Hip-hop is, now and always, changing the way fashion gets dressed
We talk to Misa Hylton about collaborating with MCM and Beyoncé, plus Dapper Dan, Virgil Abloh, and how the culture is staking its rightful claim in fashion.
—by James R. Sanders
“I’m mama, Miss Ivana / Usually rock the Prada, sometimes Gabbana / Stick you for your cream and your riches / Zsa Zsa Gabor, Demi Moore, Prince Diane and all them rich bitches.” — Lil’ Kim, “No Time”
Last week, Gucci and legendary Harlem couturier Dapper Dan (real name Daniel Day)—who, at one time or another, dressed many of New York’s hustlers and rappers—released their anticipated collaboration, a line of ready-to-wear items that celebrates both street culture and hip-hop’s adolescent phase. Unapologetically urban, the collection is just one of a few new applauded partnerships between the genre and fashion as there’s been a recent resurgence of the moment the two originally married in the 80s and 90s.
With the two being fully committed, collaborations such as Gucci and Dapper Dan, or Misa Hylton and MCM are big enough to sell (rightfully so) and sell out.
Hylton was 15 years old when she began dating a young intern at Uptown Records. That intern happened to be Sean Combs who would go on to create Bad Boy Records (and our own REVOLT TV). So, with the label boasting a roster of artists who themselves became icons, Hylton says that she was in the right place at the right time. And looking at early Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, and Foxy Brown music videos is akin to a mash-up of high fashion and 90s street realness, courtesy of Hylton. The furs over bikinis, bright colors and matching wigs, gowns with encrusted diamonds, and that history-making, breast-baring MTV VMAs look from Lil’ Kim are just a few of the reasons why Hylton’s résumé is longer than a freestyle from Canibus.
In 2006, the New York Post reported, via MarketResearch.com, $500 billion in buying power from young Americans who identify with hip-hop culture. And over 10 years later, hip-hop is still the go-to method from brands for grabbing the attention of younger audiences; it’s “a powerful tool for reaching Generations Y and Z, who are expected to account for 45-percent of the global luxury spend by 2025,” according to Business of Fashion.
Hip-hop was, and is, about making it work. For Dapper Dan, who once had his Harlem haberdashery seized by Sonia Sotomayor, a current Supreme Court Justice, it took a little longer. Having reached the pinnacle of street celebrity, it wasn’t until this year when Alessandro Michele, creative director at Gucci, presented a look almost identical to that of a Dapper Dan original from the 80s (which he custom designed for Olympic runner Diane Dixon), that he became a household name. And for Hylton, she says the obstacles she faced early on when dressing icons-in-the-making helped create opportunities for her to do more.
“My having that obstacle [of being told ‘no’ by showrooms and bigger designers when asking to dress some of my clients] allowed the space for me to create my own designs that were appealing to my clients and represented the hip-hop culture more than a lot of the European fashion houses,” she told REVOLT TV.
Of Dapper Dan, Hylton says, “I think that you can’t deny something that’s great. Talent always wins. It’s never too late to receive your roses.”
“Making snaps, pumping Kool G Rap and Biz / Dapper Dan, Dookie ropes, I’m about to show what time it is / At the rooftop, I was with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick / ‘La Di Da Di, who likes to party?’ was the fat shit.” — LL Cool J, “Hip Hop”
Now in partnership with Gucci, Dapper Dan is experiencing a revival having recently reopened his atelier with a major fashion infusion from the Italian luxury brand; the result is their collaboration (which is being praised by the fashion press).
The designer’s connection to grounded street culture (where hip-hop started) fosters the inspiration behind what he creates. “The big houses can keep pulling people in, but they have to first become relevant with the have-nots,” Dan said in a recent profile in GQ. “It’s all about the have-nots. People who rise to a certain level, they’re less likely to look for an identity. They’re comfortable with who they are.”
For Hylton, the late 90s were when mainstream fashion and hip-hop collided. Most of the artists she dressed had (and still have) close relationships with the fashion designers they rapped and sang about. From Mary J. Blige’s endorsement with Tommy Hilfiger, to Lil’ Kim’s BFF Marc Jacobs (who wrote the rapper almost everyday when she was in prison), to Missy Elliott’s Adidas moment (and, of course, Run DMC who did it first), fashion didn’t just become acclimated with hip-hop. It’s a 20-plus-year relationship.
Today, the likes of Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and Pharrell have all made strides in creating their own lines which have gone on to be successful. “This is the new reality. Rappers are going to be the most influential brands in the future and if you want your brand to have any relevance with a young audience you need to embrace this, and you need to make it a general part of your strategy moving forward,” David Fischer, founder of Highsnobiety, told BOF.
“I put hoes in NY onto DKNY / Miami, D.C. prefer Versace / All Philly hoes go with Moschino / Every cutie wit a booty bought a Coogi.” — The Notorious B.I.G., “Hypnotize”
Virgil Abloh’s new appointment as creative director to the menswear team at Louis Vuitton has been the biggest acknowledgement of hip-hop and fashion. While Abloh isn’t a musician, the Off-White designer is heavily influenced by the culture, having grown up in it.
“We need to be in those places and we need our people to be at the helm of creating what ultimately comes from our culture. Why not have the creator make the creation? Virgil represents the creator making the creation. It also shows other labels what we can do and how important and valuable we are in those places,” Hylton said.
A new film about hip-hop’s unsung fashion heroes is slated to premiere sometime this fall. Focusing primarily on women, The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion (debuting early 2019) is a documentary that shines the light on visionaries often unacknowledged.
According to a press release, “The feature documentary will trace the origins of fearless, full-color, hip-hop style—from the Bronx and Brooklyn to the Paris runways—and credits Hylton as one of the first stylists to meld streetwear with haute couture.”
The film’s co-director Farah X told REVOLT TV, “[Hylton] is a hidden figure of the hip-hop fashion world, whether it be because of her own humility or because she is a part of an industry that constantly shines a light on the males who populate it. I believe it’s the latter. We felt it was necessary to highlight her contributions to the world of fashion that not only lived in hip-hop beginning in the late 80s, early 90s, but have rippled into the fashion we see on everyone today worldwide.” The documentary was also co-directed by Lisa Cortés, and Emil Wilbekin served as co-producer and co-writer.
For the trailer release party at the Lower East Side’s Public Hotel, hip-hop’s glitterati came out, and Hylton remixed and redesigned Big Daddy Kane’s iconic, long MCM jacket. It was such a hit that Hylton received a call from one of Beyoncé’s stylists, Zerina Akers, and was asked to design a custom MCM look for the artist for a top secret project.
With less than a week, Hylton, who got her “‘make it work’ chops” fine-tuned in the 90s, got to work and the result was a monogrammed leather bustier and panty for the instant classic “APE$HIT” video that the Carters released in conjunction with their joint album Everything is Love. Hylton’s creative team included Debbie Lorenzo, who made the MCM cap, and Eisha Brightwell, who handmade the MCM earrings.
“The great thing about being experienced is [that] I’m used to creating under tight deadlines and I have a strong team that’s amazing and is also how I am able to execute under intense deadlines,” Hylton said. “I don’t ask any questions. What I’m hired to do, I do it. I just knew that when it came out, I would see it. The vibe, it was off the hook for me. I was excited, I was happy, I was surprised. It was a dope moment.”
With films like 1982’s Wild Style and the 2015 documentary Freshed Dressed, the exploration of hip-hop and fashion as a unit has had its moments, but The Remix seems to focus on the tastemakers and visionaries that dressed hip-hop up for each of its big occasions.
“The funny thing is, at this very moment in time, this is mainstream fashion,” said Farah X. “Hip-hop fashion is no longer on the fringe of mainstream—it is the mainstream. Whether you look at Gucci teaming up with Dapper Dan or Louis Vuitton bringing on board Virgil Abloh, we are in the middle of a fashion revolution with hip-hop at its very core. So for me, editing fashion is equivalent to editing hip-hop. The difference between the two is diminishing more and more each day.”