The documentary Fresh Dressed opens with vintage footage from a 1984 television pilot for a show called Graffiti Rock, which would have been hip-hop’s answer to Soul Train and a pop-cultural goldmine had it ever made it out of the incubation period. Instead, there was only the one episode, hosted by Basquiat cohort Michael Holman and featuring a performance by Run-DMC (with young Debi Mazar and Vincent Gallo dancing in the audience).
It’s the perfect starting point, however, for director Sacha Jenkins’ treasure trove of a doc, in which the music journalist and co-founder of ego trip magazine sets out to explore the evolution of hip-hop through the lens of fashion. In the process, he exposes the racism and classism at the root of so much creativity, and the crucial role that style played for anyone in poor and underprivileged communities who aspired to more. Such a conversation would not be complete without the artists and moguls who embody hip-hop’s ultimate triumph — from Kanye and Pharrell to Nas, Damon Dash, Swizz Beatz, and more — are here, offering insightful commentary on everything from poverty to Polo, and what it meant to dress like you had money even when you didn’t (a.k.a. fresh).
But Jenkins also sat down with the even more compelling characters who watched and, in some cases, helped history unfold. Like Lorine Padilla, a former Savage Skulls member, who remembers a time when “police brutality was worse than it is today;” old-school b-boy legend Popmaster Fabel; and Dapper Dan, whose Harlem storefront sold knockoff luxury clothing and accessories in the Eighties to the likes of Mike Tyson and LL Cool J. (On their album Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim appear draped in his impostor Gucci leather.) This diverse assembly of artists, designers, hustlers, and everyday people walk us through history, making Fresh Dressed a thoroughly engaging documentary that transcends the subject of fashion and music. We talked to Jenkins on the eve of its Sundance premiere.
So what gave you the idea for Fresh Dressed?
I moved to Astoria, Queens, from Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1977. I had a football — everybody else had Magic Markers and was breakdancing. I remember, growing up, how important it was how you dressed in a neighborhood where people didn’t have a lot. Like Damon Dash says, “When you live in an apartment with roaches and stuff, what else do you have?” You have your appearance. So I felt like fashion was a really powerful way to tell the backdoor story of hip-hop. In the South Bronx in the Seventies, an important part of being a gang member was having this jacket that you made on your own. Flash forward to the same neighborhood in 2014 and kids are getting killed for $600 jackets from brands they can’t even pronounce. I wanted to look at the evolution of where hip-hop has gone.