The fashions and the music are fresh as hell, of course, but the documentary goes beyond, addressing the social issues that were at the crux of the aesthetic. Whether you’re a hip-hop nerd or someone whose knowledge of the genre begins and ends with Jay Z, Fresh Dressed will keep you hooked, and teach you a thing or two in the process. We sat down with Jenkins to discuss all things fresh gear, privilege, and how the internet is changing the game.
YAHOO STYLE: What inspired you to make this documentary? Why make it right now?
SACHA JENKINS: I’ve been writing about hip-hop for many years. (I grew) up in Queens, these things (are) just a part of my DNA, a part of my identity. Being familiar with the landscape and other projects that have told the story about hip-hop, I realized that one of the most important facets of the culture was how we dressed, and there was nothing that really chronicled that, and its connection to the rise of the music and the culture. I felt it was an interesting way to tell that story, using fashion as a platform to talk about the fun, the exciting stuff, and the creativity, but also the social conditions that created what would go on to be called “hip-hop.”
YS: Many people consider fashion to be a superfluous thing of no value, but in the documentary, fashion is revealed to be something much more powerful. It’s a sociological, borderline-academic look at fashion in this specific time and place, was that intentional?
SJ: I guess when you think “fashion world, ” you think privilege and people of privilege. When you think (about) “the world of hip-hop” you’re thinking about everyday people not having much. It’s connecting the notion of fashion as something that is universal – humans like to look good. It’s something that’s inside of us, but coming form the inner city, fashion was more than just privilege, it was more than just a runway, big name designers, fanfare. This was survival. If you didn’t have nice clothes you would be ridiculed by your peers, it was part of your identity, and how you wanted to be recognized. At the same time, it was a defense, you didn’t want to be ridiculed by your peer group and a lot of kids, their parents couldn’t afford to get them the newest, freshest stuff, so when I was growing up, some of these kids sold drugs. Crack was a huge problem, and a huge plague and I knew 14 and 15-year old kids in the 80s who were making a thousand dollars a day selling crack. So when you look at what Kanye West says in the film, “I wanted money just to be fresh!, ” you start thinking about these things, like why would people just want money to look good? Well that speaks to their identity, and it speaks to where they are in America, and it speaks to the fact that well, “I don’t own a yacht, I don’t own a boat, I don’t own a home, but I own my body, ” and the one thing that I can showboat, the one thing that I can show to the world that I own, is how I look. If I loo like a million bucks, then I’m transmitting to (the) people in my community, “hey I know we don’t have anything, but I have me, I have my identity and my clothing and I look good.”
YS: How do you think that hip-hop fashion today relates to these early stages? Is there a connection or are we on another level?
SJ: Hip-hop is all about being original and creative, so that sense of wanting to stand out and be different marries perfectly with the fashion establishment. It’s about being original and different, and standing out, and making a name for yourself. The difference now is that hip-hop itself as a culture and as a business has evolved to a point where you have Jay Zs and Kanye Wests; the way they dress is reflective of the world and the circles they’re running in.
Jay Z had a brand called Rocawear that was extremely successful for many years. Now, kids want to wear what he’s wearing, (but) he’s not rapping about Rocawear anymore, he’s rapping about Tom Ford or whoever, all these other folks, whose clothes are put on a different level, a pedestal. Now that the leaders of hip-hop culture are at a certain place, and those people are putting information out there, the inner city kids know Riccardo Tisci, these designers they’re like rappers or celebrities. So they’re reaching for that kind of stuff. Mainstream fashion has mixed in with this sort of natural aesthetic that comes from the street, and to a certain extent, the most important thing that remains intact is the attitude, because that’s what hip-hop is. It’s a metaphor for the music itself. The music samples classical music, heavy metal, gospel, to create something new, but what hip-hop does is apply an attitude. Hip-hop says, “I don’t see myself in this, how can I take what’s pre-existing, create something new, and what’s the attitude I can put on top of it?”
YS: What do you think has changed in the sense that designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, who played such a big role in the iconic look of fashion in the ‘80s and ‘90s, never quite acknowledged the hip-hop-customer, whereas today we have designers like Riccardo Tisci who have embraced it wholeheartedly. Is it part of the evolution of hip-hop or is it more a reflection of our times?
SJ: Well Ralph is from a different generation, you know? He’s an older guy. Riccardo grew up with hip-hop, he was inspired and influenced by hip-hop at a young age. He said he was wearing hip-hop fashion, “Oh i was the first guy in Italy to be wearing (the clothes), my friends would go to New York and bring stuff back.” Hip-hop has become the primary music for young people around the world, and you know Riccardo, he’s in his 20s or however old he is (Ed’s note: Tisci is 40), you know, he grew up with hip-hop so it’s not a weird thing for him. It’s a natural thing, it’s inspiration.