The new documentary Fresh Dressed is caught between two competing desires: wanting to celebrate hip-hop culture's early street style while also condemning the capitalization of that culture by brands, thus allowing traditional fashion institutions to reign supreme. However, this isn't a weakness of debut director Sacha Jenkins's film. In fact, it could be argued this is where we shouldbe stuck, given the trajectory of street style's humble origins to our current, commodified moment.
The film starts off as a tale of working-class black youths in the Bronx finding a voice through rap. The music bled into a street style that Run of Run DMC describes as celebrities wanting to dress in a manner that their audiences could afford, and continued in the 80s and 90s into fashion brands owned by black men, such as Cross Colors, Karl Kani, RocaWear (Jay-Z's brand), Sean John (Puff Daddy's), and FUBU.
The film kind of throws its hands up in the air when we enter the 00s. A time when luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton believed there was enough money to be made, and enough fat black wallets to move into the space. There's no big analysis here. Not even an anecdote on how Burberry tried to rebrand themselves to capitalize on the burgeoning streetwear movement and began to lose stock value when their high-end customers turned their back on their company as it became worn by so called British chavs. We are simply given the fact that the race argument has now become a class argument, and that once you're rich enough, there are certain clubs you allowed to belong, whatever the ethnicity. As for those wanting to ride the gravy train, the price of the ticket on the lapel just got a whole heap more expensive.
Sacha Jenkins's Fresh Dressed is currently in theaters and on demand at www.freshdressedmovie.com, and available on iTunes beginning July 10.
Follow Kaleem Aftab on Twitter.