Hip hop and fashion are naturally interlinked, and while there have been a few notable documentaries on the subject, a new entry hit the scene during Tribeca Film Festival entitled “The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion.”
Produced by former Mercury Records executive Lisa Cortés and Academy-award nominated producer (“Precious”), “The Remix” was also directed by
Cortés who shares credit with co-director Farah X. Rather than a sweeping view of a major movement in fashion, this work instead looks at the shaping of culture and fashion via a hip-hop lens that focuses on key early innovators in the space: stylist Misa Hylton, designer April Walker, Dapper Dan and Kerby Jean-Raymond.
For any fan of the musical genre or fashion, overall, the documentary is a fast-paced ride. It provides viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the particular cultural and musical shifts that created prime atmosphere for such fashion pioneers to apply newfound creativity in an era of high-budget music video and even more dazzling recording artist lifestyles.
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Yet not without struggle, these same individuals reveal previous darker moments of deep financial turmoil, burnout, raids that impacted business and much more. Perhaps this element is that which gives “The Remix” a bit of differentiation from projects that address a similar space. The intersection of race, business and fashion is also uniquely explored, such as the unfortunate action of a former Vibe advertising sales executive who painstakingly researched archival photos of Black people to show the demographic’s interest in fashion throughout the decades in order to convince luxury fashion houses to advertise in the magazine. Or the nearly demoralizing actions of the once-famous Magic trade show for fashion which relegated such lines as Walker Wear and Karl Kani in their early days to a room off the main conference floor — that is, until they wrote $2 million dollars in sales the first year.
Though a bit shorter and lighter than one might like, this piece speaks expertly to the additional hurdles for success in fashion when one is not only of color, but also female and a bold visionary. One can only imagine how many pioneers fell by the wayside as we watch what those on screen have overcome.
There are a number of phoenix-from-the-ashes moments in this piece, such as overcoming a loss of 70 percent of sales after using a particular Pyer Moss show to make a statement against police brutality against Blacks to then go on to a partnership with Reebok. Or Hylton’s seizing of a creative director spot at MCM after creating a bustier for Beyonce for the recent “Ape Shit” video. This after not many years ago being reduced to sleep in her car due to financial turmoil even after massive success of styling Mary J. Blige’s first looks to so much of what we all think of as images when we think of L’il Kim.
There is a haunting question throughout the film. Would such hardships need to be endured if pioneers had been embraced by the fashion industry early on instead of often being either ignored or worse, artistically stolen from in editorial pages and on retail floors?
But that would be viewing such a story from a place of lack rather than the great richness that it offers — a triumph of creating, contributing and confounding, in spite of massive difficulties.