From streetwear to red carpets, a new exhibition charts the evolution of hip hop fashion: NPR


Since the birth of hip-hop 50 years ago, the black and brown kids who created and reinvented the culture have always made it a point to dress well.


RUN-DMC: (Rapping) My Adidas walks through the concert doors.


JAY-Z: (Rapping) Now change your clothes and go.


MIGOS: (Rapping) Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace.


CARDI B: (Rapping) It’s red stockings, it’s fucking shoes. Hit the store.

SUMMERS: Today, the biggest fashion houses in the world want to put their outfits on the biggest superstars in the world – the rap artists.


SUMMERS: In the early days of hip-hop in the 1970s, looks could aspire to such cachet but were naturally less glamorous.

ELENA ROMERO: It had a lot to do with socio-economic status, and being able to wear clothes from different brands really depended on how much money you had.

SUMMERS: Elena Romero is a longtime fashion journalist and now a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She is one of the curators of a new exhibition at the FIT Museum. It’s called “Fresh, Fly And Fabulous: 50 Years Of Hip-Hop Style”.


THE SUGARHILL GANG: (Rapping) I said – a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie, to the hip hip hop – you don’t stop.

SUMMERS: And one of the first things you see in this exhibit is an outfit worn by breakdancing legend, b-boy popmaster Fabel.

ELIZABETH WAY: So we’re talking about Lee jeans with permanent pleats on the front, PRO-Ked sneakers, belt buckle with Fabel on the buckle. We have this beautiful fine knit sweater and wearing this white cap. It also includes leather gloves that he danced in.

SUMMERS: This is Elizabeth Way, fashion historian and co-curator of FIT. Inside the exhibit, models sport dozens of outfits stacked on two-tier scaffolding. But between limited-edition sneakers and Cardi B’s dazzling nails, Way and Romero point out that early hip-hop pioneers found clever and relatively affordable ways to stand out, like personalized belt buckles or chunky laces, which brings us to Dapper Dan.


ROMERO: Well, anyone, if they were going to get a custom outfit, would go to Harlem to this 24/7 store where you can have your unique outfit made. by Dapper Dan. The logos he used at the time were the luxury, haute couture brands – Gucci, Louis Vuitton, MCM. But the problem was that these weren’t styles we would have seen on the runway or in your local department stores. It’s something he created. In other words, he borrowed the logos of luxury brands and incorporated them into his original designs. It gave them a sense of luxury, wealth and status. Early artists to wear them would include LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa.


SALT-N-PEPA: (Rapping) Maybe the shirt I’m wearing is low-cut. My jeans fit me well. He shows my butt. Designer from head to toe. Oh, my hair, my neck and my fingers are crazy glowing.

ROMERO: Growing up, we watched Robin Leach, “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous.” And that gave us a glimpse of what the wealth would achieve.

SUMMERS: It’s that ambitious nature you’re talking about.

ROMERO: Very ambitious. So we went from seeing it on television, thinking it was far-reaching, to now our celebrities, these hip-hop personalities, were doing exactly the things that we thought we could never do.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Rapping) How to catch a groove. It’s your thing.

SUMMERS: If in the beginning, hip-hop artists dressed ambitiously, the fashion brands they represented, or in some cases contraband, were forced to pay attention to.


KELLY PRICE: (singing) I don’t know what they want from me.

SUMMERS: In the 90s, hip-hop was popping up everywhere. It was on MTV worldwide. And the musicians now had a grip. And the growth of hip-hop also presented opportunities for black-owned businesses and designers, some of whom came from music themselves. An all-black outfit catches my eye with slim-fit pants, shiny black shoes, and a cropped bolero-style jacket with fur on a crisp button. It’s from musician-turned-mogul Diddy, also known as Sean Combs.


SEAN COMBS: (Rapping) Say my name, come on. The D, the I, the D, the D, the Y. The D, the I, D. It’s Diddy.

SUMMERS: So tell us about this outfit. It’s Sean John, isn’t it?

WAY: Yes. So Sean John is a really important brand because I think that brand has done more than any other to marry this idea of ​​hip-hop and mainstream fashion. And Sean Combs was the first color designer to win the CFDA award for design, the first black designer. And this piece is part of a catwalk collection that included all black designs. So he did a lot to change the mainstream fashion industry on 7th Avenue from that very stereotypical style that mainstream fashion looked at when they thought of hip-hop fashion.

ROMERO: What Sean did was not to name his brand in particular after a record company or a band, but rather to take his personal name, which is quite risky, but at the same time brilliant because what he does demonstrates his personal style and swagger. to a mainstream international audience.


MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I’m that – yeah. That was it – again that…

SUMMERS: At one end of the exhibit is a row of full glamorous outfits. These red carpet looks are a far cry from the streetwear of 50 years ago.


MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I’m way too exclusive. I don’t shop on Insta’ shops. All these little clothes are only suitable for fake slippers.

SUMMERS: I don’t think we can leave that without talking about this amazing metallic dress here. These almost look like delicate leaves or feathers on this very structured shoulder. And there’s a sequined bralette, and there’s exposed hips on the side. This is clearly worn by someone with curves.

WAY: Here’s Megan Thee Stallion’s dress she wore to the Met Gala. She came as a guest of Jeremy Scott, the creator of Moschino. So Moschino custom made this dress for her. And she opened up about how much she really wanted to celebrate her body, her figure, her success and her stature as a black woman. We can therefore see how hip-hop artists have become celebrities of choice for these very fashionable and very glamorous events. Hip-hop artists are the avant-garde icons that drive fashion forward.


LIZZO: (Rapping) That’s exactly how I feel. That is exactly what I feel. That is exactly what I feel.

SUMMERS: One of the things that strikes me is that, for you two, this feels like an incredibly personal collection. I mean, I wonder if each of you could talk a bit about what it means to you to be the curator of this collection and that the world can soon see it and take it in.

WAY: Well, what’s important to me is that we think about what American style is, what American fashion is, and hip-hop is so integral to that story. I think sometimes it gets overlooked. So it’s very important to me that people come to this exhibition and realize how much hip-hop has affected the way they personally dress and all the looks they see around them.

ROMERO: Hip-hop fashion is real fashion. I think for so long it’s been downplayed because it’s casual, it’s denim, and because it comes from the world of youth. So many young black and brown people from marginalized communities because of what they wear, how they wear it. And above all, it’s not just men’s fashion. Women have always been and will continue to be part of this fashion heritage. And today, it is women who are the muses of the most luxurious designers in the world.

SUMMERS: I just want to thank you for giving us a glimpse of space. And congratulations on an amazing collection.

MEDIUM: Thank you very much.

ROMERO: Thank you. And this is just a peak, so you have to come back to see it all in its entirety.

SUMMERS: Absolutely.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing) Hey yeah – I wanna shoop, baby. Chop.

SUMMERS: It was Elena Romero and Elizabeth Way, co-curators of the new exhibit at the FIT Museum in New York. It’s called “Fresh, Fly, And Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip-Hop Style.” The exhibition opens today.


PEPA: (Rapping) Here I go, I go, I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Men. Okay then, chillin’, chillin’, mind my business, word. Yo, Salt, I looked around, and I couldn’t believe it. I swear I watched my niece my witness.

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