Reminiscing about clothes that shaped hip-hop

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Reminiscing about clothes that shaped hip-hop
Beau McCall at the Fresh, Fly, Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip-Hop Style opening, at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Feb. 7, 2023. A proud crowd of hip-hop style pioneers gathered to toast the opening of an exhibit that celebrates the history and evolution of hip-hop fashion. (Krista Schlueter/The New York Times)

by Alex Vadukul

NEW YORK, NY.- A proud crowd of hip-hop style pioneers gathered at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology on Tuesday night to toast the opening of a show that celebrates the history and evolution of hip-hop fashion. The exhibition, “Fresh, Fly, Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style,” documents the fashion genre’s humble origins from its beginnings in the Bronx borough of New York City in the early 1970s to its crossover into the mainstream as a dominant and lucrative international force.

The guest list was filled with early streetwear designers, old-school rappers, graffiti artists and hip-hop historians. Visitors sipped Champagne while a DJ played retro hits like “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. (The late rapper’s son, C.J. Wallace, was in attendance.) The mood was triumphant: No one disputes the Timberland boot’s enduring influence on street fashion, but it’s another thing entirely to see one trapped beneath a museum display case. Other pieces included an Adidas tracksuit, Lee jeans, Kangol caps and jackets tailored by Dapper Dan. When the Harlem haberdasher himself arrived at the event wearing a red blazer and hat, he could barely walk through the exhibition, getting accosted for selfies at every turn.

The show (which is accompanied by a Rizzoli Electa book) was curated by Elizabeth Way and Elena Romero. “Fashion is the original sixth element of hip-hop,” Romero said. “Aspirations become a reality through what we wear. From nameplates to chains, it’s a way of being seen, and wearing the right clothes is a way to announce yourself to the world.”

We asked attendees to name pieces — and coveted items dubbed grails — that they believe have contributed to hip-hop fashion history and to share who they think is carrying the torch for hip-hop style today.

Interviews were edited.

Dapper Dan

Q: What do you consider an important and historic hip-hop fashion grail?

A: Back in the day, you’d come to Dapper Dan, and the height of being accomplished was having the snorkel jacket. The snorkel is eternal. It showed that you had arrived at the top.

Q: Who is carrying the torch for hip-hop fashion today?

A: ASAP Rocky. He doesn’t even need to have another hit. He is the swaggiest.

April Walker

Q: What’s an iconic hip-hop fashion piece?

A: The Carhartt jacket. It’s timeless and will still be timeless years from now. It’s work wear but it’s also fashion, function and fit. You can dress it up and dress it down. It tells a story beautifully.

Q: Thoughts on a significant hip-hop fashion crossover moment?

A: For me it’s a personal one: when Mike Tyson walked out into a fight wearing Walker Wear and my work as a designer suddenly graced a heavyweight boxing ring — he and I are both Brooklyn cats.

Misa Hylton

Q: What do you consider a historic hip-hop fashion grail?

A: The Louis Vuitton snorkel coat by Dapper Dan. It captures the aspirational epitome of hip-hop.

Q: Who is carrying the torch for hip-hop fashion today?

A: I love Teyana Taylor’s style because it’s tomboy-chic rooted in hip-hop. I like how she plays with gender and feminizes the masculine nature of hip-hop. I also like Flo Milli. She’s a beautiful chocolate queen who embraces femininity in new ways that pay homage to women in hip-hop who came before her.

Beau McCall

Q: What’s an iconic hip-hop fashion piece?

A: The Timberland boot. Long before it became popular, my brother owned a pair, and no one even knew what they were. It was just a work boot. A couple years later, hip-hop grabbed onto the Timberland, and it became the ultimate fashion statement in the hood.

Q: Thoughts on a significant crossover moment?

A: Foxy Brown appeared in a Calvin Klein ad on the SoHo billboard in the 1990s. I went down to SoHo just to see that billboard. She was causing traffic.

Peter “Souleo” Wright

Q: Who do you consider a hip-hop style pioneer?

A: Queen Latifah’s Afrocentric style. It’s important because she was celebrating the African diaspora and our lineage and she helped bring that into hip-hop. That was new to me when I was a kid and it made me want to learn more about my history.

Sola Olosunde

Q: What do you consider a historic hip-hop fashion piece?

A: It’s recent, but I’d say the dress that Young Thug wore on the cover of “Jeffery.” He defied gender norms in a space where gender norms are pretty enforced. There’s an idea of hyper-masculinity in hip-hop and wearing that dress and umbrella hat went against those norms.

Q: Anyone you’d like to shout out?

A: Doja Cat. She provokes conversation in what she wears. She makes herself into a spectacle. And that’s needed because rappers aren’t as out there anymore. They’re not as original as they used to be with their style.

C.J. Wallace

Q: Thoughts on a historic hip-hop fashion piece?

A: The Versace shades that my dad used to wear. It’s just an iconic piece. It came to symbolize hip-hop for me when I was growing up as a kid.

Q: Do you have a shout out?

A: Sober Yung Walter. He’s always pushing it. He’s the coolest guy pushing the boundaries right now.

Kid Freeze

Q: What do you think is an iconic hip-hop fashion piece?

A: The nameplate. When you went into clubs with one, people saw it. You were going as yourself. It was a way of putting significance on your own name. Showing who you are.

Q: Thoughts on a significant crossover moment?

A: When the Dynamic Rockers battled the Rock Steady Crew. It was the first big break dancing battle and it happened in the early 1980s at Lincoln Center. I was in the Dynamic Rockers.

General Steele

Q: Thoughts on a hip-hop style grail?

A: I’m biased, but for me, it would be the Helly Hansen I wore in the Smif-N-Wessun music video for “Wrekonize.” We shot it in my neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn and all I can think of is the little kids who were so excited to see me wearing it. The fashion was electrifying, fabulous and aspirational to them.

Q: What about a significant crossover moment?

A: For me, that would be the success of Slick Rick. He gave us the format of what to wear, from Gucci to Polo cologne. He was giving us game early.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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