of hip-hop fashion looks as differently today as the music sounds when compared to its origins. Since it was birthed in the Bronx nearly 45 years ago, the ebb and flow of hip-hop and fashion continues. The music inspires the style and the style influences the sound. The lone prerequisite for those who partake is that they keep it fresh.
And the only thing that can be said with certainty as far as what to expect with respect hip-hop-related fashion is that it’s here to stay.