When, in 2018, Alessandro Michele, then a Gucci designer, met ‘inspired‘ in a bomber that Dapper Dan had designed 10 years earlier, social media rescued the African-American tailor from oblivion and Gucci decided to collaborate with him and reopen his Harlem atelier 25 years after it was shut down by police for infringing intellectual property. Because Dan, since 1982, made his fortune by copying famous logos and emblazoning them on bomber jackets and sweatpants worn by Nas, Missy Elliott, Salt-N-Pepa and other big names in 80s and 90s hip hop. “I don’t dictate fashion, I translate culture”, Dan used to say.
Not only because all that culture around hip hop, from music to fashion, is based on creating the new from sampling or customizing what already exists; also, and above all, because as explained by the journalist Elena Romero, co-author of the book and curator of the exhibition Fresh, fly and fabulous: 50 years of hip hop style (Rizzoli), “when all those people were not welcome in the luxury of Fifth Avenue, he treated them like luxury clients in his workshop”. “Until well into the nineties rappers they dressed as they could because no brand wanted to. The expression Shopping while black (shopping while black), which referred to the surveillance they were subjected to in stores, was very real. Black customers were banned because of the way they dressed,” he continues. In fact, when many of these artists had already achieved the prestige to also be famous among whites, they continued to wear Dan for a matter of values.
In 2018, the same year that Gucci put Dan on the payroll, Ralph Lauren launched the collection Stadium, a capsule of sportswear that was paradoxically similar to the outfit worn in the early 1990s by the Lo Life, a group of Latinos and African-Americans from Crown Heights (Brooklyn) who became famous for buying (or stealing) Ralph Lauren clothes and customizing them at your whim. The Ralph Lauren brand, though founded in the Bronx, represented the opposite, communicating a privileged way of life at a time when white Wall Street yuppies collected multi-zero labels. Until the Lo Life arrived. “I would go around the neighborhood and then I would meet a white kid on Fifth Avenue dressed the same, but he had bought it, and he was wearing it for different reasons,” counted one of the members in a report in The New Yorker of that year.
Dapper Dan and the Lo Life exemplify how hip hop transcended the stereotype of logomania; It was not a matter of accessing certain brands, but rather of turning their symbolic power around, which they could not access due to social prejudices, customizing it, falsifying it and mixing it with Timberland boots, Kangol hats and with garments (hoods, wide pants, slip-on sneakers). ) that referred to the prison uniform or vandalism in the collective imagination. But these are also examples that the global influence of this aesthetic inevitably brought the circle to a close: despite the fact that sports brands had already realized the value of rap among the new generations (the collaboration between Adidas and Run DMC, in 1986, it was the first) the luxury firms that they named in their songs from the beginning continued to turn their backs on them. Until they had no choice but to pay homage to them, although, as Romero points out, “the extremely complex idiosyncrasy of hip hop aesthetics and its evolution continue under a fictitious umbrella called ‘urban fashion’ in which everything fits”. An umbrella with which this industry has made a lot of cash in the last five years.
Now what 50 years of that party are celebrated in a house in the Bronx in 1973 in which rap was born improvised (the DJ, Kool Herc, scratched the record and began to recite the names of the guests to liven things up a bit); Now that the opening of the first major museum dedicated to him in that same district and now, the same year in which a rapper (Pharrell) has become the first musician to be hired as creative director in a large French luxury house (Louis Vuitton), it is worth remembering that complex relationship that this The industry has had and still has what is perhaps the most influential street subculture in the world.
“History has not done a great job recognizing the weight of hip hop in culture, in fashion and in art,” admits Amanda Hajjar, curator of another of the exhibitions that celebrate its half century of life, Conscious, Unconsciousat the Museum of Photography in New York. Hajjar points to the early 1990s as the turning point for hip hop “to become a phenomenon beyond North American shores thanks to the rise of MTV.” It was then, in 1991, that Lagerfeld at Chanel, the epitome of French refinement, showered models with ostentatious jewelry with the brand’s name carved on a plaque (so-called nameplate that they had been using since its inception). In 1996 Gianni Versace invited Tupac Shakur, a new icon of style, to the exclusive party that celebrated his men’s collection, also inspired by style. gangster and, in the same year, Tommy Hilfiger hired Aaliyah as a global image.
“Fashion was caught by surprise by its popularity. In fact, many brands had already been born (Cross Colours, Karl Kani, Ecko…) that despite billing millions had no place in the media or traditional stores, perhaps because of who bought them and who designed them”, says Romero. Hundreds of thousands of young people bought the brands created or worn by their idols, but it wasn’t until 2004 that a black man won a CFDA, the Council of American Designers Award, for the first time. Puff Daddy took it for his brand, Sean John, which had been billing millions for a decade. It has never been taken by an Afro-descendant woman. And that behind the influential suit style that Daddy popularized was his then partner, mass hylton, one of the most powerful stylists on the women’s scene, from Mary J Blige to Lil’ Kim. They were among the first figures to reverse the stereotype of women in said scene, until then reified in countless video clips, in a wake of reappropriation of their bodies and their sexuality that reaches, for example, Cardi B. Another woman, June Ambrose, was responsible for reducing the aggressiveness of the masculine, building the new image of Jay Z or Pharrell himself, whom in the book Fresh, fly and fabulous: 50 years of hip hop style qualify as “the turning point of the new hip hop fashion”, more sweetened, ironic and deconstructed. After 30 years in this, Ambrose is since 2022 the creative director of Puma. We already know Pharrell’s near future.
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