Film Review – Fresh Dressed (2015)


You’re probably aware of Kanye West’s outlandish stance on music and fashion – whether it’s from his infamous interview with Zane Lowe where he stated “I’ve got ideas on colour palettes [and] silhouettes. And I’ve got a million people telling me why I can’t do it. You know, that I’m not a real designer”; or you heard about his ‘designer’ plain white t-shirt, with a hefty price tag of $120, which sold out in hours – however, this so-called ‘arrogance’ is actually a mistaken exclamation of passion. ‘Fresh Dressed’ offers us a chance to see why fashion was such a defining factor in the lives of hip-hop artists such as Run DMC, Tupac, and Mr. Misunderstood himself, Kanye West.

Sacha Jenkins’ directorial debut dives into the integration of hip-hop music and fashion, beginning, naturally, with its origins – the tradition of wearing one’s ‘Sunday best’ during the slave trade – following on to the creation of b-boy fashion in New York in the early 80s (which has influenced generations of artists and designers to this day), to the inevitable over-saturation of the market as artists began to cotton on to the money in the fashion industry, before briefly touching upon the ‘new school’ of hip-hop fashion, as well. The rather humorous scene at the start in which two 80s hip hop fans, one male and one female, describe their style on a teen TV show acts as a signifier of how far music and fashion has really come. ‘Fresh’ is no longer a commonly-used word, unless describing the style of the past, however the sheer passion radiating from the young man as he proudly points out his ‘fresh’ tracksuit and Kangol hat is still a universal expression – for as long as there has been hip-hop music, there has been an accompanying fashion and a wealth of fans perpetuating whatever style is trending at the time.

As well as montages of pictures from different musical eras, music videos, and old TV spots, ‘Fresh Dressed’ relies heavily upon various artists and fashionistas recounting their experience of growing up alongside the rise of hip-hop (especially in new York, where each district possessed its own unique take on b-boy fashion) – people such as Nas, who also produced the documentary, and trailblazing trend-setter, Popmaster Fabel. Fabel recalls designing denim jackets with patches and studs to create an ‘outlaw look’, and the ‘ritual’ of fattening one’s laces to be perceived as cool, with a wide smile on his face the whole time he talks and tries on his old clothing.

Most people know something of hip-hop’s origins – the culture which combined rapping, dancing, graffiti, and fashion (brought eventually to the mainstream by acts like Run DMC, famous for their fondness of a particular brand of footwear…), but there is definitely a lot people may not know that the documentary uncovers. It delves into the breadth of clothing companies that started up once fashion became such a major seller, including Walker Wear or Shirt Kings, who decorated denim jackets with graffiti art for artists such as LL Cool J, and the reason behind Tupac’s free-of-charge collaboration with designer, Karl Kani. It also tackles the unfortunate popularisation of stealing expensive clothing from designer brand stores, but from a different angle than expected – almost implicitly implying that this overt degenerate occurrence was actually a result of a covert class divide – with those deemed the lower-classes wanting to wear what was commonly associated with the wealthy and stylish upper-class. Kanye sums up this mantra perfectly with the phrase “being fresh is more important than having money”…

This theme of division becomes more and more prominent, discussing how barriers of race and class were broken with the pioneering world of hip-hop fashion – such as rapper, Sean John, winning one of the biggest awards in fashion – a defining moment for hip hop, fashion, black culture and the breaking down of class constructs. The other main theme made apparent in this documentary is Aspiration – we see a different side to Kanye as he talks about his early passion for designing, as well as a number of hip-hop fans reminiscing on their fashion choices and the lengths they would go to to fulfil their desire to look ‘fresher’ than everyone else on their block.

‘Fresh Dressed’ is definitely a refreshing take on hip-hop culture – in a generation where rap music is often scrutinised for lyrical themes or the lifestyles of certain individuals, the pioneering combination of music and fashion and its effect on the entertainment industry is often overlooked. Jenkins’ documentary is extremely detailed when it comes to the intricacies of being ‘fresh’, whilst simultaneously considering the social and cultural changes brought about by the movement – a definite must-see for hip-hop fans and those interested in the history of fashion.

Jenn Spiers

Music, Documentary | USA, 2015 | 15 | Dogwoof | 30th October 2015(UK Cinema)10th November 2015 (UK DVD) |Dir.Sacha Jenkins | Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Nas | Buy:Fresh Dressed [DVD]