Historically, hip-hop has appeared to be a male-dominated industry. In terms of its sound, marketing, and even its fashion, men have served as the faces of the movement, but hip-hop’s footprint and background aren’t as straight and narrow as they appear to be. Behind every movement or era, there has been an agency of women masterminding and influencing its early conception, and hip-hop is no different. Tribeca Film Festival’s latest addition, The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion, which was presented by MCM on Thursday (May 2), highlights the hidden female figures that have curated and shaped hip-hop’s dynamic streetwear and ultimately swayed the entire fashion industry.
Hip-hop has always mimicked everyday life. Both its sound and fashion, from the lyrical content to the baggy jeans rappers have worn in music videos, have been a reflection of that era. Because of its fluidity, it may have seemed like hip-hop artists were dressing themselves. People never considered the stylists and designers who curated and elevated those looks. The film commends two women in particular, Misa Hylton and April Walker, for their contributions to hip-hop’s iconic aesthetic.
There probably isn’t a ‘90s look that wasn’t inspired or created by Misa Hylton. As a teenager when she first dipped her toes into styling major hip-hop talent, Hylton mingled with up-and-coming pioneers and influencers such as Sean “Diddy” Combs. Working with artists on Uptown Records’ new roster, Hylton was able to showcase her abilities. Very early on, she demonstrated a clear understanding of the younger generation’s affinity for streetwear that married swagger with luxury. In her first styling gig for Uptown’s R&B group, Jodeci, Hylton had the “crazy idea” of dressing them in combat boots, hoodies, and baseball caps. The look was avant-garde for a traditional R&B group, but it ultimately transformed Jodeci’s image and coined the type of bad-boy aesthetic that would serve as a formula for artists to come. Hylton was then awarded more opportunities with Mary J. Blige and Lil Kim. While Hylton always had a vision in mind, she met the first ladies of hip-hop at their own level, playing up their tomboy-ish charm or sexuality but always incorporating elements of high fashion and femininity. Lil Kim’s iconic monochromatic wigs and styling in the 1996 music video for “Crush On You” is still mimicked on the red carpet and in major fashion shoots today.
April Walker was also one of the first entrepreneurs in the hip-hop and fashion landscape. During the genesis of the genre’s movement, it was still intimidating for women who were trying to find a place in the industry. Walker often masked her gender in the early days of her career so as not to interfere with her menswear business. Nevertheless, Walker’s innovative custom designs influenced the urban market. In the late ‘80s, she opened her first custom clothing shop called Fashion in Effect. Three years later, she founded her own clothing label called Walker Wear. Her trailblazing work eventually appeared on some of the most prolific artists and athletes including Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, LL Cool J, and Jay-Z.
The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion also dedicates a segment to spotlighting fashion’s male contributors Dapper Dan and Kerby Jean-Raymond, whose cutting-edge and radical designs exhibited the practice as a form of art. The additional narratives round out an enlightening history lesson that celebrates both female and black voices of hip-hop’s new renaissance that, at times, have been silenced or overshadowed by mainstream markets within the industry.
However, in completing, or at least adding on to fashion’s extensive history and evolution, The Remix also initiates a dialogue about the potential need for a movement that focuses on the unsung heroes of hip-hop generations who have paved the way. The documentary proposes a movement in the same vein of Time’s Up, except it suggests a need to say enough to the erasure of hip-hop’s grave influence on viral trends and the industry’s exclusivity in the fashion industry that prohibits women and people of color from participating in major marketing and production deals.
Yes, progress has been made. To coincide with the film’s premiere, Misa Hylton was announced as a new brand partner for MCM. The business deal follows Dapper Dan’s partnership with Gucci, which came about after the high-end label was accused of copying his iconic ‘80s streetwear designs. Even so, this sort of recognition was only achieved nearly decades after their first imprints were made. The documentary was the start of a larger conversation, and as marginalized communities continue to make their concerns heard and reclaim attributes of their culture that have been integrated into mainstream markets, the obvious next move should be to rally, educate, and forge new spaces at the table for these voices to shine.