For those attending the Assembly panel discussion, presented by Liberty Fairs and the Agenda Show in Las Vegas on August 16, 2018, it was a great day for Urban Fashion, African American fashion designers and for those who love 90s hip-hop culture. For the new generation of streetwear, hip-hop driven fashion brands and aspiring entrepreneurs attending or exhibiting their styles at the shows, it was the first time in history to see living legions from some of the top brands of urban fashion history together live on stage.
The panel was called “Back to the 90’s” and featured from left to right: Peter Paul Scott, Maurice Malone, Karl Kani, Damon Dash, April Walker, Andy Hilfiger and was moderated by Chris Denson. The group gave valuable nuggets of advice to all.
After letting everyone know about the recent 45th anniversary of the birth of Hip-Hop. Chris kicked off the questioning to each panelist with “what was the first brand, fashion-wise in Hip-Hop, that you fell in love with?” First up to answer was April, and she responded with one of the designers all aspiring African Americans should know or learn about, Mr. Willi Smith of WilliWear. One of the first Black designers that I could recall who was successful in mass-market designer sportswear. A few years post-teenager, in my hometown of Detroit, I witnessed my leather jackets and overalls displayed between the racks of WilliWear and Polo by Ralph Lauren at Hudson’s after my first shipment to a department store.
Damon Dash seemed to ridicule Andy Hilfiger’s answer of Coke-a-Cola clothing, which Andy gave because his brother Tommy Hilfiger did the design and it was featured in Heavy-D’s 80s video. Damon pushed back that “Murjani” whom Andy said was the maker of the brand was not really an urban or hip-hop brand.
After, Karl Kani credited the Guess jeans he wore growing up as the inspirational that sparked his brand. Continuing on to make the point the fit was an issue that he wanted to improve on.
My answer, because there were no “Hip-Hop” brands in my early days, was two fashion designers that inspired my direction. First, Patrick Kelly, who was one of the most celebrated high-fashion African American designers of all-time. The second was French haute couture and prêt-à-porter designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who I loved his attention to detail, style, and marketing.
Peter Paul, who worked with Andy and Tommy Hilfiger also answered with the Coke-a-Cola clothing brand. Adding, United Colors of Benetton and Converse as brands which inspired him as a dancer.
A great question from Chris posed to the queen of urban fashion April Walker, “What does heritage mean to you, and what did it mean to you back in the ’90s?” April replied, “when I first started, I was doing it because I loved it and it morphed into a business!” Continuing, “it was always about building legacy. So, that’s how that word legacy comes into play. I always wanted to own my own brand and I didn’t see it as an over-night thing.”
Although I didn’t get to respond to the question about heritage, it began me thinking. Before that moment, heritage in fashion recalled an image in my mind of old iconic denim-based brands like Levi’s and Wrangler. However, at that moment, it came to me, what we started in the early 90s and grew until the overkill of celebrity-based brands caused its decay, is that we are today’s heritage brands for modern Urban, Hip-Hop and Streetwear inspired brands. Ranging from the likes of Supreme, Off-White, Balenciaga, Gucci, Fear of God, Opening Ceremony, Yeezy, John Elliott, Kith, Public School, Y3 and so on.
Contrasting Andy, after he said some brands build themselves quickly and very well by using social media tools like Instagram to find and build their audiences. Damon, whose first venture into apparel had the first-hand experience with the shortcomings of building a brand based on celebrity exposure, drilled down on sustainable brand building – having a point of view and building on it over time as a key to success.
This post is a work in process and will increase in detail in time. I wrote this post to give my perspective on the event, but for those who want to hear the full 51-minute panel, it’s available on Chris Denson’s Crush Podcast. Check back for Part-2 of the article later.