In 1986, there was a ritual when New York kids bought a pair of Adidas. They would stretch, starch, and iron the shoelaces, then thread them back outside-in. The message: I can afford the name brand, but my style is unique.
Fashion is about that clash between commercialism and individuality — how can I stand out while fitting in? — and Sacha Jenkins’s streetwear doc Fresh Dressed nods its Kangol hat to that irony. The punchline: By the time Run-D.M.C. rocked those fat laces on Yo! MTV Raps, suburban kids could buy them ready-made at the mall.
It makes sense that Fresh Dressed is headquartered in New York, where showoffs have miles of sidewalk to promenade. In the Seventies, the style was personalized jean jackets. Ten years later, Christopher Martin — Play, from Kid ‘n Play — made cash spray-painting people’s names on their jeans. But mass marketers rushed in: By the Nineties, kids weren’t wearing their own names, they were advertising Fubu, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, Rocawear, and, more troublingly, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, who were happy to hand out clothes to rappers while keeping their magazine models Caucasian. Jenkins acknowledges the tension in black artists proving their worth by wearing historically white brands, or, in the case of Harlem entrepreneur Dapper Dan, mimicking them by covering puffy jackets in mock Louis Vuitton. Jokes Dan, “I blackinized it.”
Jenkins is as concerned with how that insecurity could cripple newer designers like Puff Daddy and Kanye West, and with the current crisis in innovation, where a generation has been trained to consume, not create. As for women, rapper Yo-Yo pops up to sigh that few urban labels cared about female fashion — and then the ladies disappear from the doc en masse.
Directed by Sacha Jenkins
Samuel Goldwyn Films/Style Haul
Opens June 26
Available on demand