Baz Luhrmann’s latest cinematic creation, The Get Down, released last Friday. The Netflix Original television series takes place in New York City, more specifically The Bronx, in the late 1970s and highlights the birth of hip-hop as the disco era begins to fade. Much like the 1920s was depicted in Luhrmann’s 2013 film The Great Gatsby, he had to capture the style of the 1970s to make the series look and feel completely authentic. That meant everything from afros and sideburns to Cazal frames, Kangol hats, bell bottom jeans, and, of course, period-correct sneakers.
In an interview with Complex, lead costume designer Jeriana San Juan recounted having to provide Luhrmann photographic evidence of people in 1970s actually wearing the items she added to the set wardrobe throughout production. Tasked with finding 40-year-old pieces of vintage clothing still in wearable condition or recreating them from scratch, sneakers were an equally important part of the wardrobe. After all, sneakers were (and still are) a cornerstone of hip-hop.
With the help of hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash she was able to pinpoint what sneakers would be used. Here’s what San Juan told Complex went into choosing the right sneaker for The Get Down.
How did you get the sneakers for the show?
The T-shirts and the jeans and the sneakers were all fresh made. Pro Keds, for example, made our show a few thousand sneakers. They just happened to be in the middle of re-launching their brand. We were the first ones to have them about a year ago. They shipped us a few thousand pairs just to use in the series, because they wanted the sneakers to be authentic. We wanted the sneakers to be authentic, so they were really lovely and helped push through a large number of sneakers to put on this show. I would say there is a great deal of background in this show and a large number of those clothes are actual vintage. Vintage that’s been collected from wholesalers, from curators, from stores and from deadstock vintage curators. We have sort of everything and anything. We also have a number of archival pieces that were used either at the disco or on Mylene or one of the three girls. There was a number of pieces that were loaned to us from companies like Cazal, Pro Keds as I mentioned, Kangol, and Puma. All of these companies were willing to work with the show and loan a great amount.
What was it like working with Pro Keds and how that came together? Why was that so important and what those shoes meant in that era?
Grandmaster Flash helped draw for me this sort of diagram of what sneakers kids were wearing and what was the ultimate cool sneakers that some kids had but was ultimately really hard to gather money to buy. Pro Keds was really the heart of that diagram. The majority of what kids were wearing was Converse and Pro Keds and of course, Pro Keds don’t exist, so I was like this is going to be a huge challenge. How am I going to recreate a sneaker? And it’s hard to do that on a platform like Netflix with Baz Lurhmann’s name behind it. I could never really fake it and I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the time period and keep it authentic. So Calvin Martin and I called Pro Keds and got in touch with their representative. They basically told us they were in the middle of relaunching their brand. It was this sort of miraculous timing because they were going to go back into production to re-debut their sneaker and brand. It was very early on in the process for them. They weren’t really in production. When we told them about the show, what it was about and who was behind it, they were very excited and eager to participate with the show and have their sneaker represented on the show. Also help people understand how cool the sneaker was and how prevalent it was in the time period. Help really tell the history of the brand which was very important to us and certainly very important to them. The stars aligned, it was kind of kismet, and they went straight into reproducing their original styles and their original colorway for our show and put them through production really quickly.
Can you talk about the significance of Puma and where they fit on that spectrum of all the cool kids had them or they were just coming out or everyone had them?
That came from a story Grandmaster Flash told. He used to carry a toothbrush in his back pocket all of the time in order to keep his sneakers clean. With a large part of early hip-hop fashion and culture, a big part of it was keeping your style fresh. Literally, that's where “fresh to death” comes from. It comes from people wanting to look crisp, clean and as new as possible. That was a mark of how fly you were and how fresh you could keep your clothes. It was a big part of street fashion and culture was to look fresh and clean, fresh out of the store. That started trends that you see today like leaving your tags on clothes or leaving your sticker on your hat. That all started back then and it was because when this movement was happening kids in the Bronx didn’t have many resources. They really invented this style and they invented it with what they had. Sometimes style comes with just pairing what you have in a really cool way or matching your hat to your sneakers or leaving the tags on something to prove how fresh something is. I think it was all ingenuity and creativity that really created this style.