Meet The Baddest Brothers in Fashion
Look up “booted and suited” in the dictionary and, nine times outa ten, you’re gonna find a picture of a Brother next to it. If I’m lying, may the goddess strike my Nordstrom Fashion Rewards card in two with a bolt of lightning. Not for nothing, but when it comes to being “dipped and whipped,” “so fresh and so clean,” and just generally “razor sharp,” Black men have the game on lock! And, I say this as a Sister, knowing good and damned well, we INVENTED the game! But, I ain’t mad at the boyz, so credit where credit is due – and credit is definitely due. It doesn’t seem to matter, either, what style they choose to express themselves. Whether it be Cab Calloway in his clean, white Zoot, Michael in his studded, red “Beat It” jacket, or Steve Harvey’s in his “Sunday Best” – Brothers have this uncanny knack for pulling of their look(s) with mad flavah. Nary a collar is left unpopped, no shoulder sits accumulating dust and definitely no wire hangers! And, is it me, or is there some common thread (pardon the pun) that runs through it all? It‘s like flossin‘ is just flossin’ is just flossin’, no matter what. With Brothers and fashion, there’s this sort of universal undercurrent of pride, cocksuredness, even defiance that comes through whether it’s Pharrell in his skateboard/street chic, LL with his silly one pants leg rolled up, or Lenny Kravitz wearing …ummm, well..…nothing! It’s the same “cult of ego,” the same deliciously subversive bravado and the same mad attitude that jumps out at you. So, so juicy.
Well, no doubt, consciously or unconsciously, Black men have historically exploited fashion to do a lot more than just look fly. They’ve used it as a form of social commentary, as a political statement with which they give a big ol’ middle finger to a world that sometimes seems to rejoice in seeing them humbled or, even worse, completely broken. Maybe Woolworth’s could refuse a man the basic human dignity of service, but in 1960 when four young, Black college students held a lunch counter sit-in to protest the violation of their civil rights, they sure as shootin’ rolled up in that piece dressed to the nines, like they deserved the respect they were demanding- rocking”shiny dress shoes, top hats and stylish over coats. And, from then until now, with the wardrobe-conscious Jay Z practically owning the music industry (“I paid a grip for the jeans, plus the slippers is clean”) and our very own sharply dressed President of the United States straight flossin’ in the big office, Brothers have instinctively understood and used fashion to communicate some serious ‘ish without so much as having to part their pretty, pretty lips.
REAL RECOGNIZE REAL
If there’s one thing the fashion industry lusts after and tries oh-so-desperately to “bottle” it’s authenticity. Well, authenticity, edge and raw emotion. So, it’s no wonder that fashion has often emulated and sometimes imitated the style of Black men. And thankfully, a handful of Brothers have been savvy enough and connected enough to tap into a tiny corner of that lucrative market to make their own millions. Everyone from Sean Jean to Russell Simmons and the aforementioned Jay Z and Pharrell are pushing their very own, hugely successful clothing lines. It’s also really heartening to see more and more young Brothers on the come up today, in all different avenues of the fashion game. Standing on the shoulders of design legends like Willi Smith, Stephen Burroughs and Gordon Henderson, a whole new crop of bruh-man fashionistas “keep, keep, keep rising to the top.” And, while I wish I could shout each and every single one of them out (as I type this, I realize I’ve forgotten Malcolm Harris, whose “one dress” design has even gotten Angela Jolie’s nose wide open!), here are just a few of the most influential tastemakers in the game right now:
THE LEADING MAN – Patrick Robinson
With his gorgeously unruly mane, he may LOOK like the ever-comical Huey from the Boondocks, but you’d better believe that Patrick Robinson is no joke. This man is straight running ‘ish in the contemporary American design world right now. After paying his dues at the coveted houses of Giorgio Armani, Paco Rabanne, Perry Ellis and Anne Klein, Robinson now serves as the Creative Director for The GAP (translation – homey is nicely PAID!)
THE ROCKSTAR – LaQuan Smith
At 21, baby boy may still have the taste of Similac on his lips, but fashion-wise, shorty is getting his grown man on. Just this month, Smith debuted his first collection (“Water Goddess”) during New York’s Fashion Week with the likes of Andre Leon Talley, Misa Hilton and Mama Combs in the audience to cheer him on. Best known, until now, for outfitting Rihanna and for his outrageous chainmail leggings (donned by none other than Lady Gaga), Smith is poised to blow the hell up. With his bold creativity and high-profile devotees, LaQuan Smith is definitely a “fashion moment“ who has the chance to last a minute.
THE GENTLEMEN – Ozwald Boateng & The Brits
Modern-day dandies should get on their knees and kiss this man’s overpriced wingtips. Ozwald Boateng is the absolute end for men who understand and value style. His colorful, beautifully tailored suits are cut with the precision of an origami figurine. Credited for breathing new life into the stuffy Savile Row (the celebrated street in Westminster, London where tailors do their thing for the royals and well-to-dos), Boateng lent his impeccably, elegant taste to the House of Givenchy (2003-2007). His career has far exceeded the trajectory of any ordinary craftsman. He was the first tailor to ever stage a runway show in Paris, and his talents were featured in a popular documentary series entitled “The House of Boateng.”
The British Invasion Continues: Although very different from Boateng in their styling sensibilities, be on the lookout for other crazy-talented Brits making waves from across the pond, including Romero Byran, Wale Adeyemi and Duro Olowu. Olowu, is particularly intriguing. Also known as the better half of Thelma Golden (curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem), Olowu fuses the bold colors of Mother Africa with the delicate florals and prints of the traditional English Lady, bringing a whole new phunk to “Tea Time.” Cheers!
THE ICON – André Leon Talley
What can I say about André Leon Talley, except “All Hail the Queen?” Yo, brother man has been doing the damn thing in fashion since as long as I can remember, and then a whole bunch of years befo’ that. Currently VOGUE’s beloved “Editor-at-Large,” and judge extraordinaire on America’s Next Top Model, Talley has earned the V.I.P. treatment at any runway show he damn well pleases. He’s larger than life, he’s always extra, he’s BFF’s with every celebrity from here to Bollywood, and we love him to bits because he STAYS fabulous. Believe THAT!
THE CANDY MAN ( ‘Foot Candy’ that is) – Courtney Crawford
In the tradition of Etu Evans, a hot new couture “cobbler” is creating foot fy-ah for the unapologetically sexy woman. To call his designs “shoes” does not do them justice, whatsoever. Crawford’s creations are little pieces of art that just happen to fit ever so nicely on a foot. Cinderella ain’t never seen hotNESS like this, yo! Keep those pedicures on point, ladies, because if Courtney keeps this up – we‘re gonna to need to have the peds looking tight (p.s. Beyonce and Mariah are major fans).
THE GLAMOURAMA – Kevan Hall
If it’s opulence, luxury and old Hollywood drama you seek, look no further than Kevan Hall. The talented Detroit native is known for glamour, glamour and more glamour. Think curvaceous silhouettes in luxurious fabrics. Think designs that whisper Dorothy Dandridge and Grace Kelly. Think Hollywood starlets like Angela Bassett, Vivica A. Fox and Renee Zellweger, simply dripping with diamonds, and clinking glasses at super exclusive cocktail parties in LA-LA land. Hall’s creations scream fabulosity in an unapologetic falsetto, and let you channel your inner Diana Ross!
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND – Nacimod Deeodee, Bill Johnson, Epperson
Ain’t it always the way that the most innovative and creative talents go under the radar? Yep, that’s right, the illest boys in fashion are names you may not ever have even heard of …YET. At the HOUSE OF NASSAT in NYC , Dominican-born Nacinmod brings us funkay, quirky crocheted hotness straight out of FLATBUSH. And, a few hours south, the multi-talented DC designer, Bill Johnson, has created a collection called “Transient” for the modern-day nomad, in a style he calls “retro-futuristic.” (http://www.bjstudio95.com/). Smart money says to keep an eye on these both of these talented fellas and also on a brother named Epperson (better known as former reality contestant on “PROJECT RUNWAY”). Epperson’s delicately feminine and tribal creations (some worn by Ms. Erykah Badu) continue to make waves at the annual Harlem Fashion Row.
So, keep checkin’ their fresh, because when it comes to high fashion – Brothers are straight killin’ the game these days, and definitely making it haute to death!
**Did I leave anyone out? Commit fashion blasphemy? Hit me up with a comment.