Startling as it is, hip-hop is half a century old, and the mass culture appropriation of its sound, as well as its look, has made it a pivotal narrative of both American and global culture. The syncopation between fashion and hip-hop is just as old, and the number of hip-hop songs that centralize style are endless: think "Met Gala" by Gucci Mane ft. Offset and "Freakum Dress" by Beyonce. To say that hip-hop stars have sported iconic looks is itself a redundant statement, but it is a thesis that the Museum at FIT proves in its newly-launched exhibit "Fresh, Fly & Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style".
Curated by Elena Romero, assistant professor of Advertising and Marketing Communications, FIT, and Elizabeth Way, associate curator of Costume, the exhibit looks at the aspirational component inherent in hip-hop for artists to one day flaunt designer labels like Versace, Gucci and Louis Vitton, while also championing their own brands, such as Baby Phat and Rocawear. It also unpacks what it meant for Sean Combs to win Menswear Designer of the Year in 2004, and how important it is that Rihanna's own label, Savage X Fenty, has taken the fashion world by storm, with its all-inclusive models and sizes.
Featured in the exhibit is Puma by Rhianna, a parachute jacket ensemble in a soft, peony pink. This look, circa 2017, originated when Rihanna imagined what Marie Antoinette's hypothetical gym outfit would look like. FIT features one of these cotton candy athletic creations, which helped establish the singer as a leader of her own label and burgeoning empire, setting a hip-hop standard where the pretty-and-punk aesthetic synchronized itself to the music.
The 8-ball jacket became its own phenomenon, with the 8-ball symbolizing winning, risk and fortune, tropes interlocked with hip-hop themes and storylines. Specifically, the museum spotlights the Michael Hoban 8-ball leather jacket. While Hoban had a clientele extending to rockers of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Cher, his stardom had a meteoric rise in the 1990s when the 8-ball motif appeared in music videos and on the streets.
In 1985, the Swoosh branded sneakers took inspiration from Michael Jordan and his airborne athleticism. The wings logo signified the Air Jordan 3 and has since "stamped spikes likened to Derek Jeter, game jerseys for the Detroit Pistons, and non-licensed novelties like jewelry and bumper stickers" The shoes also epitomize the crossover appeal between hip-hop and sports, an embryonic relationship that seems to have always existed.
The song 'Dapper Dan', written by Lew Brown and Albert Von Tilzner gave rise to the slang term, which signifies an individual who is snazzy, spiffy and who owns the nightlife. In 1987, the Dapper Dan of Harlem, bomber-style print jacket was made famous by the likes of L.L. Cool J. When he wore the Gucci-printed Dapper Dan jacket, it signaled a seismic cultural change in the demarcations of fashion by inexplicably linking the worlds of luxury with hip-hop. Since the 80s, Dapper Day has been an icon unto himself, his Harlem atelier being homebase for luxury designs that have shaped the world of music.
The FIT exhibit is a reminder of Dapper Dan's influence and how, in 2017, there was an outcry against Gucci following accusations that the house copied the OG look, appropriating it without acknowledging the master.
The exhibit promises a walk down memory lane plus a cultural music infusion that, in the words of the exhibit, emphasizes how, even after "a century, hip-hop is still pushing boundaries, though now, it is not from the outside, but the center."
~ Erin Moonyeen Haley
Images courtesy of FIT