The three minds behind Paid Homage, a clothing line that represents the current state of pop culture and its icons, have trained their eyes on the winning possibilities of right now. My-Kel Monroe, McFresh and Fli Stylz have combined their creative capacities and individual skills to create a fashionable ode to the influential celebrities of sports, music and iconic artistries. VIBE Vixen found that, most recently, caramel crooner Chris Brownhas signed on to debut a FAME t-shirt collection, inspired by his latest LP F.A.M.E. You know what? We’ll just let them tell you the rest… –Niki McGloster (@missjournalism)
VIBE VIXEN: How do you three come to know each other and start working together?
My-Kel: Me and McFresh met running my own online magazine [Persona Magazine], and we met through a mutual friend. We’ve been collaborating and doing stuff together since then. Fli Stylz came in toward the end ‘cause I met him through another friend. We all just clicked. The first day me and Fli met we were talking about doing some stuff together because he had a lot of celebrity access. He did creative direction and choreography for Usher and Chris Brown, worked with Michael Jackson, worked with Aaliyah, so it’s kind of like we’re a dream team. McFresh is dope as hell with designing so it all worked itself out.
It seems like your line is coming along well with the attention it’s getting. What made you come up that initial T-shirt line for Nicki Minaj?
My-Kel: Basically, I was really good friends with Amber Rose, and she had hooked me up with Nicki Minaj at the time. Nicki was just coming up; She wasn’t a megastar like she is now. About 2008, 2009. Right before her buzz got crazy.
Tell me about the designing part of the process.
McFresh: With Nicki, for a whole entire weekend, I just researched everything about her. I dug real deep into who she was as a person and built my whole proposal package for her. I did, probably, six to seven designs, but each one was represented something about her. We had the Harajuku panda, the tattoo that’s on her arm, we did a lot of things that she was representing in her music too.
Did you go to school for fashion and designing?
McFresh: Yeah, I actually have a degree in web design, and I was going back to get one in fashion merchandising. That’s where those two things tie in, but I pretty much do everything. That’s our strong point; I’m able to do everything in-house, so we don’t have to outsource the web or the fashion. We can keep it close-knit and everybody’s happy.
Where did the name for the line “Paid Homage” stem from? Obviously, it has a clear, literal meaning, but is there more to it?
My-Kel: The “Paid Homage” title came because me and McFresh were looking at the whole Nicki Minaj situation and how we missed out on it based on lawyers and a bunch of stickiness. Sometimes you can have a connection with an artist and the lawyers will mess the whole deal up, you know what I mean? As artistic people, we just want to go and work, and that’s how it naturally should be. So, I came up with “Paid Homage” because it speaks to youth culture about who we make celebrities. It’s like, at the end of the day, we have Internet celebrities. You have people like Amber Rose who became popular because her sense of fashion, the way she looks and her uniqueness. There are different people that you’re going to meet and see that you see everyday, like, on the blogs and all that. I just felt like it was fitting for the way society embraces people who have a unique way about themselves that speaks to everybody. Everybody likes or admires their sense of fashion or their attitude or how they carry themselves, so I wanted to have a brand that focuses just like that.
Why did you pay homage to Nicki Minaj?
My-Kel: Because she came up and transformed into this superstar. Same thing with a Amber Rose, a Lil Wayne, a Kanye West. We like them all for the value that they add to pop culture.
You’re talking about a lot of people that are huge in our culture currently, but do you have any plans to pay homage to older or past artists who paved the way for Nicki and Wayne and ‘Ye, etcetera?
McFresh: Yeah, we were actually talking about that, but that’s commonly done. Everybody does a Bob Marley shirt, everybody does a Tupac shirt, so we were trying to start with the people who are new and fresh now. Then, we can do Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol [and] those type of people. With Paid Homage, it’s an ongoing thing. Stars are created every day, so there’s always an opportunity to pay homage to someone.
My-Kel: We’re in an Internet world. Our core demographic, 15 to 35 [years old], are gawking after people they see every day right now, so we’re representing a new facet. We could do a Tupac and a Biggie shirt, but when you start paying homage and start noticing the people that are effective today and are getting booku hits on the Internet or whatever, it speaks directly to you. People are fanatics overnight because of the Internet, so we’re just speeding up the pace.
McFresh: Personally, we want to go with people like M.I.A. and Gaga because they’re really open and out there trying new things. I think that’d be another great avenue to take. Right now, we only have hip-hop artists, so I want to branch out and make sure we cover everybody.
My-Kel: Also, I want to start doing athletes that are just phenomenal.
Like, Derrick Rose!
All: Definitely! [Laughs]
[Laughs] Okay, so tell me a bit about this new line with Chris Brown and its direction.
My-Kel: The Chris Brown situation came about because Fli Stylz showed him a brand that I did called Collage, and Chris Brown went crazy over it. [Fli] was like, ’Why don’t you do something for Chris?’ So, I hit Fresh up, and Fresh always comes back with something that thee people are knocked onto the floor with. In less than 24 hours, we had a full layout, full concept broken down, stuff that really fit hit persona and he loved it. Loved it off the top! I made him some samples and he went to Australia, and on a video he was rocking that. There’s a Twitter link of him wearing the shirt, and we’re just going through the paperwork part to solidify the deal.
That’s going to be nuts! Chris Brown is a major stable in music culture right now.
McFresh: The best thing about it is that he’s fully supportive of it. That just makes everything that happens from it even better, you know?
Exactly. It’s better than just putting artists’ faces on shirt without their input. What are your thoughts on the marriage between fashion and pop culture?
My-Kel: I think that’s the future. We live in a very fast-paced world and consumers want to be sold to. Right now, we’re in the age of instant everything. If a person knows that they can connect with their fan with something cool that fits their persona then it works. If you look on the twitter page where Breezy tweeted that picture, he didn’t even say anything about Paid Homage but he was wearing the shirt. The reaction to the shirt was authentic, and that was ever doper to me that people connected with that shirt off top. People were like, ‘Yo, where can I get that shirt,’ because if you can connect with your favorite star or whoever by what they’re wearing then you want to get into it. There are stars and people that put out stuff all the time, but it doesn’t necessarily connect with the fans. We’re actually seeing that the designs and the concepts and the ideas that we have are actually connecting with the fans of these artists. Even with Nicki, she saw what we did for her and loved it. Fresh has a very unique way of making things fit the aesthetic of that person to a T. Artists do 360 deals now that means merchandise, touring and your music, and you’ll make more money off your merchandise in the long haul. You have to give these consumers what they want, so pop culture and fashion is one and the same.
What do you feel, overall, about our culture and the direction we’re going in?
My-Kel: We’re going into a new generation. It’s all about good energy and working with your unit. It’s about teamwork , and I’ll collaborate with anybody. I’m open for whatever, and I’m into everything. There’s no reason why you can’t positively create with people. That’s the legacy I’m pushing towards; that’s the legacy I want to leave on my kids. It’s all about building pyramids with your people.
McFresh: Each person is necessary.
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