Image: Tupac wearing Walker Wear in 1994's "Above the Rim" (left); a recreation outfit recreated by April Walker for the Tupac biopic, 2017's "All Eyez on Me"
“Good design” is, arguably, all that matters. The rest is simply used to push brands into boxes, often for the sake of keeping elitism alive. Throughout history, categories and delineations have existed solely for this purpose across industries, with music using the word “genre” instead of fashion’s classifications, but the purpose is still the same. The word “genre” itself comes from the French and originally Latin word for “kind” or “class.” The latter phrase lays bare what most of fashion’s categories mean to do.
What happens if you were to take this original meaning and apply it to fashion? Imagine saying class instead of fashion—high class, low class, urban class—the resulting categories become more clearly elitist than before. If good design is the goal then the need for these delineations cease to exist. But if elitism itself is the goal, then the need for these categories remains.
Often fashion marks the type of clothing by the person who’s wearing it. So the fact that the likes of Walker Wear was predominantly seen on black rappers, athletes and the youth that looked up to them meant it needed new classification. The difference between Walker Wear and
Balenciaga is often just the acceptance of a high-minded principle rather than anything in the design.
Farah X notes this, saying “I don't think the person who's wearing it should define its category. But the minute you put something on a black or brown body, it's called street or urbanwear. If you take it off the person, what is the clothing?”
This is the question that’s still being asked today and often seen in the reaction to black designers, something even if critics can’t be as explicit in asking it as they were in the ’90s. For Lisa Cortes and Farah X, creating
The Remix was a chance to showcase a story often undertold. “Women of color have existed in this arena since the very beginning, but the stories of those women have not been told,” says Farah X. The response to their work has, so far, mostly come from communities of color. “A lot of the response I've been receiving has been from women of color and even younger men of color seeing the value in their creativity, the value in their existence and just seeing themselves in history,”
A documentary like
The Remix does something subtle, but important—allowing people to see themselves in places that they’d typically be shut out of. “As people of color, we obviously learn a very different history than what our own history is. It's time to go back, rewrite the narrative and incorporate our stories that have always been there and just haven't been told.”
The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion is available to stream on Netflix now.