AHHA Fashion: High Fashion and Hip-Hop

When we think of New York’s Olympus Fashion Week, Hip-Hop is probably not the most obvious association. However, as Hip-Hop has influenced every bit of our culture, it is crossing over into the world of high fashion. During Fall 2006 Fashion Week held earlier this month, Hip-Hop was a main staple – whether it was through urban clothing lines, the designers themselves or the choice of music used on the runway.

Over the past few seasons of Olympus Fashion Week, urban style has crept its way into the typical mix of couture such as Oscar De La Renta, classic American prep like Ralph Lauren and high-end sophistication a la Carolina Herrera. This has paved the way for more designers, models and stylists of color to assert their presence in all aspects of the fashion world.

Menswear designer Michael Wesetly is one of the few African-American male designers featured in the tents at Bryant Park. “From Broadway to Runway” was the theme for his show, inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s hit Broadway musical The Color Purple. Although his collection consisted of dress suits, corduroy, velvet and suede jackets combined with floral and striped button-ups, Wesetly insists that it is Hip-Hop inspired.

“The funny thing is that people think Hip-Hop and only put it in one category but Hip-Hop is so very broad. People like to stereotype one type of culture but guys get older and guys ‘button it up’ like Mr. Jay-Z once said,” asserted a laughing Wesetly. “I’m very confident that we can represent both sides of the culture be it Hip-Hop or corporate, because we were go through that stage, but we get older also.”

Other typically Hip-Hop and urban fashion lines are also getting a more grown-up makeover. Jennifer Lopez, best known for her casual and cute J. Lo clothing line full of ubiquitous velour sweat suits, debuted her Fall Sweetface collection – a stylish, mod, retro-inspired line with a more mature feel. She showcased looks for the professional working woman in combinations of black, gray and white with a sassy flair.

On the same vein, LL Cool J, best known in the fashion world for his early ‘90s FUBU line, has evolved into creating The Todd Smith Collection; his debonair line of suits, jackets, slacks, and sophisticated women’s wear. LL explained that he is ready to take Hip-Hop style to the level of Dolce and Gabbana and Prada: “I’ve finally made the natural progression, and I feel like I’m ready to say to the world, ‘You know what? I can make clothes with the best of them.’ I’m sensitive to Hip-Hop culture, but I’m also sensitive to how being associated with certain brands can affect you in the workplace. Being associated with certain brands can taint your image, whether it’s corporate or socially in certain communities, so I’m able to take that sensitivity and design a brand – or influence the design of a brand – that’s respectful to people’s differences, but is still flavor.”

As a leader in the marriage of high fashion and Hip-Hop swagger, Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat was the only urban line premiering in the Bryant Park tents this season – and the show was one of the hottest tickets in town. Heavyweights from music, fashion and media attended for the clothing as well as for the spectacle.

Hip-Hop pioneer and mogul Russell Simmons commented on his wife’s place in Fashion Week and the excitement that surrounds it: “The most fun show of the year – of the last couple of years – has been Baby Phat, so it’s all good. I think the industry shows for themselves, the real buyers are the people who are valued by people, and the celebrity that we create for our brand. The celebrities that come become more important than the editors, the stylists, and the publishers and the buyers.”

Mr. Simmons’ point was evident, as urban music celebrities played a vital part of many Fashion Week shows. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, performed at Catherine Maladrino’s show at the Roseland Ballroom. Destiny’s Child bombshell Kelly Rowland and Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie both strutted in gorgeous red gowns in the music-inspired “Red Dress Collection”, which was sponsored by the American Heart Association to raise awareness of heart disease.

Music is a vital part to any production, particularly among the pageantry and spectacle of Fashion Week. The use of Hip-Hop music expresses a distinct bravado and attitude in a way other genres cannot. Veteran model Tyson Beckford said, “It’s always a question of what music they’ll walk to – it sets the tone and creates the mood to the show.”

Needless to say, Hip-Hop inspired musical themes over the course of the week, and stuffy executives, upscale fashion editors and industry tastemakers were all seen bopping in their seats. Beyonce’s “Check On It” was a favorite across the board, while Lacoste’s entire show was Hip-Hop heavy with an over-sized boombox providing the backdrop for ‘80s Hip-Hop must-haves: bucket hats and high-top sneakers. Baby Phat obviously featured Hip-Hop’s current hits, opening her show with Pitbull and The Ying Yang Twins’ “Shake,” maintaining a sexy vibe with Sean Paul’s “Temperature,” and closing with Young Jeezy’s “Go Crazy.” Michael Wesetly used the sounds of Common and Floetry to accent his fashions.

This blossoming relationship between Hip-Hop and high fashion also opens the door for more models of color to grace the runways and show off their personal urban style. Bre, of America’s Next Top Model Cycle 5, noticed Hip-Hop’s overwhelming presence in her first Fashion Week experience. “If you think about it, everybody is adding a bit of urban into their shows now,” she said. “Whether it’s the chewing of the gum on the runway or posing with confidence, Hip-Hop has really influenced style.”

Model Tracey Nesbitt, who rocked the runway with his super-sized afro, noted how contagious Hip-Hop is among the fashion set. “Hip-Hop is everywhere; to see high fashion with an urban twist is a beautiful thing. It’s showing the world that we can do more than just the baggy and oversized look. It’s personality, it’s innovation – it’s culture with a brilliant twist of art.”

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