The influence of hip-hop culture on the fashion industry is undeniable today. But the gradual shift in design, inspiration, silhouette and consumer interests over the last 19 years became more apparent when hoodies took over the runway, luxury houses competed to make the “It” sneaker, and trade shows pivoted to streetwear.
“The Remix: Hip-Hop x Fashion,” the award-winning film by directors Lisa Cortés and Farah X, which premiered on Netflix on July 22, details hip-hop’s early iconic fashion moments that shifted the subculture and decades later would have an impact on the global fashion industry and beyond.
The movie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and won six best documentary awards, features commentary from the likes of TV personality and businesswoman Bevy Smith, film producer and I Am Other chief creative officer Mimi Valdés, art curator and writer Kimberly Drew, and British Vogue publishing director Vanessa Kingori, among others, on their own experiences, hip-hop fashion, key players and how hip-hop permeated through pop culture and expanded globally.
Though hip-hop’s impact on fashion is the overall focus, “The Remix: Hip-Hop x Fashion” is very much about women’s contributions.
“I think for a long time, because I am a woman in hip-hop in my outlook, I’ve been very committed that the history was restorative to the rightful place of women in the culture,” says Cortés, a producer, writer and director who is also known for the 2009 film “Precious.”
Farah X adds, “We’ve seen everything through one lens and the reason for that is who is telling the story.” The director and editor, who has worked with Prince and Beyoncé, is a frequent collaborator of Mariah Carey and has worked with brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior, Toyota and Stella Artois, among others. She and Cortés made it a point to mainly interview women for the documentary; 90 percent of the crew on the film were women, which was advocated by coproducer Hillary Cutter.
“I feel like this film would be timely to come out at any point, because we have to keep fighting the battle,” Farah X says. “The quote at the beginning of the film from Coretta Scott King — ‘Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation’ — I feel is more important in this day and age. In the media, people of color are constantly being brought down. We wanted to show how brilliant we are.”
Kerby Jean-Raymond, Pyer Moss founder and designer and one of four creatives featured heavily in the film, says in the documentary that growing up he thought rappers dressed themselves in the videos; many who were not fully aware of music video and concert production would believe the same. And while the rappers received all the glory and accolades, others’ contributions went overlooked, especially those by women.
April Walker, one of the movie’s stars, is a pioneer of urban fashion and Misa Hylton, who moves the film forward as it weaves through history, created ensembles that defined musical eras and are still replicated and tapped into today.
Women are also often left out of hip-hop’s origin story. The culture was born in the South Bronx at a party on Sedgwick Avenue where DJ Kool Herc, who is regarded as the father of hip-hop, provided the music — but the party was put together by his sister, Cindy Campbell.
With help from her father (due to her being a minor), Campbell threw the party to raise money and turned to her brother to play music. The night was a success, and they continued to throw parties. “Women bring forth life and ideas and inspiration and give birth to many amazing things,” Hylton says.
Hylton, a stylist and founder of the Misa Hylton Fashion Academy, conceptualized and crafted iconic looks with Lil’ Kim, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mary J. Blige, among others. Her influence is best exemplified by Jodeci’s “I Gotta Love” video in which she dressed the R&B singing group like quintessential rappers instead of singers, and Lil’ Kim’s “Crush on You” music video, where the Brooklyn rapper wore monochromatic ensembles with matching wigs. Lil’ Kim’s 1999 MTA VMAs look was also created by Hylton.
She started the fashion academy in 2012 to impart knowledge to the next generation of entertainment creatives. Many of the students who attended the program went on to work for Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Ariana Grande, for Netflix and Viacom, networks like VH1 and athletes as well. “I’ve always been someone who wanted to teach and provide for people that want to do what I’m doing,” she says.
Hylton says when Cortés and Farah X approached her for the film, she felt they should also highlight Walker. “April paved the way for me,” Hylton says. “She’s been in the culture heavily from the Eighties all the way to now. There was no way to tell my story without her telling her story. When I’m in a position to tell my story or in a position to create a forward movement, I always want to bring someone with me to help tell their story. It’s what we have to do as women and as people of color in fashion.”
Walker started Walkerwear after opening her first store in Brooklyn, which was inspired by Dapper Dan’s storefront in Harlem. Several rap stars like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. and Run-DMC, among others, adopted her label, wearing pieces in music videos, photo shoots and on the red carpet. She says in the film that one year she signed over $1 million in orders at Magic trade show.
“When this opportunity arose, it just seemed perfect to highlight Misa and April,” Cortés says.
Dapper Dan is another figure highlighted in the film for designs that created several key moments in hip-hop, but also for how his then-controversial looks were later mimicked by fashion houses including Fendi and Gucci, the latter of which was challenged for its resort 2018 jacket that closely mimicked Dan’s design for Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon. Gucci later partnered with Dan. And he also collaborated frequently with Hylton, including on a custom ensemble for the music video for the song “Let’s Get It” by Bad Boy artist G. Dep.
Farah X describes the fourth figure, Jean-Raymond, as “the result of the foremothers and fathers.” She adds, “He really represents the new generation and taking all of the things that he’s learned from the people before and adding to his repertoire.”
In the film, Jean-Raymond says hip-hop was his introduction to fashion, and his spring 2019 runway show at Weeksville in Brooklyn is highlighted for his collaborations with FUBU and Cross Colours, two brands seen as pioneers of urbanwear.
The street style would be adopted by Tommy Hilfiger and Chanel, sparking a conversation in the film of what is considered appreciation and appropriation. It also speaks to the reaches of hip-hop’s influence, moving beyond New York City and into other countries like France, England, Australia and South Korea. The film also touches on the culture being co-opted and the creators being left out of their contributions.
“The Remix: Hip-Hop x Fashion” is a unique perspective on hip-hop and fashion since it is seen through the lens of female contributors. Often times, these stories are told by men and just by changing the storytellers, the musical genre and global phenomenon can be seen as one of the U.S.’s greatest cultural currencies, and the people responsible can finally be celebrated.
Cortés said, “When you see the really broad reach of our innovation and the cultural change that happened, it’s so important especially for young people to understand how deep our roots are for ownership of self.”