Top Urban Fashion Designers Transform Retail Landscape in Iconic Source Magazine Feature

90s Urban hip hop fashion designers Willie Esco, Ralph Reynolds, Karl Kani, Maurice Malone & marketing executive Tony Shellman

The top urban hip-hop fashion designers and brand reps posed for the February 1999 issue of The Source Magazine.  From left to right: Willie Escobar-Martinez of Esco, Ralph Reynolds of RP55, Karl Kani, Maurice Malone, and marketing expert Tony Shelman of Enyce.

designing men

Words by Shawn E. Rhea

With high-profile department store distribution and raging talent wars, hip-hop clothing lines enter the big-time.

Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” blast from a clothing store’s speakers while a young brother sporting a red FUBU sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers nods his head to the beat. He raps the lyrics while straightening merchandise on the store’s shelves and racks.

“Yo, where. Can I find the Karl Kani gear?” ask a male customer. 

“Over here, man,” answers the salesman, beckoning the customer to follow him. If you think this scene just took place and specialty chain or neighborhood hip-hop shop, think again. It happened in Macy’s­—a store where only a few years ago all salesmen were expected to wear dress pants, shirts and ties to work, and rap music would get no play. But scenes like this are unfolding everyday in major department stores across the country, thanks in part to the phenomenal retail success of men’s hip-hop fashion (urban clothing, industry terms). Over the past nine years hip-hop fashion has exploded into the second-fastest growing segment of the apparel business (beat out only by lingerie), earning more than $5 billion in 1997.

Photographs by Dave Krieger

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