Russell Simmons: Styling The Urban Graduate And Beyond

 

Without a doubt,

Russell Simmons has set out to raise the bar in all of his endeavors. In many

cases, he’s set the bar so high in the music, fashion and community outreach

that few can attain his level of success.

 

He took the Phat Farm

and Baby Phat brands to the top of the streetwear fashion game, and while his

companies grew, he realized that his core consumer was also growing up. He made

some career transitions, and although it looked as though he’d moved on from

Phat Farm, he was actually making a new plan. These days, the mogul is enjoying

the fruits of his labor in an unconventional way… by working more!

 

With the new Argyle

Culture and Atman lines on the come-up; the Baby Phat, Phat Farm and Simmons

Jewelry Company brands still evolving; and the new American Classics line on

the way, there’s just no stopping his groove. We took some time out of Russell

Simmons’ busy day to get the scoop on his ever-fascinating fashion business.

 

AllHipHop.com: With

Argyle Culture you’ve coined the term “urban graduate.” Can you explain what

that term means to you?

 

Russell Simmons: Well,

the urban graduate is a term because billions of dollars have been made in the

clothing business in “urban” clothing. We always had this idea that our

audience would grow up, but it’s very difficult to take the name Phat Farm and

put it in the men’s department.

 

Even if a lot of the first consumers have

grown, 17 years later it still has a youthful [connotation], and I’m not that

youthful. My spirit sometimes is, but it’s what I design that speaks to my gut,

it makes me comfortable and it’s in Macy’s in the men’s department. It’s the

first time I’ve had a men’s buyer come to my office, he came and bought, we had

tremendous sell through.

 

There’s a void, the

urban graduate is not being served. Those that grew up with Hip-Hop are not

necessarily growing into Ralph, they grow into their own brands in this case.

 

AllHipHop.com: You’ve

set a lot of trends in Hip-Hop attire over the years and your consumer has

grown up. How would you like Hip-Hop culture now to be inspired by Argyle

Culture?

 

Russell Simmons: I just

think that we have to keep evolving all the time, if it fits then wear it, if

it doesn’t… A lot of people I think see it. There’s another brand I have,

American Classics, and I’m going to announce shortly about its distribution. It’s

a dramatic shift for a lot of people and for our brand in terms of the way it’s

distributed and what it turns into.

 

My fashion business has

been completely transitioned. I just had Atman and them opening a store. The

name Atman means higher self, I’m wearing these jeans now with an ohm symbol on

the back and t-shirt has a Lakshmi on it, although you can barely tell. It’s organic

cotton and kind of pricy but it’s inspired by the Deities, Lakshmi, the Images,

the Seven Chakras. So it’s kind of a fun denim company, but it’s a contemporary

jean line and the fabrics are very expensive.

The American Design

Group is my company, we have Atman which is the spiritual company, Argyle

Culture, the Simmons Jewelry company, and American Classics by Russell Simmons.

American Classics by Russell Simmons will be for a mainstream department store,

I can say that much. It will be huge distribution, and the first year

predictions are dramatic.

 

That idea is kind of

like dressing America – some of the designs we worked so hard to get is not

really available everywhere. We need to make sure that everybody can get to it,

and that’s what American Classics is about. Our restructuring of our fashion

company has taken us not that long, but it’s been in the works for years and

now it’s really starting. We’re opening the Atman store within the next month

and opening one in Canada as well.

 

AllHipHop.com: Are you

doing that with each brand?

 

Russell Simmons: No,

American Classics has its distribution. Argyle Culture is almost exclusively in

Macy’s now. Atman is a contemporary jean store, so it’ll sell to those who buy

a lot of the competitive contemporary brands.

 

AllHipHop.com: What type of brand loyalty are you hoping for with

Argyle and any of your other brands, and are you hoping that your older Phat

Farm crowd comes along with you for that journey?

 

Russell Simmons: Well,

with Phat Farm I still have the same economic interest in it for the next four

years, and I always will love that brand, so I’m hoping that Baby Phat and Phat

Farm will just keep growing. Overall, internationally there’s still growth and

it’s kind of incredible when you see the decline in urban business in general,

but Baby Phat is growing all over the world as is Phat Farm.

 

I hope that they can

figure out how to re-position the men’s brand in America. I think it’s tough

for everybody if you look at any of the urban companies, they’re not doing what

they were. That’s the reality – I think it’s generational to some degree. [As

for] Argyle Culture, our people have outgrown Phat Farm already – people just

don’t wear it anymore. It’s an urban brand, but it’s a young urban brand.

 

It’s funny, my number

one selling sweater this season is an argyle vest. A cardigan sweater vest with

argyle, that’s not something I could ever sell with the name Phat Farm on it. I

thought it would be nice, but I didn’t think it would sell just because of my

experience making something kind of like that before – all my vests also, the

golf sweaters, the argyle sweaters, the oxford shirts, the khaki pants, the

classic American ideas. They have a little twist. Those are things that I made

for my other brands but they didn’t sell. Now they sell like crazy.

 

We’re probably the

hottest brand in Macy’s. To be the hottest brand in Macy’s with this classic

American idea is a dream, because although I wore them, they brought more

aggressive younger ideas from Phat Farm. No matter how much I grew and some of

our audience grew, the company was difficult to grow and change. It had a

certain image and following, and sometimes new people join, but sometimes some

people leave – and those are the people that I believe are following us into

Argyle Culture.

 

AllHipHop.com: Are you

finding that when people buy a vest they’re buying two or three to get the

different color palettes?

 

Russell Simmons: I know

one thing, the vest that we used in our first season’s ads sold out in days in

every color. I don’t know if they bought more than one, but it sold out in

days. I couldn’t believe it… so they wanted that argyle vest. But this season

that cardigan is the epitome of the brand. When you take it that far to make a

cardigan, it’s not what’s in style – it’s what’s in style for our core

consumer. That’s a special thing.

 

AllHipHop.com: With the

Simmons Jewelry line, you’re still working a lot of different angles. Last year

you had the Green campaign…

 

Russell Simmons: That

green bracelet is still growing, we wrote a check the other day for another

$360,000 to the school from the bracelet. I believe that’s nice, and we’ve

raised millions of dollars from the support of the De Beers and Oppenheimer

family, and they just now played another commercial about the Diamond

Empowerment Fund which will be run.

So, there’s a lot of

work that’s being done to set up this idea, but I wanna raise that whole $35

million for this school, and were at three or four million now but we need to

raise the rest. If I sold a million bracelets, that would do it. I don’t see

why I can’t sell a million, every place I look I see somebody wearing them.

 

During Fashion Week I saw

all these people wearing the green bracelet, I see all these people wearing the

bracelet and the money just came from the last few months of selling. The

bracelet just ht the store, and I think it takes time to translate from the

celebrities of Beverly Hills to the Zales and Fortunoffs and Kays and Gordons.

 

There’s a whole bunch

of other stuff [aside from the green bracelet] obviously which is not for

charity, but the green initiative is what I believe brings our company to the

forefront of that business where no one of color is. We’re alone. I’m the

keynote speaker at the JCK convention which is the jewelry convention in Las

Vegas. There won’t be a person of color in the room but me – maybe the

ambassador for Botswana, which is the number one diamond producing country,

other than that nobody’s Black.

 

I want to bring more

people into the industry and change the mindset of the industry to be even more

sensitized to the plight of the people where the diamonds come from. That’s why

I think Simmons Jewelry is successful, I believe, because of the good karma

associated with the original intention.

 

AllHipHop.com: What

else do you want people to know about what you’ve got coming up?

 

Russell Simmons: It’s

nice to talk about Argyle Culture because it’s in Macy’s and it really does

speak to the core consumer that we’ve worked on and needs the next level. I

don’t mean level price wise, it’s the same price as Phat Farm which is still

pretty expensive I guess. The American Classic line is gonna be announced soon,

it’s totally different distribution but kind of the same energy, I believe the

urban graduate is a big void. Then like I said, Atman – we’re opening a store

downtown – and Simmons Jewelry.

 

I can’t call it an

empire because they’re all small companies, but those are my fashion

aspirations. We have very talented and creative people, and I can bet on all of

them.

 

AllHipHop.com: Your

nieces are doing really well with that whole Pastry line…

 

Russell Simmons: Yeah

that’s from Run Athletics. I didn’t mention that… how could I not say we’re

still in the sneaker business with Run Athletics and the girls are paying all

of the bills? The Arthur Ashe sneaker is doing pretty good, but Pastry is

paying all of the bills. Pastry’s is on fire, I’m very excited about that.

They’re another new company.

 

[People] said, why

would I leave Phat Farm? To focus on what? That doesn’t sound like a lot to

you? I still gotta worry about my Global Grind [website], I want you guys to

get more [news] feeds so I can do more [with] Global Grind [and] AllHipHop!  

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