Taking it from the Streets


Don't be fooled. The outfit may appear oh-so-casual -- just a T-shirt, bomber jacket and pair of baggy jeans thrown together with some gold chains and a baseball cap.

But it's all been very carefully orchestrated.

The cap, you'll notice, is pulled down on the forehead, not tilted back. The chains are chunky, not delicate.

This new urban chic, which traces its origins to the gold-bedecked attire of the first MTV rap artists, is hitting the mainstream in a big way this fall, thanks to recent mega exposure on the almighty runways of Paris.

"It's an American trend given European status," says Basha Cohen, a vice president with the Associated Merchandising Corporation, a New York-based buying office that advises stores around the country.

Trendy young people on the streets of Queens and the Bronx have been dressing with a similar attitude for several years now, she says. "It even goes back to the graffiti artists of the early '80s."

But the look is hitting the mass market now largely because of Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel.

"When he showed all that rapper jewelry for fall, you truly saw how much the streets influence high fashion today," she says. "And next, you'll see it trickle down again as people knock off Chanel."

For his fall runway collection, Mr. Lagerfeld dressed his elegant models in frothy ball gowns and then layered on thick gold medallions, rapper caps and leather bomber jackets. Somehow it worked and the news flashed around the fashion world.

Across the ocean, American designers, such as Charlotte Neuville, also drew inspiration from the streets for their fall designs and sent out models with caps, gold pendants and chains.

Designer John Scher, a Baltimore native, put his spin on the urban rapper look with gunmetal motorcycle jackets and hot pants in unusual fabric combinations like stretch silver lurex, leather, georgette and long-haired fake monkey fur.

None of the designers presented clothes copied straight from rap musical groups -- many of whom have abandoned the original gold chains and caps anyway. These days, young MTV fashion followers are including in their dress items from other musical cultures, such as the construction boots and motorcycle jackets favored by new wave and rock musicians.

The clothes you'll find in the stores this fall tend to have a more feminine edge than the street-savvy garb worn on MTV. "It's not a super tough look. It's been softened," says Joanne Hart, an accessories fashion director for Macy's. That philosophy is summed up in the name of the motorcycle jacket shop being launched by the store: "Angels on Wheels."

In addition to Harley Davidson caps and scarves, and heavy gold chains with dangling crosses, dollar signs and stars, Macy's shop will be featuring pleated skirts and pearl-and-chain combinations that reflect the Chanel twist on rapper.

The enormous attention that rap fashion is receiving can be seen as part of a broader shift in the industry, says Ms. Cohen.

"This is a cross-cultural look that's not strictly white or black, but it does pull heavily from black culture," she says. "And I think we're going to be seeing black culture having a lot more influence. There's more awareness generally right now, with new black film directors making movies like 'Boyz N The Hood' and television shows like 'In Living Color.' "

Katherine M. Cooke, an African-American who produces fashion shows for designers such as Bob Mackie, credits MTV as well as Black Entertainment Television with the greater impact blacks are having in fashion.

"The music definitely has had an effect on our movement to equality and better opportunity and having the ability to express ourselves."

Before the advent of MTV and its exposure of black musical artists and their fashions, she says, "we were just sounds on the radio. Now you hear it and see it. And suddenly our fashion is fine. Today, it's OK. Our kids are successful and the white kids are copying them."

African-American designer Carlous Palmer, who designs for Baltimore area stores, says, "It's OK to have dreadlocks, to have braids, to have two earrings. It wasn't five years ago."

He stresses, however, "this is not a black or white thing. We all adapt each other's style. At one time, when Benetton was so big, people wanted to have straight hair, and look collegiate, nautical, old money. Now everybody wants to look tough -- it's fun and different."

Rappers' delight

You can do the total look or just add a hint of rap with accessories. Just keep in mind that juxtaposition is key.

* Combine tough and soft elements, like a black leather motorcycle jacket and a chiffon skirt.

* Try a baseball cap of sequins, quilted satin or velvet.

* Take last year's pearls and wear them with some heavier roped chains, a white T-shirt and a denim mini.

* Experiment with unexpected fabrics like a hooded sweat jacket in washed silk instead or fleece or a motorcycle jacket in velvet.

* For a club look, wear a bustier in black satin under the jacket, perhaps trimmed with silver studs.

* Black is often the base, but add your own individual stamp with a shot of color in your most flattering shade.

* To get that American-in-Paris twist wear a pair of black fish-net hose with a denim mini skirt.

* Give an updated street flavor to your basic white T-shirt and jeans by adding an element in a futuristic metallic fabric -- like a silver quilted cap or a patent leather belt.

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