Hip Hop on Top

Urban Fashion Designers Rule

of Phat Farm’s parent company, Phat Fashions L.L.C., which was started in 1992 and had sales of $100 million in 1999. “Fashion trends have always originated on the street. It’s a question of who is smart enough to figure out what’s hip first. And what’s hot on the street will continue to pave the way for future fashion trends.”

Some new names on the scene include Maurice Malone, Enyce and the newest kids on the urbanwear block, Rocawear, Akademiks, RP55 and Sean John, hip-hop producer and artist Sean “Puffy” Combs’ new line.

“A lot of these designers that are coming out of the box have their own points of view,” says Shaka King, a Brooklyn, New York-based men’s wear designer. “If that designer wants to succeed in the mass market, he should never forget that fashion needs to have broad appeal.”

THE NEW URBANWEAR CONSUMER
To further widen their appeal many urban designers are moving away from using the label “urbanwear” and moving toward “contemporary” or “metropolitan” says Ellzy of the Fashion Association.

“The word ‘urban’ has grown outside that definition,” says DNR’s Romero. “The lines of what can be considered for those particular markets have been blurred. It started with the oversize denim and basic T-shirts, and has evolved to tailored clothing for men and women’s wear collections.”

Combs’ foray into fashion runs the gamut from T-shirts to denim suits to tailored suits and luxury leathers and furs. Started in 1998 and generating sales of $24 million by 1999, Sean John apparel can be found in more than 410 stores nationwide. Combs is the first African American designer to be
nominated by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to receive the Perry Ellis Award for Menswear at the American Fashion Awards 2000 on June 15. (Winners had not been announced at press time.)

“There were successful black designers who opened doors for us,” says Jeffrey Tweedy, vice president of Sean John. “There is a new swing toward the X Generation-it’s younger and more street-savvy talent. The younger generation is becoming more creative. Our consumer takes the best of a designer and mixes them all together [to create their own] personal style.”

As a result of African American designers’ tapping the global youth market and mainstream customers’ demand for hip-hop clothing, major department stores have reserved significant floor space for their clothing lines. But those who have achieved such premier status are few.

“Most of the black designers that I know couldn’t produce the quantity that the big stores are demanding,” says Audrey Smaltz of the Ground Crew, a New York-based company that produces fashion shows, photo shoots and special events. “They don’t have the millions of dollars it takes to meet the demand of a Bloomingdale’s.”

Smaltz adds that despite the success of black urban houses, many designers lack financial backing to become successful on a mass-market level.

“There is going to be a point when hip-hop looks are going to fade,” says Anthony Mark Hankins, a Dallas-based designer. “You have to redevelop yourself after a couple of

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