'Fresh Dressed' Strips Down Hip-Hop Fashion

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Why you should care

Fashion speaks a language worth knowing.

To hip-hop culture, fashion is both lifestyle and self-expression. It’s a culture that first-time director Sacha Jenkins documents with aplomb and intelligence his film Fresh Dressed.

The film, which features interviews with or footage of Nas, Kanye West, Pharrell, Kid ’N Play, USC professor Todd Boyd and style guru André Leon Talley, tackles everything from the origins of fat sneaker laces to how commerce eventually destroyed D.I.Y. among urban designers and caused the industry to collapse in the early 2000s. Establishing the significance of “looking fresh” early on — it’s more political than you might think — Jenkins weaves a history lesson with a critical eye on the social issues facing the communities where hip-hop thrives.

There have been “lots of great stories” that led people into the history of hip-hop, says Jenkins, but he points to fashion as key for people of color in America. “I saw the void and I felt that it was a great springboard to talk about these bigger issues.” Fresh Dressed, which screened at Sundance and was picked up shortly after by Samuel Goldwyn Films and StyleHaul, uses fashion as a lens for understanding the rise of hip-hop through the ’80s and early ’90s. It portrays hip-hop as an art form that sought to prove itself as a prideful form of self-expression, that reflects the impoverished confines in which it was born — and draws a direct parallel to that of the rise of urban fashion. As hip-hop became an accepted mainstream commodity, urban fashion did the same, and Jenkins’ film articulates the ascent without passing judgment on the materialism that has drawn countless potshots.

The stories told here are intriguing — Tupac’s refusal, for instance, to accept a paycheck to be in an advertisement for Karl Kani clothing simply because they share the same skin color. Fresh Dressed also shows how oversaturation and cultural appropriation ended up dividing a community. “If you’re white and wearing Polo or FUBU, it doesn’t matter because you’re still white,” Jenkins says. “But for us, people of color, how you dress has so many other ramifications beyond just clothing. It’s such an intrinsic part of our identity.”

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