Bodies, personalities, friends--all are in a state of flux in high school. For many teenagers there is comfort in the stablity of brand names. Allison, a junior at Summit K–12, describes her style as "pretty/hiphop." The pretty side, she says, reflects her personality, while the hiphop side reflects the culture she's drawn to. Both sides are dependent upon brands--from her hat to her shoes, recognizable names abound. But the girl wearing all those corporate logos somehow spins them into a look that's uniquely her own.
Carmelo Anthony cap by Nike Jordan, $25 at Finish Line (Pacific Place, Sixth Avenue and Pine St, 624-8668). Allison's cap was a Christmas gift from her boyfriend. It bears the name Carmelo after Carmelo Anthony, small forward for the Denver Nuggets (see also: shoes). Beneath the Carmelo is a simple head wrap, which not only adds a little style to the space between cap and shoulders, but also keeps her hair from "frizzing."
Cotton hoodie by Mossimo, $19.99 at Target (various locations). Allison nails it with her Mossimo hoodie. Comfortable and sensibly priced, it's a deceptive choice: seemingly casual, but really the heart of the entire ensemble.
Jeans by Von Dutch, $15 at Buffalo Exchange (4530 University Way NE, 545-0175). On the surface, Alison's jeans appear to just be your standard stylish denim. But look closer: tight to the leg, yet longer than is traditional, the jeans betray her hiphop theme while reinforcing it at the same time.
Nylon down jacket by Rocawear, $60 at Macy's (1601 Third Ave, 506-6671). Rocawear is the moniker of rapper Jay-Z's fashion line, and like P. Diddy's Sean John and Russell Simmons' Phat Farm (see also: handbag, shoes), it's helped hiphop make the unlikely move from the streets to stores like Macy's.
Handbag by Baby Phat, $24 at Macy's. Guided by Kimora Lee (wife of mogul Russell Simmons), Baby Phat is working hard to steer hiphop culture away from its misogynistic trappings. According to social critic and curmudgeon Stanley Crouch, it will take more than handbags to halt the "intellectual suicide" of young black women who "do not think there is anything wrong with the images of black women as sluts, scantily clad nubile meat" in hiphop. "No other ethnic group has ever judged its authenticity by the lowdown ways of its scum," Crouch wrote. "But in the poisonous wing of gangster rap, anything is possible." One look at Allison and it's clear that Stanley Crouch has never been to Seattle.
Carmelo Jordans by Nike, $120 at Finish Line. Like her cap, Alison's sneakers are by Carmelo, giving her entire ensemble a smart symmetry. It also turns the outfit into a topography of hiphop fashion. Carmelo Anthony was the third overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, and one of a handful of recent NBA stars to have been declared a possible "air apparent" to Michael Jordan, the NBA's all-time most popular player, and a pioneer of star-licensed products. It was Jordan's brand--born in 1984--that turned sportswear into a popular fashion style, saving Nike (then struggling from the collapse of the jogging fad) and turning it into a sports-dominating brand. Jordan was not the first sports star to endorse a product--Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had attached themselves to Converse--but his impact was staggering.
A year later, Run-D.M.C. released the song "My Adidas," which proved to be the opening salvo of hiphop's eventual embrace--and co-optation--of name-brand sportswear. "My Adidas" was released on the label Def Jam, cofounded by Russell Simmons (see also: jacket, handbag), a label that released the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, which became the first hiphop record to debut at #1.
Although hiphop was firmly established by the time Licensed to Ill arrived in 1986, the pale faces of MCA, Adrock, and Mike D brought the genre into the suburban malls of America. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan--with the help of Spike Lee's brilliant "Mars Blackmon" commercials--quickly became the most famous sports star in the world. As sales of Nike's Air Jordan basketball shoes skyrocketed, so did hiphop. Soon kids across America were buying not just Air Jordan sneakers, but Air Jordan sweatsuits, T-shirts, and jackets, emulating what their favorite hiphop stars were wearing on MTV.
But in Seattle, a girl named Allison makes the style all her own. *