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Mos Def Designs for Undrcrwn

In an effort to expand its reach beyond its basketball roots, Undrcrwn has enlisted Mos Def for a cut-and-sewn collection to launch for spring '09

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — In an effort to expand its reach beyond its basketball roots, Philadelphia-based Undrcrwn has enlisted Mos Def for a cut-and-sewn collection to launch for spring ’09. The capsule, consisting of 14 pieces, will debut on Aug. 26 at a Mos Def listening party at the Palms in Las Vegas.

“It all went down in about 90 days, but I feel like I’ve known these guys forever,” said Mos Def during an interview near his apartment in Jersey City. “When you meet a good friend, you just feel the connection.”

In fact, it was Mos Def that introduced himself to the Undrcrwn team at last season’s MAGIC show. Mos was already a fan of the three-year-old brand, and jumped at the opportunity to co-opt some of his favorite Undrcrwn silhouettes for his own creations.

Dustin Canalin, Undrcrwn’s creative director, described Mos Def as “a popular figure in the streetwear culture, and a true artist. He looks at creativity first, and dollars later.”

As for Mos Def’s contribution to Undrcrwn’s collection, Canalin said, “We took his DNA and applied it to ours.” Many of the items incorporate the colors and cover print from the 2004 Dead Prez album “RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta,” but include personalization from Mos Def’s own life. He twists conventional elements, adorning a nylon jacket with an upside-down flag, or printing bandana stripes on the back side of a T-shirt, for example. “A lot of it was just child’s play,” he said. “It’s just playing around with things, and saying, ‘People always do this, let’s not do that.’” The line, branded “Mos Def designed by Dustin Canalin for Undrcrwn,” will retail from $36 to $200.

Mos Def also found inspiration in his hometown of Brooklyn, a borough that he described as “mundane and extravagant all at once. There’s always an emphasis on showing style in Brooklyn, but it’s unique. It’s not like Harlem, where the style is flashy. Brooklyn is more subtle, with an attention to detail and accents.”

Although the collection is Mos Def’s first attempt at apparel design, the artist has long been involved in the streetwear scene. Instead of high-end shopping for designer goods, Mos Def is frequently spotted wearing sought-after streetwear labels and hanging out in New York City’s streetwear shops.

“I come from a place where how stylish or fashionable you were had nothing to do with how much money you had,” he explained. “Brands like Supreme are giving luxury brands a big run for their money. These types of brands represent a certain type of perspective and a new kind of status.”

His cut-and-sewn collection won’t hit stores until February, but Mos Def has already teased the public with a T-shirt collaboration for Undrcrwn, termed the Watermelon Syndicate, which he wore for a Carnegie Hall performance earlier this summer. He concedes that his celebrity will help promote his apparel, but promises that his identity alone will not define the Mos Def for Undrcrwn group. “At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with my celebrity quotient,” he said, reminding DNR of Michael Jackson’s failed attempt to move L.A. Gear at the height of his career. “If the product is good, it doesn’t matter how many movies I’ve been in or how many albums I’ve made.”

As for Undrcrwn, Canalin promised that Mos Def will be one of many designers to guest with Undrcrwn in future seasons, as the brand looks to expand outward from its sporty roots. Undrcrwn recently signed on Bryon Sheng, the creator of Adidas’s Remix division, to head up sales and marketing, and hopes that Mos Def will entice larger retail chains into recognizing Undrcrwn’s creative potential. “We don’t want to have the brand so regimented to basketball,” he explained. “We’re really trying to give it a designer touch.”