Writer, musician, Mass Appeal creative director and director of Fresh Dressed, a documentary on the birth and life of hip-hop fashion, Sacha Jenkins has been a fan of the culture since he was a sixth grade student studying the pages of Subway Art in the back of his Queens, New York classroom. “I guess I should thank the great New York City public education system for putting me on my path and for helping making me what I am today,” Jenkins jokes from his Soho office.
Having known Jenkins since the 1990s, when he was the co-publisher of the influential music zine Ego Trip (and his personal style was less than jiggy), he has always been a kidder. But what’s no joke at all is the amount of love, talent and craft the 43-year-old first-time feature documentarian put into his film. Co-produced by Nas in association with CNN Films, Fresh Dressed previews this weekend at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
EBONY.com caught up with Jenkins 24 hours before he left for Park City. Finishing a late lunch of cornbread and chili, Sacha talked passionately about his project.
EBONY: Tell us about Fresh Dressed.
Sacha Jenkins: On the surface level, it’s about the history of hip-hop fashion, which we trace from slavery to modern day. The idea of “Sunday best” goes back to slavery, when slave owners in some states were required to buy their slaves one nice outfit so they could go to church and worship. So we go from there to the South Bronx in the ’70s, with the decline of the street gangs and the rise of the B-boys.
Ebony: How are the street gangs and the B-boys related fashion wise?
SJ: Once the gangs started to die down, the guys doing graf, breakdancing or whatever, those guys took the same sort of self-stylized customization mentality that gangs put into their jackets, except they were rockin’ the sweatshirts with the iron-on letters.
EBONY: Who are some of the people you interviewed for this project?
SJ: We worked on Fresh Dressed for about a year and a half, and were able to get everybody from Dapper Dan—a Harlem merchant who made custom outfits for the rappers in the ’80s—to Karl Kani, April Walker, Pharrell Williams, André Leon Talley and Kanye West. We also interviewed photographer Jamel Shabazz, whose own work documents the fashionable hood kids living in New York City in the 1980s.
EBONY: In Shabazz’s books—Back in the Days and A Time Before Crack—I recall he shot many of his photos on Delancey Street and Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Back then, a lot of us bought our cool clothes down there. I remember buying a blue Troop jacket on Orchard Street.
SJ: And today all those stores are gone. But when we were interviewing Jamel on that block, we ran into some of the old merchants who still own property down there. When we asked one guy about the kids who used to shop at his store, he said, “They might not have had the best house, they might not have the best car, but when they had that jacket, they were kings.”
EBONY: In the early days of hip-hop, many of the performers wore crazy costumes that had more in common with funk bands.
SJ: Big Daddy Kane references Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and those crazy over the top outfits they used to wear, while during the same period, the Cold Crush Brothers were wearing suits. Run-DMC changed all of that, and in Fresh Dressed, we see DMC talking about how his group dressed like their fans. He says, “They see we are connected to them, we are like them and we are one of them.”
EBONY: Run-DMC changed so much in hip-hop in terms of music and threads.
SJ: Designer April Walker talked about how those guys inspired her and changed her whole perception of what fashion was supposed to be. Walker says, “In school, you’re taught to dress for success,” but when she saw those three guys with their leather blazers, pants and Adidas sneakers… What was fly to us soon became fly to the masses.
EBONY: What was it like interviewing Dapper Dan, whose custom-made clothes featured the logos of high-end designers Louis Vuitton, Chanel and others?
SJ: Dapper Dan is still the mayor of Harlem. Walking down the street with him, everybody speaks and gives him props. Like many others, he’s trying to figure it out. From the beginning, Dan was always such an innovator. Like he says in the film, he could take a roll of material and make it into whatever he wanted it to be. As Nas says, Dapper Dan was Tom Ford before Tom Ford. But Dan wasn’t trying to be a fashion celebrity. He just wanted to serve his community.
EBONY: When I heard you had done this film I was surprised, because I didn’t know that the subject was important to you.
SJ: You’re right, I could give a damn about fashion. But I’ve always been interested by what inspires it. To me, that’s what the film is all about: the environment that created so many different styles. There are many different layers to a film like this.
Sundance screening times for Fresh Dressed are as follows: Saturday, January 24, 2:15pm – The MARC, Park City; Sunday, January 25, 11:30pm – Prospector Square Theatre, Park City; Monday, January 26, 3:00pm – Broadway Centre Cinema 6, SLC; Saturday, January 31, 9:30pm – Park City