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REPEATING to add photo numbers to art note. () —
(EDS: Please note that language in the paragraph beginning "Just make sure" may be offensive to some readers. Also, please note that boldfaced words should be set in italics and that (HASHTAG) has been used instead of the symbol, which is non-transmittable to some newspaper systems.)
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c.2012 New York Times News Service
These days, what we talk about when we talk about men's wear often isn't men's wear at all. It's bravado. It's the changing role of legacy. It's the infusion of brash young energy into a hidebound, tradition-smug world. As often as not, what we're talking about is hip-hop.
Take, as an example, the new book by Kevin Burrows and Lawrence Schlossman with a name that expresses enthusiasm for men's clothing in such a loud, exuberant manner that it can't be printed here.
In one spread is a photo of a serious-looking young man in a navy blazer, white oxford and burgundy bow tie. In his hands, he's clutching three 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor. The accompanying text is, more or less, set to the tune of "Salute," by the Harlem rap crew the Diplomats:
Just make sure you bring my critters, bitch
Tryna get Waspy
Lilly P belts with the guns still tucked in them
Volvo station wagons with boarding school girls still getting smashed in them
@Unlikely as it may seem, the long hip-hop-slang-filled poems in this book are a hypertrophied form of what's become the de facto way of discussing men's fashion on the Internet for a generation that learned about Lardini and Isaia from street-style websites, and whose fashion enthusiasm began not in Milan or at F.I.T., but from watching Kanye West videos.
Hip-hop is the lingua franca, and also a blooming shadow influence on the men's wear industry writ large. The Internet — Tumblr, specifically — is full of voracious consumption of men's wear imagery, helping to build an informed consumer and talent pool unlike any before it. Who those people look up to are a slightly older cohort of designers, magazine editors and tastemakers who have become Internet men's wear icons largely for the way they infuse the rebelliousness of their hip-hop youth into their more traditionally attired selves.
''I never feel that the two things have to be reconciled," said Schlossman, 25, who dived deep into hip-hop during college, then became a heavy presence in the emerging men's wear blog world after graduating. He met his co-author when Burrows, now 24, posted a video advertising the first collection of his small-batch tie line the Windmill Club, featuring nattily attired young men sauntering around Brooklyn over a hip-hop instrumental.
"The counterintuitive idea which now is the norm" is how Schlossman described the juxtaposition.
Before long, the two had started a blog (which shares the book's unprintable name) that was influenced by everything from beat poetry to Greek epics (Burrows was a folklore and mythology major) to the indie culture satire blog Hipster Runoff.
The blog, which ran only for about a year, and the book that followed, is riotously funny, a love letter, a sendup and an Ouroboros all in one. At the time the blog began, the men's wear blog phenomenon was still young, but as it became the subject of parody, it only got larger and more influential.
''Life imitating art," Schlossman said. "We were making fun of it as it was happening."
This parallel, remora-like universe took on the name (HASHTAG)menswear (pronounced hashtag men's wear) after the tag that was affixed to posts on Tumblr.
''Did it birth (HASHTAG)menswear?" Schlossman asked, before answering his own question: "Kanye shrug!" He then made the gesture popularized by West that loosely translates to: "I hate to have to be the one to say it, but it's pretty obvious."
That's partly the case. "The Internet was a safe space for guys who were into clothes," said Jian DeLeon, a style writer at Complex, who traces the movement back pre-Tumblr to men's style messageboards like Styleforum, Hypebeast and Superfuture. The slang that teenagers used there to talk about their favorite sneakers and T-shirts stuck even when the teenagers grew up and the objects of desire evolved, he said.
That created a default voice that has come to dominate the discourse. "They feel comfortable playing their music loudly," said Michael Williams, by way of metaphor. Williams is the founder of the early men's style blog A Continuous Lean, and an uncle of sorts to the younger generation. "There's not this metrosexual man-bag stigma that people harass them about," he added.
That means there can be a loud collective cheer from the Tumblr-verse when the two worlds collide, as when ASAP Rocky ends up on the cover of Jalouse, or an interlude on Rick Ross's recent "Rich Forever" mix tape that mentioned Tod's loafers and cashmere socks. "You have no idea how many Tumblr people felt legitimized by that one skit," DeLeon said.
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Schlossman is also the editor of Four Pins, a men's style website owned by the hip-hop and style publisher Complex Media. It's largely written in the voice that suggests a teenage boy thumbing through the GQ archive addled on Red Bull and "The Marshall Mathers LP." (Sample recent article title: "Hood Rich Is the New Americana".)
The site has some of the self-awareness of Schlossman's other project, featuring a column called The Token Black Guy Chronicles, which underscores an inconvenient truth: Many of the participants in (HASHTAG)menswear are white, and free to adopt hip-hop posturing without suffering the wages of racism.
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More often than not for this generation, hip-hop is the filter, not the text, providing a worldview that preaches the values of opulence and peacocking. It helped that the (HASHTAG)menswear world had a few non-rapper heroes of their own to look up to: Those include Josh Peskowitz, men's fashion director at Bloomingdale's, and Eugene Tong, who was recently promoted to style director of Details.
''Hip-hop was a genre that made it cool for guys to care about what they're wearing," said Tong, 32, who grew up in Cherry Hill, N.J., on a diet of Wu-Tang Clan and Nas before making his way into the world of men's fashion. The same went for Peskowitz, 33, raised in Washington, D.C., and who worked at music and style magazines including The Fader and Vibe before crossing over to retail.
''For a long time in America, when you looked at a guy in a suit, you saw a stiff, especially for a guy of my upbringing and era," Peskowitz said. "It represented establishment and we were definitely not about that."
But over the years, Peskowitz has changed his tune, and he's apt to be seen on style blogs in, say, an Isaia sportcoat paired with a profanely embroidered kerchief given to him by the designer Mark McNairy.
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McNairy, 51, has become an unlikely figurehead for this movement. His shoe line, Mark McNairy New Amsterdam, has become a bridge for streetwear enthusiasts to shift to more traditional footwear, and he has woven hip-hop into his aesthetic, whether by using the rapper Danny Brown as a model for his look book and runway show, or releasing T-shirts that are winks to hip-hop fans. One reads, "That's that shirt I don't like," a tweak of a famous Chief Keef lyric; another, "White Folks in Paris," is a play on a Jay-Z and Kanye West song title.
''Most of my contemporaries are in their 20s and 30s," McNairy said.
Peskowitz echoed the sentiment: "There are more people that speak the same language that I do in our business now than there was six years ago, and most of them are much younger than me."
Both men recalled the time, not very many years ago, when the two worlds weren't in such harmony, even in spite of the occasional crossover figure like Andre 3000 of Outkast, who McNairy said at one point served as an unwitting muse.
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In his teenage years, Derek Guy published a hip-hop magazine called Subculture, but now he blogs about tailored men's clothing at Put This On and at Die, Workwear. "Hip-hop gave me a certain view of masculinity," he said, "which I think has made it difficult for me to be into the kind of dandyism that some of my peers are into." Buying slacks after years of wearing jeans, Guy said, "made me confront my identity."
Guy, now 33, left hip-hop behind, both in his style and his soundtrack, but plenty of his generation didn't, including Dao-Yi Chow of Public School and Ouigi Theodore of the Brooklyn Circus, two designers of more traditional men's clothing still eager to preserve the hip-hop spirit of their younger years.
''It's definitely a badge of honor, as well as one that you wear carefully," said Chow, 38, who began his fashion career in marketing at Sean John, the label founded by Sean Combs. He told a story of a recent collaborative project in which he proposed including a five-panel cap, but was met with resistance, being told, "it feels a little too hip-hop."
''There's a negative connotation in the fashion world I'm in now, the CFDA world — after all these years they have some crazy idea that it's still baggy jeans and big logos," Chow said. He and his partner, Maxwell Osborne, were the only men's designers in the inaugural Fashion Incubator class of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and there's nothing identifiably hip-hop in their collections of tough-looking downtown basics. "We're making our garments in the same factories as Band of Outsiders and Thom Browne and these esteemed American brands," Chow said, floating the implicit question of what, if anything, made him different from them.
The same could apply to Theodore, 37, though to him, to keep a hip-hop influence at arm's length, he said, "would be me not embracing who I am."
He continued: "It's rebellious culture, but it evolves. In fashion there are not enough of us who can transition. You are creating something that is open to all with your culture at the root of it."
Even though these generations see no wall between an embrace of high-end men's fashion and a hip-hop lens to view it through, it's possible that the wave of enthusiasts that follow will have different blends of influences. What's more, these figures, influential as they are, still constitute a small movement inside a much larger, still very insular club.
At least they have one another, though. "It's very apparent that certain things are unknown to certain people," Tong said, adding, "Josh and I have this very specific handshake when we greet each other, and people are like, 'What did you just do?'"