Hip-hop Is Getting Haute

May 09, 1991|By Roy H. Campbell | Roy H. Campbell,Knight-Ridder News Service

At the recent fall preview of the Chanel collection in Paris few of the 1,000 spectators were ready for what came down the long catwalk: models wearing leather baseball caps, quilted leather jackets, distressed and ripped denim. Accessorizing many of the ensembles, even the chiffon dresses and classic Chanel jackets, were multiple thick gold chains. From one chain hung a huge license-plate-shape pendant that read "Chanel" in gold letters.

"It's the "nouveau" rapper look," designer Karl Lagerfeld declared.

Three weeks later, young American designer Charlotte Neuville's fall line opened with homeboy jackets in fake fur, hooded sweat shirts, pants cut full in the seat and worn low on the hip in slouchy hip-hop style, and metallic baseball jackets -- all worn with huge medallions.

"I took my inspiration from the streets," Ms. Neuville said.

Yo! The world of high fashion has gone hip-hop.

"Every era and every time has something of an undercurrent of some ethnic culture that influences it and gives it movement and currency," said designer Isaac Mizrahi, whose fall fashion show in New York featured homeboy fashions and a rap-style commentary by comedian Sandra Bernhard.

But some in the black and rap communities find this high-fashion trend disturbing.

Denise Burrows, a buyer for the traveling Ebony Fashion Fair, took offense at the Chanel presentation. "When black kids were wearing a lot of gold chains, they were condemned by society," Ms. Burrows said. "But then Lagerfeld does the same thing for rich women and he is applauded. There is a double standard here."

Also, within the black community, some long have charged that when elements of their culture are picked up by society as a whole, black people rarely are credited as the source.

In interviews, however, designers readily acknowledged the source of their inspiration.

"The whole thing was about glorifying the black culture and how incredibly influential it is," said Mr. Mizrahi of his recent show. "Four years ago, when I introduced parkas, it was from this culture, from homeboys and homegirls on the subway who can take absolutely nothing -- like a sweat shirt -- and make it look fabulous."

Keir L. Worthy, who recently became director of rap promotions for Warner Bros. Records, has spent years working with rap artists. "Hip-hop," he said, "is youthful, it's energetic, it's very expressive."

Ironically, Mr. Worthy said, hip-hop is an inexpensive look that is getting a high price tag. The designer togs cost up to thousands of dollars.

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