In an era where entertainment and music is dominated more and more by black voices and black culture, it seems high time that someone examined the influence of “black style” on fashion. Even so, heads turned when the Museum of the City of New York unfurled its current “Black Style Now” exhibit (through February 19). Truth be told, I’ve always been surprised at how few black entertainers and hip-hop artists infiltrated the tents of New York Fashion Week before their wares did. Considering how fashion-savvy hip-hop culture has always been (from kicks to Kangols, these artists have a history of being trendsetters), I was always surprised that it took the launch of brands like Baby Phat, Phat Farm, Sean John, and others to get style divas like Lil’ Kim and Kanye onto in the front row of shows like Bill Blass. Granted, there have always been the more celebrity-friendly lines like Versace and Gucci, but I don’t believe Zac Posen would have been standing next to Rihanna at “Fashion Rocks” if Kimora Lee Simmons hadn’t done a lot of work to bring hip-hop artists closer to the (traditionally very exclusive) fashion world. But what of this new exhibit? Would it showcase Kriss Kross’ infamous backward pants, or truly highlight the best of black style?
Essentially, the exhibit chronicles the pioneering style of black entertainers and luminaries, from Tina Turner to Diddy, in a manner both classy and comprehensive. Included therein are, of course, the iconic images you’d expect to see in this kind of collection: the magnetic black and white photograph of Sean “Diddy” Combs, pimped head-to-toe in spats and a coat with a fur collar; a dizzying image of an overflowing rack of sneakers that looks like a sea of laces, soles and Nike swooshes. A group of A-list stars has donated some spectacular outfits, from glittering gowns to luxe fur coats, but the best of the exhibit are the classic offerings. Black and white images of icons like Cab Calloway and a “history” wedding dress grabbed my attention more than the aforementioned Simmons’ glittering ‘Hello Kitty’ necklace. You’ll be surprised at how your heart beats a little faster checking out one of the Kangols LL Cool J made famous in the 80s. Ultimately, that kind of appeal transcends racial boundaries, and becomes much less about color than pure style.