Image via Instagram, user. @kidadajonesog
There is limited access in 2018 to Kidada Jones; stylist, fashion designer, actress, author and muse to Tommy Hilfiger for almost a decade.There is no digital looking glass into the minute and select parts of her life, save for an Instagram page that has less than 40 posts and an Oprah interview that illuminates only what Kidada wants to offer the world. She works for Disney now, creating kitsch-free Disney couture and jewellery that act as perennial reminders of carefree childhood memories.
To me, Kidada Jones is the coolest person alive, but she doesn’t even have a sufficient enough Wikipedia page to highlight the role she played in cultivating the looks Dolce and Gabbana dubbed “Cool” in a 196-page coffee-table encyclopedia released in 2017. Those who know the effortless ways she channeled cool will quietly post reminders of the Tommy Hilfiger shoots she styled for his now defunct label Tommy; a shoot that made Hilfiger the de facto brand of cool associated with everything hip, youthful and black. Her androgynous cool girl chic is fashion’s now favourite look and yet she still remains far removed from the hype and loudness of celebrity culture. It’s on Instagram’s explore page with the #ilovestreetstyle or #streetfashion that you can see the aesthetic pioneered by Jones, now finding its ways back into the mainstream, no thanks to the constant ways fashion always looks to the past to regenerate looks that were culturally pivotal and aesthetically significant. Looks that are intrinsically linked to the timeless cache possessed by things that find themselves in proximity to blackness.As part of his 2014 Vulture series on the role of hip-hop in American mainstream culture, Questlove took the concept of cool to task by trying to define it along the colourlines of what and whom America chooses to define as cool. “ Have you heard of black cool? It used to be something ineffable but indisputable. Certain African-American cultural figures—in music, in movies, in sports—rose above what was manifestly a divided, unjust society and in the process managed to seem singularly unruffled. They kept themselves together by holding themselves slightly apart, maintaining an air of inscrutability, of not quite being known. They were cool.”
In 2012, musician Cody Chesnutt released his single, “ What kind of cool?” On it he crooned, “What kind of cool will we think of next, to hide behind?” Not much unlike the man who seems to have inspired his words and performance persona, Chesnutt implores for change in the same way Marvin Gaye asked for clarity and understanding on, “What’s Going on?” That cool factor which Chesnutt finds discomfiting and distracting is ironically, part and parcel of his appeal; because in what other genre can one release a single dressed as a quiet storm, but calling for a hurricane-like resistance? In the black creations that are soul, rock’n’roll, hip-hop and jazz. And that cool factor is not camouflage to aid in self-deception, but one of the most organic things to emerge out of the cultural artifacts linked to black culture and blackness. Black is cool and in the last 25 years Kidada Jones has been the trendsetter crafting looks that courted originality in a time when style meant following trends set by those who controlled fashion runways.Black femininity is cool and we only need to see the ways TLC, MIssy Elliott, Brandy, Aaliyah and Kidada continue to inspire looks that now find themselves sanitized to fit the expensive confines of Vogue’s glossy pages and every Kardashian-Jenner’s Instagram account. Jones’ coolness is imperceptible and undeniable; something lacking in the hordes of Insta-models and street style inspired “It Girls” who try to capture a certain timelessness by wearing slightly distressed white T-shirts screened with the faces of Sade, Aaliyah or Tupac in an egregious thirst for cool. T-shirts sold for white prices in white spaces where white crowds truly believe THUG LIFE truly just means Thug Life. On its own feminine blackness carries with it layered experiences of oppression and systemic violence, but its aesthetics are alluring and desirable, specifically pillaged to portray an illusion of the disaffected unfriendly black hotties who are criminalized by the state but appropriated by white culture.
As a black woman growing up at the apex of hip-hop’s formation and during its most defiant era, Jones found inspiration in the experiences and styles of those pushed to the farthest margins in American pop-culture. When Biggie boastfully rapped, “You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far,” Jones saw what many creators failed to; the limitless capacity of a cool that comes from people who hustle and grind with finesse. In those relegated to the stereotype “criminal” and “fit the description” she saw dissension through their self-expression as they donned the baggiest of jeans, basketball jerseys and blindingly white kicks. Amongst the crews who cripped their names with intricate footwork to remind everyone they were here, Jones saw a swag and pride that she translated into the fits that landed her as a stylist for Vibe (Black America’s capsule of cool). It was her styling of Michael Jackson on their 1995 cover that brought her to the mainstream attention of Tommy Hilfiger. Jackson’s usual style was immaculate and precise with everything tailored and streamlined to fit his narrow dancer’s frame. Jones put him in the baggy, androgynous attire then seen on the coolest kids milling around blocks stereotyped as “ghettos.” She did it without stifling any of the magic that made Jackson effervescent or lending a superficial commercialism to the it-factor that gave hip-hop style a gotta have it kind of vibe. It’s no mistake that the Hilfiger had its most successful interaction with exclusivity during a time when a black woman was at the helm of its creative styling team.
Whiteness has always seemed to try too hard to commodify the parts of a sub-culture it seeks to consume but cannot fully access. I.AM.GIA is the fashion label recently given the moniker of the most cool by the gate-keepers of cool a la InStyle and Glamour. Black influence is undeniably dominant but black people are conspicuously absent in its celebrations of cool. Scrolling down its feed whiteness is omnipresent, black cultural inspiration is unmistakable and cool is absent. It’s a visual representation of what happens when black cool is diluted to the point of cultural caricature and all that’s left is a poor-man’s interpretation spouting homeboy and quiet like a cultural infiltration by the feds, making dope and fresh grating sounds devoid of any kind of meaning or expression.Kidada Jones latest Instagram post is one I believe Questlove would call cool. The year is 1990. George H. W. Bush is president. William Lozano, a police officer is sentenced to seven years in prison for shooting an unarmed black motorist and black people are entering a new decade of resistance after the recent deaths of black revolutionaries James Baldwin, Septima Poinsette Clarke, Huey P. Newton and Ella Baker. The world around her is cultivating new ways to strip humanity from blackness and yet in the black and white picture she looks inscrutable, unruffled, and holding herself slightly apart. Courting attention while rejecting it at the same time.Black cool.Follow Tari Ngangura on Twitter.