Netflix has recently been on something like an “invite us to the cookout” campaign. Not only have they acquired the rights to air several classic Black television shows from the 90s and early 2000s, they recently premiered a new documentary called “The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion,” which focuses on the decades-long and sometimes tricky relationship between hip hop and fashion. Let me pause here and say that if you have not already seen it, it is definitely worth the hour and six minutes of your time!
The title itself is a play on both the musical reference to remixing songs, an innovation Black artists have embraced for decades, but also how Black people have had to remix almost everything we have come in contact with since landing on American shores in 1619. One commentator noted that Black slaves, and later free people, literally had no choice but to remix old hand-me-down clothes from white people and make them into something presentable. Decades later, this would be reflected in how young Black people, including hip hop stars, continued to put their own spin on fashion styles, particularly from luxury brands, to reflect their personalities and creativity.
Lil' Kim (Left), Misa Hylton Brim (Center), Mary J. Blige (Right)
Photo: Getty Images
The documentary centers around several figures who are integral to hip hop’s relationship with fashion. Among them is Misa Hylton Brim, the stylist responsible for some of Black music’s most influential fashion moments. Born and raised in New York City, she first fell in love with fashion through music and began styling artists when she met Diddy (previously Puff Daddy), then working at Uptown Records. Her keen intuition and non-deferential creativity helped her challenge record executives when they did not understand her wardrobe ideas, as was the case with Jodeci when she suggested they ditch the suits and ties then regularly seen on R&B acts and go for a more street look, subsequently copied by almost every Black male singing group in the 90s.
Misa’s first collaboration with a woman artist was Mary J. Blige, whose style she had a great influence on. With regard to Mary, she was able to encourage her femininity while staying true to Mary’s natural tom-boy tastes. To do this, she employed the help of many Black designers and brands that catered to hip hop artists. In the early 90s, many luxury brands refused to work with or dress these artists. Executives at Black magazines such as Bevy Smith and Emil Wilbekin had a difficult time even landing advertising deals with luxury brands; Bevy notes having to take picture books to certain brands and explaining Black people’s historical love of fashion in order for them to see Black people as a viable consumer base. As such, Misa and others worked with Black designers like April Walker of Walker Wear and Dapper Dan to bring their ideas to life.
Dapper Dan (Left) LL Cool J (Right), Circa: 1980s
Photo: The Rake
Dapper Dan’s story, as told in “The Remix,” is fascinating as he was one of the first to recognize the appeal luxury fashion brands had to consumers in urban neighborhoods. As noted in the film, luxury brands were and still are important to hip hop because they are a visible sign of having made it. Dapper Dan opened his own clothing store that provided custom items to clients that incorporated logos from big fashion houses such as Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton. These pieces were an immediate hit amongst neighborhood hustlers and celebrities alike and stylists like Misa regularly collaborated with Dapper Dan to create pieces for their clients. Although Dapper Dan’s store was eventually raided by police for knocking off the brands’ logos, things came full circle in 2018 when Gucci sent an exact copy of one of Dapper Dan’s designers from decades before down their runway. Subsequently, Gucci apologized and created a partnership with Dapper Dan, but the love of Black culture, only when it is not on Black bodies, is a theme consistently discussed throughout the documentary.
Another topic tackled in the film is hip hop’s historically problematic relationship with women. Misogyny has greatly impacted the way women navigate the industry and back in the day, the closer women appeared to behave and dress like men, the safer they were. It was Misa’s legendary partnership with Lil’ Kim that began to shift things, as Lil’ Kim not only wanted to embrace her femininity but flaunt it through provocative outfits and over the top luxury items like fur coats and designer jewelry. Misa credits Kim’s now infamous “Crush on You” video, which featured monochromatic head-to-toe looks (including brightly colored wigs), for changing both of their careers and subsequently allowing hip hop stars greater access to the world of luxury fashion; this access, however, came at a price.
Lil' Kim Circa: 1996
Photo: Tribeca Studios
Towards the late 90s and early 2000s hip hop stars were gracing the covers of mainstream magazines and campaigns for luxury clothing and makeup brands. However, these brands often used their own teams of stylists, which left Misa and other creatives without the amount of work they previously had. Misa notes that some artists tried to bring her on set or include her in large projects, but they were met with resistance by power-players in the fashion industry. The struggle to stay true to one’s culture is something many in the industry experience, as noted by Kerby Jean-Raymond. Jean-Raymond, the founder and creative director of Pyer Moss whose work is deeply inspired by luminaries like Misa and Dapper Dan, explained that when he decided to create a collection, which put the Black Lives Matter movement front and center on his runway in 2016 it almost cost him his career.
Although no longer completely shunned by the fashion world, black people still continue to face hurdles, and lack the appropriate recognition for their work and contributions to the industry. The documentary discusses how British Vogue attempted to attack this issue, putting together a feature on many talented women who work behind the scenes in both music and fashion who have not gotten the recognition they deserve. British Vogue publisher, Vanessa Kingori, highlights the importance of Black people having a seat at the table and decision-making power in order to shine a light on these types of untold stories. “The Remix” too celebrates what Black people have been able to create and accomplish while often operating in obscurity. Ultimately the documentary inspires viewers to imagine what the intersection of fashion and hip hop could look like if the next generation of Misa Hylton Brims and Dapper Dans are able to work within the margins of industries that have often used Black culture to make billions without giving us our just due.
Photo: Tribeca Studios