When German brand Adidas saw American sales surging, they couldn’t figure out why. “They send a guy to the U.S. to investigate it,” Way says. “He ends up at a Run-D.M.C. concert, and he sees these thousands of kids holding up their Adidas as Run-D.M.C. is singing ‘My Adidas.’” Run-D.M.C. then became the first hip-hop group with a seven-figure shoe endorsement.
The shearling was the go-to outerwear piece for many young New Yorkers in the Eighties. “I never owned a shearling, but it was on my most desired list,” Romero says. “The outerwear would be in brown and blue, and gray, black, and tan. Those tended to be the popular colors. It wasn’t just the shearling. There were also gloves and a hat that would go with it as well, something that folks could pick up downtown. If you ask anyone about a shearling jacket, they’re not going to be able to tell you what brand it was, but everybody knows that shearling.”
In 1991, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfield ideated a fashion collection inspired by hip-hop, with this chain referencing hip-hop’s love for dookie ropes and nameplate pendants. “We see [nameplates] not only on chains, but we also see them in earrings and rings,” Romero says. “I actually lent the museum my name ring from the early Eighties. Many of us got customized jewelry with our name, as another way of being seen. Something like a nameplate chain, especially for women, almost seemed like a rite of passage. I remember turning 16 and that being the thing that I wanted to ask for, and the same that I did for my daughter recently. The nameplate was a piece of jewelry that would allow you to stand out.”
Kangol is a British brand popularized in Jamaica and then in New York City, where figures like LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, and Kangol Kid immortalized their bucket hats. “Something that I think is really interesting, and it’s not necessarily spoken about enough, is the cultural mix that hip-hop was born out of,” Way says. “We’re thinking about the South Bronx at this time [so] it’s Black American communities, it’s Latinx communities, but you also have this European influence coming in via the Caribbean. A lot of interest in European menswear is located in that too. We see all of these mixes, not just with hats like Kangol, but also British walkers and valley shoes. These references are much more international than people realize very early on.”
Very Slick Indeed
Rapper Slick Rick was one of hip-hop’s first fashion icons. His penchant for wearing dozens of gold chains at once makes him what Romero calls the “King of Bling,” adding that he “utilized oversized, exaggerated jewelry as a way of making a name for himself and flaunting his success. When you think about the first fashion references in music, you think about, ‘I got the Johnson’s Baby Powder and the Polo cologne,’ from ‘La-Di-Da-Di.’ He’s walked the walk, and he’s talked the talk, to this day, also with sponsorships. He has a collaborative partnership with Clarks, and he continues to be a trendsetter in that way, having a wide variety of shoes that really fit his look and lifestyle.”
Love for Louis V
Louis Vuitton is one of the most beloved European fashion brands in the hip-hop community, and the label eventually returned the love by working with figures from the culture. “Louis Vuitton, along with Gucci, MCM, and others [are brands] that have rode this logo mania wave from the ’80s to today,” Way says. “Then more recently, we see Louis Vuitton interacting with hip-hop in more concrete ways, specifically when working with Virgil Abloh. We see Louis Vuitton’s ongoing relationship first as this aspirational brand, and then as this brand that is partnering with hip-hop ideas and hip-hop culture.”
Elizabeth Way calls Dapper Dan (whose bomber-style jacket is shown here) “one of the most significant designers in the late 20th century” because “he opened up a dialogue between American sportswear and European luxury.” Elena Romero adds, “the idea of custom and tailoring in the African American community is nothing new, but Dapper Dan provided a voice to a particular generation [and] gave them access to affluence. He had a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week custom shop. He knew his customers intimately. He was creating custom, one-of-a-kind, luxury garments that had not been in the marketplace, utilizing the logos that were popular at the time from very prestigious brands, i.e., Louis Vuitton or Gucci or MCM.”
Romero notes that Dapper Dan had a body shop where he created custom car interiors for clients, an operation she wrote about in her book Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry.
Three friends sporting Cazal glasses on the corner of Delancey and Orchard in NYC, 1982.
Eyewear of Choice
Cazal glasses became one of hip-hop culture’s first luxury symbols, with early hip-hop devotees reappropriating the European brand into a street staple. Way says that Black and brown men in New York “were already much more interested in fashion than the mainstream American man. [Cazal] is one of the early brands that symbolized elegance and luxury in menswear that was coming into fashion at this time. Hip-hop has always been picking up things from mainstream culture and recontextualizing [them]. The Cazal glasses were definitely one of those pieces that they reappropriated into their own look and made it their own.”
Ask the 8 Ball
This Michael Hoban-designed jacket checked all the boxes of Eighties rap chic: Colorful. Luxurious. Leather. And billiards-inspired. “It was a leather jacket, so it was luxurious, but it was also brightly colored,” Way recalls. “It garnered attention. It has this association with billiards, which is played in neighborhoods. We had all these elements together, and then it looked like these Dapper Dan pieces that he was making for Salt-N-Pepa too. It hit all of these specific trends in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Because it was so specific, it was actually a pretty short-lived trend, but it’s so iconic because this imagery, the colors, all of it comes together in such a way that is so memorable and sears in your memory.”
Queens trio Salt-N-Pepa were pioneers both musically and in fashion. “They were able to not only have that male-dominated swagger, but they were able to incorporate their femininity,” Romero says. “They downplayed it, but played it up just enough to be able to make a statement. They did it with their hair, their sneakers, their outfits, and their jewelry. They had very feminine touches. In that sense, they were able to pave the way for the females that would follow.”
LL Cool J on the cover of Fresh Fly Fabulous: 50 years of Hip Hop Style. LL Cool J is one of rap’s first fashion icons and brand ambassadors. Way notes that he’s had multiple eras stylewise, all the while infusing mainstream brands with a dash of hip-hop culture.
“LL made [brands like Kangol, TROOP, and FUBU] really popular, and it was all tied to his talent and popularity as a musician. He was a spokesperson for FUBU, and then he became a spokesperson for Gap. He merged those two together in this very hip-hop way, where he’s wearing a FUBU cap and also rapping about FUBU in a Gap commercial.”