Monday, November 23, 2009

Hip-Hop Chic: A Brief Look Into Unintended Consequences of a Globalized Economy and American Pop Cultural Ubiquity

American hip-hop producer, Pharrell, has launched a "Pacifist" bulletproof jacket with the help of Italian fashion boutique, Moncler, made of recycled plastic bottles. Pharrell has previously ventured into fashion design with his Billionaire Boys Club line, co-run by the high-end Japanese hip-hop/"streetwear" brand, A Bathing Ape.

Although concepts like "hip-hop fashion design" and "high-brow streetwear" sound like oxymorons, given the low-brow cultural origins and associations of streetwear staples, hip-hop fashion remains a popular international clothing style and aesthetic of choice - perhaps, in part, to it's individualistic, anti-authoritarian connotations. In any case, Pharrell's new jacket manages to combine the grim, gangsta aesthetic traditionally associated with hip-hop culture (itself a product of urban-based, low-income African-American culture), with the avant-garde design impulses of modern fashion (a predominantly Caucasian affair with some exceptions).

Of course, he's not the only popular black producer/performing artist with unabashed design impulses. Nor is he the only one to profit from cultivating and mass-marketing hip-hop fashion. Nor is he the first one (or last) to sell a lifestyle aesthetic associated with youth, rejection of surrounding cultural norms through co-option of negative imagery as a source of personal power and esteem, independent thought processes, and affirmations of one's own uniqueness, non-conformity and creativity all through one's selections in upper- and lower-body wear.

...of course, it's also important to remember that jeans, t-shirts, athletic shoes, and form-fitting women's clothing as the default fashion norm of billions of people worldwide is a historically recent development.

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