Design Credits: Nija Furs NYC
Nija Battle might not be a household name, but if you paid attention to hip hop in the late '90s and early 2000s, you’ve seen her work. The grey, floor length fur Puffy wore in the “Hate Me Now” video with Nas? Battle designed it. The light blue shearling and fur coat Jay-Z’s love interest, model Jeannette Chaves, wore in the “Excuse Me Miss” video featuring Pharrell? Battle designed it. And the many inventive furs Lil Kim wore, including the white mink bikini top and jeans embellished with matching mink she donned for a Vibe shoot? Battle designed it.
Battle, who was from Brooklyn but had family in the south, grew up around fur. Her grandmother in North Carolina raised minks and her father, a hunter, would bring home hides that she and her sister would turn into blankets. She got her start working at different furriers on Orchard Street in Manhattan, but eventually broke out on her own, designing and custom dying furs made for celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Whitney Houston, and Mary J. Blige that traditional furriers weren’t used to. Battle was one of the few black women working in the New York City fur industry and she didn’t have a store front—she had trouble finding a showroom to work from due to her clients' unconventional hours. She would meet her customers where they were, which was sometimes at a club or restaurant. Andre Leon Talley wrote about Battle in Vogue, which introduced her to the fashion industry, but she died of a brain aneurysm in 2000 at age 37 while on a trip to Montreal with her sister. While many designers are turning away from fur, and cities like Los Angeles have banned fur sales, a fur coat has long been an investment piece within the black community. Battle understood this, and brought new ideas to the fur industry that embodied the glamour and “ghetto fabulousness” hip hop represented during that time.