For Black History Month this year, I'm going to try, and I mean "try," to post an article, press clipping, or something from my career in fashion once per day. On this first day of BHM, I chose this article from the Detroit Free Press.
At this time, I was an up-and-coming young Fashion/Denim Designer, DJ, and Promoter living in Detroit. During the daylight hours, I was sewing jeans by hand and taking my pieces around to retailers. During the night, I was out promoting my brand and Hip Hop parties on the nights when I wasn't DJ'ing at my festivities.
By Scott Walton, Detroit Free Press Writer June 15, 1992
"Inside out is whickety-whickety-whicketywhack."
So says Kriss Kross, the popular rap duo whose unique style calls for dressing in oversized, backward, and inside-out jeans and baseball jerseys. Like those of other acts, both their music and their sartorial statement could wind up as just another blip on the fickle chart of hip-hop stylishness.
But surely no such fate awaits Detroit-based sportswear designer Maurice Malone. As the popularity of his short-lived after-hours dance club, the U.N., points out, Malone knows what young people like.
As the detailing on his line of jeans, overalls, T-shirts, and caps indicates, Malone also knows what people need.
His calf-length black jeans, for instance, feature not one but two beeper pockets for the homeboy who never wants to be out of reach; they've got padded knee reinforcements should the mood to breakdance or shoot a quick game of hoops strike; and the front pockets are placed at mid-thigh instead of on the hips because ... hey, they look cooler that way!
"I'd spent most of my eight years in this business designing mostly upscale stuff," says Malone, 27, who taught himself how to sew and learned design by devouring textbooks he bought by mail from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.
"But now I'm more comfortable doing the young urban male, hip-hop kind of thing. Now I'm concentrating on the black customer. I don't care who buys my clothes, but that's who I'm trying to appeal to."
"I have lots of people coming in here who see the logo and buy it simply because it's Maurice's stuff," says Danny Tatarian, owner of Showtime: Vintage Clothing on Woodward and Plum Street Fashions in Trappers Alley. "I like Maurice; he's a straight-up guy. His clothes represent who he is, and I like who he is."
In its entirety, Malone's sports-wear line sells under the moniker: "Jeans for Your Ass." "On the street, people understand that to mean they're the baddest jeans on the market,' Malone says.
"They're urban, and they're funky," says Zana Smith, owner of Spectacles in Harmonie Park. "My customers like his designs because he adds those details that they can't get anywhere else. Maurice's timing is usually great: He won't repeat any designs; he's always creating something fresh."
Because his target audience loves designer labels, Malone places his labels prominently on everything. His T-shirts all bear starkly pro-black messages that are meant to foster racial pride and unity and to offer brief lessons in black history.
"I'm just trying to teach a little bit of the history that they don't teach us in school, says Malone.
Malone's personal history is dotted with entrepreneurial strivings and immersed in the hip-hop culture. He graduated from Oak Park High school
and drifted in and out of Oakland Community College and Torrance (Calif.)
In 1990, he opened a club in the New Center area for his friends and their friends to come and revel in technically remixed "house" music after mainstream nightclubs closed at 2 a.m. The U.N. regularly drew capacity crowds on the weekends before the authorities closed it due to fire code violations. Last year, Malone tried his hand at publishing a fashion magazine called Prototype, but only one issue ever made it to press.
Currently, Malone is involved in hosting "house" parties every Friday
night at Stanley's Kitchen (265 E. Baltimore) in Detroit. He's also delving into concert promotion and hopes to persuade rap acts that visit Detroit to wear his designs in public and on television.
It's a marketing approach that California-based Cross Colours has used with great success. But Malone says that the fewer comparisons between his line and Cross Colours, the better.
"Cross Colours is all right, but I don't want my clothes to be available just anywhere like they are," he says. "If every store had them, eventually the best retailers wouldn't want to buy them anymore.
"And once the consumer sees them on every Tom, Dick and Harry, he's going to start looking for something else that makes him look and feel more like an individual.
Maurice Malone's full collection is on sale at Spectacles in Detroit's Harmonie Park. Malone's caps and T-shirts are on sale at Showtime Vintage Clothing in Detroit, and his T-shirts also sell at Mark Keller in Birmingham.