Hip-hop’s influence on fashion many now seem omnipresent, but the Museum at FIT is planning an exhibition that will magnify its origins and lasting influence.
Running from Feb. 8 to April 23, “Fresh, Fly and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style” will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of hip-hop. The show will be the first one that the museum has dedicated to one musical genre.
During a joint interview Monday, the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Elena Romero and Elizabeth Way, who co-curated the show, discussed the upcoming milestone anniversary for hip-hop and how they are trying to expand the narrative around the genre. Hip-hop was started in 1973, thanks to Black and brown youth in the Bronx, who created the definitive style of music, dance and visual art that reflected their lifestyles.
As a former associate editor at DNR and a former contributing editor at WWD, Romero is part of the hip-hop generation, having covered hip-hop fashion at its height, experienced it as part of her culture and penned the book “Free Stylin’: How Hip-Hop Changed the Fashion Industry.”
She came up with the concept for the show in 2018. “Fashion is this unofficial sixth element of hip-hop. It is a form of expression and style goes along with the music,” she said.
Along with their comprehensive approach, the fact that the exhibition is being curated by women is noteworthy since much of the market’s perspective has traditionally come from a male point of view. Exhibition designer Courtney Sloane is also tied to hip-hop, and has worked with Queen Latifah, Sean Combs and Bad Boy Entertainment, and designed Vibe magazine’s offices and hip-hop exhibitions, including one for the Rock & Roll of Fame.
Visitors will learn from the start of the exhibition how hip-hop style was the dress code of choice at different club venues. Various forms of media, including record companies, television shows and film used fashion as a vehicle to promote hip-hop artists and ideas. The Museum at FIT will spotlight such sections as The Designer Dreams, High Fashion Does Hip-Hop, Collaborations and Hip-Hop in High Fashion to play up the connections between established brands, such as Jordache, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. There will also be information about custom designers, such as Dapper Dan, 5001 Flavors’ husband-and-wife team of Guy Wood Sr. and Sharene, and pioneering graffiti streetwear maker’s Shirt King Phade.
While celebrity brands and endorsements are rampant, in the early ’90s, hip-hop-inspired fashion was a popular means for musicians and entrepreneurs to further their reach. Some, like FUBU, expanded to other categories like suits and bedding, but always with a hip-hop flair, according to Romero.
And many transitioned from musicians to moguls in the ’90s, including Sean “Puffy” Combs with Sean Jean, Russell Simmons with Phat Farm and Jay-Z and Damon Dash with Rocawear. They were among the entrepreneurs who helped to generate more interest in the sector, Romero said.
“There were a number of artists who tried their hand at entrepreneurship. That made a lot of sense for them. They realized how much money was being spent on the merchandise being sold, when they were on tour and what their percentages of those sales were. They saw how influential they had become about influencing fashion brands and style,” Romero said. “Taking that one step further beyond just an endorsement to push their own brands was a natural progression for the artist. In many cases, we ended up seeing that they made more money in fashion than they did in music at a certain point in time.”
At the Museum at FIT, gallery goers will also find sections for Sports Influence, Pink, Celebrity Style and Hip-Hop Glam. About 50 collectors and lenders have provided the fashion, jewelry, sneakers and other accessories — there are even custom bedazzled acrylic nails from Cardi B’s nail stylist, Jenny Bui. Disco Fever in the Bronx’s Sal Abbatiello, Video Music Box’s Ralph McDaniels, Tommy Boy Records’ Monica Lynch, April Walker and others helped illustrate the worldwide impact of hip-hop artists as red carpet fashion icons in the 21st century. Romero pitched in, too — her brass-plate signature belt buckle will be featured in the exhibition.
The aim of the show is to broaden the perspective of hip-hop beyond a particular look or time period to see the full gamut for “men, women and all over the world,” Romero said.
Hip-hop has been one of the strongest influences on culture since before the ’90s. From a fashion standpoint, traces of hip-hop can be seen on haute couture and designer runways, as well in American brands and intercontinental style.
Unquestionably, 50 years of hip-hop style is too much to encompass in one exhibition, so next year’s show is skewed more through a New York lens, the curators said, with spotlights on how hip-hop made denim, outerwear and formalwear its own.
Statement pieces like Adidas sneakers, tracksuits and shearling coats that Run DMC helped to popularize will be in the mix, as will be Karl Kani-designed clothing that was worn by the late Tupac Shakur; and Aaliyah’s Tommy Hilfiger bandeau and jeans. Other fashion items once sported by Lil’ Kim, Cardi B and Lil Nas X will be on display.
To help bring the exhibition to life after it opens, a symposium is being planned for next year, a companion book will be published by Rizzoli, and other talks are scheduled. “It’s about being able to capture the stories and histories at this very important time, looking at hip-hop at 50. But it’s also telling how style was so important in promoting the music, the artists and something that has become an international phenomenon,” Romero said.