With Fresh Dressed, director Sacha Jenkins shines a light on the history of hip-hop style. From sweatsuits to sneakers; Sean John to Jordans‚ the documentary highlights the styles that have shaped not just hip-hop culture, but impacted fashion as a whole. Sitting down with everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Kanye West, the films speaks to the icons themselves, pointing out that in hip-hop, style was more than skin-deep—it defined your persona. With the documentary screening on CNN tonight, Jenkins' doc won't just reach the people who might have found the film on their own, but cross into homes that don't know the difference between Cross Colours and Karl Kani.
"The challenge was to create a film that was informative and entertaining, and could speak to the core...but also speak to a broad audience of folks who aren't necessarily initiated into the culture," Jenkins told Complex. While much of the style we associate with hip-hop began in the '70s, Fresh Dressed looks before that—starting notably with gang culture's role on urban fashion; evolving into the cacophony of styles we see in hip-hop today. On the way, the film stops to dissect power players like Harlem icon Dapper Dan and Sean Jean's Sean "Puffy" Combs.
Ultimately, hip-hop as a musical genre is all about being flamboyant. The fashion that came out of the culture is exactly the same. Jenkins noted, "The values of hip hop—in terms of what it represents—are totally in line with the values of fashion: be over-the-top, stand out, be original."
With hip-hop's core value of competition (something inherited from the gangs of the 1970s), standing out wasn't just idealized, it was necessary. A fresh outfit wasn't simply an indicator of having money, it let people know who you were and where you came from. "Hip-hop is based on language," said Jenkins. "Hip-hop uses a vast vocabulary when it comes to music...you're referencing lots of different things using words and colors. The way we dress in hip-hop is it's language...what you wear is an extension of who you are and where you're from." He continued, "fashion is communication, and it's also freedom."
As the film shows in a segment that identifies styles by NYC borough, the clothing you wore was an indication of the neighborhood(s) and cultures that influenced your life.
There's no doubt that even uninitiated audiences will recognize names like Jay Z and Pharrell when talking contemporary hip-hop style, but Jenkins also put an emphasis on how hip-hop's former players have an impact that's still being felt today. "It is Dapper Dan...it is Popmaster Fabel...these folks are all integral to the evolution of hip-hop."
It's distinctions like these that challenge viewers to avoid lumping rap music into "hip-hop" overall. The two are intertwined yes, but they are different. Jenkins notes, "I didn't make a 'rap' film, I made a film that told the story of hip-hop, and how hip-hop was a reflection of the environment and the social climate. We used our creativity to forge an identity for ourselves." Adding in the ways that hip-hop is influencing high-fashion ateliers and streetwear in equal measure, Jenkins recognizes that what was once was an isolated subculture, is now a lifestyle and mentality that reaches a worldwide audience.
But, as Jenkins points out, being "fresh dressed" isn't necessarily about the clothes—it's about the community and the culture. "There's a level of comfort when you feel a part of a community," said Jenkins. "For me being fresh dressed is whatever makes you feel good...the notion of 'fresh' implies something is brand-new." He continues, "But I think the root of the feeling is wearing something that you feel good about, that represents who you are."
It's that unspoken communication; the acknowledgement that someone outside of yourself understands the messages you're conveying with your clothing—As Jenkins simply said, "that's fresh."
If you're interested in viewing Fresh Dressed, tune into CNN at 10 p.m. EST tonight. If you can't wait that long (or happen to love the film), you can rent and purchase Fresh Dressed on Vimeo.