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Fashion Documentary 'Fresh Dressed' Was the Talk of Sundance

The director fills us in on the upcoming film.
A still from "Fresh Dressed." Photo: Turner Broadcasting

A still from "Fresh Dressed." Photo: Turner Broadcasting

The relationship between fashion and hip-hop is a close and complicated one. Jay-Z raps about Tom Ford; Alexander Wang enlisted Missy Elliott for his H&M collaboration show; Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci designed the album art for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s "Watch the Throne," and who could forget West’s clothing line? Despite this interconnectedness, rarely has anyone taken a closer look as to why rappers name-drop designers in lyrics, or how these artists suddenly influenced designers beyond providing the runway soundtrack. This is where "Fresh Dressed" comes in.

The documentary was co-produced by Nas and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last weekend. Combining old-school video footage and interviews, director Sacha Jenkins — who’s also the creative director of the magazine "Mass Appeal" — sends the audience on a whirlwind trip through the history of hip-hop and fashion. From the breakdancers' custom outfits in the South Bronx during the ‘70s to the ‘80s designer Dapper Dan (known for spray painting designer logos on T-shirts from his Harlem apartment) to Rocawear, the clothing line started by Jay Z in the '90s, the references here stretch far and wide.

Additionally, he’s enlisted more than 70 music and fashion industry players including Pharrell Williams, Andre Leon Talley and Tisci to weigh in on how hip-hop has influenced them — and vice versa.

Get briefed on "Fresh Dressed," which will air on CNN later this year, in our interview with Jenkins. Plus, watch a clip from the upcoming film below.

Take us back to the beginning. How did the concept for the movie first come about? 

I’ve been writing about music for a long time at "Mass Appeal," and as a kid growing up in New York City, hip-hop was just part of my experience. The combination of those things and seeing the great stories that had already been told made me realize that one of the interesting ways to explore music was through fashion. Not only just the clothing, but how fashion can be a lightning rod for other bigger issues.

What was the goal when you decided to make this film?

In this stage of my life, I’m interested in doing things that can somehow educate people. Everyone loves fashion, everyone can relate to it. So it was a great way to tell a bigger story about hip-hop and culture.

What was the process like?

It took us about a year and a half to get it done, which, in the world of documentaries, isn’t very long. With my background, I’ve interviewed a lot of the folks who are in the film in the past, and these relationships helped speed up the process.

You had about 70 people in the film, but you must have interviewed many more. How did you choose whom to cut?

It was hard, but you know, I’ve been a writer and an editor of magazines and books. My editor here, Andrea Scott, was a complete outsider. Hip-hop just wasn’t her thing, and it was great to have her on board with this project because it gave me a different perspective. Because this film will ultimately air on CNN, it’s got to be able to suck in a lot of people. We worked together to shape the interviews to make it connect with tons of people, whether or not they’re familiar with hip-hop or even fashion.

You interviewed everyone from Andre Leon Talley to Riccardo Tisci for this movie. How did you pick your subjects?

Many of the designers and brand people I talked to were interrelated. So I’d interview one designer, and they’d say to me, ‘Did you know this person worked here?’ and these connections made it easier. In documentary filmmaking you’re constantly discovering things along the way.

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What about the people you wish you could’ve talked to, but didn’t? 

There’s a lot of talk in the film about Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger — two brands that have a strong relationship to hip-hop — but they weren’t interested in speaking. On the one hand it would’ve been great to hear from them, because folks inside the culture have a lot of love and respect for what they’ve created and wear their stuff. It would’ve been great to hear their take on this influence and how they feel about rappers being so passionate about their clothes.

A still from 'Fresh Dressed.' Photo: Turner Broadcasting

A still from 'Fresh Dressed.' Photo: Turner Broadcasting

How did [the rapper] Nas become involved in the project?

I’m a partner in "Mass Appeal," and he’s a partner as well. We went to the same junior high school in Queens and it wasn’t really a stretch for him to get involved in something like this. He gets all the references, and he understands the value of telling these stories. Fashion is something that’s had a hand in who he’s become as a brand.

You cover a lot of the big-name brands that have an influence in hip-hop, like Polo. But what about the smaller brands today that are beloved by artists, such as Hood by Air?

Well, in the film we talk to the brand Public School — it's at the height of this fashion/hip-hop establishment. I wanted to have someone who came out of all the other stuff to show how they have broken out of whatever box or mold they were originally placed in. I know Dao-Yi [Chow, one of the partners]; he’s been a journalist for many years. Years ago they wouldn’t have done this interview for the fear of being boxed in. But they’re comfortable now because they’ve proven themselves in this world. Their brand is so strong and they have that respect.

Did you feel pressure to expand into the other areas of fashion, like streetwear? 

There’s only so much you can get in a film. Streetwear to me is a whole separate beast. I wanted to focus in on the black and Latino experience that has fueled hip-hop, and how it transitioned into the world of the fashion business.

What do you think about old-school brands like Puma or Kangol -- which were popular in hip-hop decades ago -- making a comeback?

Fashion is just a cycle. It’s always been subjective, but because of the Internet, people are wearing stuff from so many different eras because now they have access.

Exactly. Now we’re exposed to so many different ideas.

For instance, one thing that kept coming up in the film was the idea of freedom. So many people made the correlation between clothing and freedom. Regardless of what’s going on in the real world, and how people are oppressed and don’t have opportunities, clothing means so much to them that it gives them a level of freedom. And that I think is a really important discovery.

It's true... picking out what you wear in the morning actually is a free choice that many people don't even think twice about.

We probably all know that deep down, but hearing people articulate it without me even prompting them really shows what I want to achieve with this film: How fashion relates to the environment, and how it’s a product of the culture around it. That’s what hip-hop is, too: a reaction to the environment.