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Brazen, original, poetic: hip-hop’s mark on fashion continues

Nike Air Jordan high top sneakers circa 1985 were one of the items on view at the exhibit ‘Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style.’ — FITNYC.EDU

NEW YORK — As hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, elements of the culture are expected to be on the runway during New York Fashion Week from Sept. 8-13, when American designers will showcase their latest collections.

“Hip-hop fashion is defined by its brazenness, its originality, its verbal symphony. You know, hip-hop is poetry,” said costume designer and entrepreneur June Ambrose, a creative director at Puma.

The global culture — which includes music, dance, and fashion — was born on Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc created continuous breakbeats on two turntables at a party in New York’s Bronx borough.

“The tipping point … was when we started seeing average Joe Blow, white guy with the two kids and the picket fence and the PTA wife, in his Timberlands,” said fashion expert and author Constance White. Rappers adopted the rugged yellow boots, originally designed for blue-collar workers, as streetwear, turning the brand into a style statement.

Earlier this year, the Museum at FIT celebrated hip-hop fashion with an exhibition titled “Fresh, Fly and Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style.” Pieces included large, gold chains known as Dookie chains, door-knocker earrings, and looks from the past and present.

Ms. Ambrose said it has never been about just the clothes, but about disrupting and transforming fashion’s status quo.

“When you see artists like Jay-Z, how he took that baggy jeans silhouette and we added a button-down shirt to it,” elevating the look for consumers, she said.

Ambrose herself created some of the most iconic costumes in many hip-hop music videos in the 1990s, and worked as a stylist to Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and others.

After five decades, luxury and fast-fashion brands are collaborating with hip-hop designers instead of just being inspired by them.

“Us not asking for permission to work with high fashion designers,” Ms. Ambrose said. “We were purchasing, investing in them, and then we were also creating iconic looks and images that they too were influenced by. And we started to kind of realize that we could all live in the same space.”

White said hip-hop’s influence in fashion can be seen from editors and stylists behind the scenes to musicians now serving as designers.

She cited Virgil Abloh, the first Black man to head Louis Vuitton as the creative director for menswear, until his death in 2021. He was succeeded by rapper-music producer Pharrell Williams in February.

“All these are a result of the influence of hip-hop, hip-hop culture, hip-hop fashion. And we don’t necessarily think about that and appreciate it,” White said. — Reuters

Neil Banzuelo

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