Anyone who knows, knows that Latinos were never secondary players in the early development of hip hop. An art form born in 70s in the project houses of the South Bronx would have to try damn hard not to be influenced by the Nuyorican culture that spread from El Barrio and up through El Bronx throughout the 1950s and 60s. From the Rock Steady Crew to Bobbito Garcia, you can’t talk about the history of hip hop without talking about the history of Latino culture in the U.S. And Fresh Dressed, a new documentary directed by Sacha Jenkins that premiered last week at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, takes an in-depth look at the development of one of hip hop’s most conspicuous visual cues: Street Fashion, and the inevitable role played by New York Latinos in its evolution.
So what exactly happened to the Armani suits, mink coats and feathered hats of the Superfly era? When did urban fashion become synonymous with Pumas, Lee Jeans and Kangols? These are the questions taken on by Jenkins in what amounts to a fascinating reflection on the cultural shifts that characterized urban America in the 1970s and 80s.
Two clips provided by the Fresh Dressed team give us a brief look into the point of view and visual style they adopted for the film, which follows a straight-forward TV-doc format characterized by interviews interspersed with archival images from the era. Stylistically, it could be considered a bit stuffy, but the driving breakbeats and strident colors of classic hip hop seem to give the doc a pulse and dynamism that overflows with the vital energy of youth culture.
The first clip, above, explores the influence of b-boy style in the evolving look of hip hop, and the inevitable spirit of oedipal revolt – the desire to do things differently from our fathers – that drove the development of this new, informal fashion. The second clip talks about some of the principal figures in early hip hop fashion that brought high-fashion to the masses – remixing designers like Louis Vuitton in the same way DJs were remixing classic funk and soul albums – and the development of T-Shirt airbrushing as a new, urban art form.
In all Fresh Dressed appears to be a worthy document of a culture that continues to be as alive and ubiquitous in popular culture as it has ever been, both in the U.S. and across world.
And if you don’t know, now you know.