What do you guys know about Sean John? Before there was Kanye West’s Yeezy brand there was Sean John by Sean “P Diddy” Combs. Out of all the urban wear brands I’ve written about in this series and will write about, this is probably one that had the biggest impact on the industry! This was the brand that helped define urban fashion – Diddy literally invented the idea of athleisurewear, his brand Sean John was the beginning of this trend. When I say revolutionary, I mean revolutionary, this brand CHANGED THE GAME, look around you right now, athleisure wear dominates fashion and has been forever now! What was a tracksuit before Sean John? Nothing! He revolutionized what a tracksuit means in our community and to this day Sean John is well and alive because greatness never dies.
Sean John was launched at the height of Diddy’s career in 1998, the mogul was able to use his celebrity status to (like I said before and will keep saying) revolutionise the industry, he described his brand as fashion-tainment. Obviously, it was not the first clothing company to reflect hip-hop — or street or urban or black — aesthetic, however, it did have a unique selling point which was its luxurious point of view, mass-market goal and activist undertones. Sean John was way ahead of its time, imagine if Sean John launched in this era of social media, I really think it’d be up there with off-white, Gucci and Dior as the most popular brands of right now because Diddy was a master marketer on top of his game, this man disrupted the industry in more ways than one and does not get enough credit for it!! In 2001 (the year I was born if anyone wanted to know hehe), Sean John held the first nationally televised runway show. That’s BIG!!!! 22 years after its launch Combs was the first African American to win the CFDA’s Menswear Designer of the Year award in 2004, he still racks up over $400 million in annual sales, the brand is sold at Macy’s across the country, and Sean Combs is the blueprint for the celebrity-driven labels that followed like Fenty and Yeezy.
When Sean John officially launched in 1998, it’s competitors included the likes of Fubu, Phat Farm, Rocawear, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, and Akademiks. However, 20 years later in 2018, hardly any of the brands are still standing or hold a brand image as strong as Sean John and I think we can nail this all down due to the fact that those brands represented the “now” of the 90s, the difference with Sean John is that Diddy created a lifestyle brand with A VISION, his brand was the difference between mediocre fashion and style trendsetting – he set trends, he didn’t follow them. Throughout history, in menswear, there are few people that we can call style icons, especially in terms of urban wear but I have to say Combs is one of them and you simply cannot disagree with me. I will not argue with anyone over this. Not only is he a man with great personal style but also birthed one of the greatest brands of his generation. A man that will go down in fashion history.
In an interview with GQ Sean “Diddy” Combs said,“When I started Sean John, my goal was to leave my mark, to set the trends instead of chasing them, be a frontrunner and create collections that everyone would want to wear. With the Sean John brand we have built an incredible foundation that I believe will continue to inspire and draw new customers. To be a force in the fashion industry 20 years later makes me incredibly proud, and I look forward to taking it even further.” Transcending pop-culture, Sean Combs has taken on his personal mantra and translated it into the business world: “Can’t stop, won’t stop.”For Combs, this phrase is so much more than just a saying but a way of life. The feeling transcends all that he does and inspires the Sean John brand as it enters it third decade of providing fashion for men’s boys and girls.
Sean John’s first ever collection in 1998 consisted of only 11 pieces. Then in March 1999, Sean John made its debut in retail with a launch event at Bloomingdale’s in NYC. And before you know it, he had his first fashion show in February 2000, only 2 years after launching. Sean John has been praised for its innovative approach and received numerous awards and accolades – from the very beginning, Sean “Diddy” Combs and his Sean John brand set precedence with a seamless mix of fashion, music and entertainment— hence the term fashion-tainment. Sean John celebrated high-maintenance masculinity when fashion was emerging from a decade of grunge. Combs’s street-meets-boardroom sensibility reflected his personal style and that’s why the brand did so well, it was authentically very Diddy. He crafted an aura of wealth and power around the brand, but he also infused it with a lot of sex appeal. The brand’s aesthetic is truly prescient, its impact is still visible to this day from Paris to Joburg to New York. It is there in hoodies and velour tracksuits, and oversize parkas. It’s in Vetements, Off- White, Balenciaga, Fenty and Yeezy. Like I said it revolutionised the industry.
Combs didn’t go to design school, but he was a student of fashion. “Tommy Hilfiger was my mentor coming up. He gave me all the information I needed,” says Combs, who once walked in a Hilfiger show. “Tommy Hilfiger is one of the biggest supporters of diversity. He was the first to embrace it and not shy away from that consumer.”
I would say that my legacy is for all black designers. Diversity is essential, but black designers have a hard time, and we’re the most fashionable people on planet earth. So [Sean John] gave birth to this moment; it empowered these young creatives to know that their talent and their ideas and their designs had value and that they had power. I see the trickle-down effect, and that was the intention, going with the goal of breaking down the doors for other people.”
As you can see the Simmons’ dominated the 90s/ early 2000s. They were the OG mogul family. They practically paved the way for the Kardashian/ Jenner clan. Phat Farm was a fashion line founded by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons aka the founder of Def Jam record label in 1992. The name Phat Farm to me was perfect for the times, – a hip- hop slang word that urban dictionary would describe as something “cool, pretty hot or tempting”
Before Mr Simmons founded Phat Farm in 1992, his main focus was music. With his partner Rick Rubin, he launched Def Jam Records signing huge rap musicians like The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and of course, Run-D.M.C. Rush Communications was soon created thereafter and housed Phat Farm, a clothing line Simmons sold at a small shop in New York’s Soho district. With the help of Marc Bagguta, who ran the boutique, and 22-year-old skateboarders Alyasha Jibril Owerka-Moore and Eli Morgan Gesner, who became designers for the brand, Russell Simmons managed to turn Phat Farm into one of the most iconic urban brands to ever grace the earth. You can tell that Russell’s music background had a huge influence in how he branded phat farm as well as the clothing he provided. The line was an upscale mix of sporty urban fashion with elements of the classic ivy league prep student – he was a man who paired baggy jeans with crisp white sweaters and somehow made it look good! But now if I see someone dressed like that I instantly cringe, that fashion was left in the 90s and that is where it should stay for the rest of eternity.
It needs to be taken into consideration that, Simmons once admitted that Phat Farm was not an immediate success, he lost almost $10 million during the first six years but he says that once things took off, they really took off, helping to boost his net worth up to $300 million.
This man was a pivotal player in this so-called “urban wear” fashion movement in the late 1990s as the founder of Phat Farm which over time eventually became the uniform for hip-hop fans. Urban streetwear brands were seen as an extension of hip-hop artists’ fashion influence, as musicians were not only aspirational style icons, but also educators, name-dropping luxury designers like Versace in their anthems and cultivating a new generation of label lovers.
In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Phat Farm and Baby Phat reigned supreme alongside Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren (two brands that eventually embraced hip-hop’s appreciation) and were sold at mainstream stores like Macy’s. Their runway shows at New York Fashion Week were pop-culture happenings that helped merge the worlds of fashion and celebrity, and were attended by everyone from Lil Kim to Brittany Murphy to Vanessa Williams. However, sadly, today, Phat Farm ceases to exist, no Instagram feed, no Twitter account. The brand isn’t even listed among Kellwood Apparel’s repertoire – the company whom Simmons sold the company to for $140 million back in 2004, and an inquiry to the Kellwood Apparel office was met with, “What’s a fat fashion?” by the receptionist, who then transferred the call to voicemail.
Do you think phat fam would succeed in today’s fashion society if they were to make a comeback like baby phat?
As well as Pastry, Baby phat is also another brand that reminds me so much of my childhood. I was a die-hard Simmons fan growing up, I watched every single one of their reality tv shows. Watching Life in the fab lane made me crave a career in fashion, more specifically, a career as a fashion designer. Kimora Lee had 8 year old me thinking that I could conquer the fashion industry – I remember seeing her close every baby phat show and I’d tell my brothers “that’s gonna be me one day.” I used to spend my weekends and holidays sketching clothing designs and my brother ended up keeping a folder of every design I ever made good or bad (he’s honestly been my biggest supporter and fan from the very second I stepped foot into this world!). Kimora Lee was the BOSS ASS BITCH of the 2000s and no one can ever tell me different!!!
Before there was Fashion Nova, there was Baby Phat – the women’s streetwear brand that epitomized everything we hate and love about early 2000s fashion; low rise jeans, velour tracksuits, flip phones, jewelled belts, boot cut jeans, mini skirts and basically everything you identify the early 2000s with! Baby phat didn’t follow trends, they started them. The streetwear brand began 22 years ago in 1998 as an extension of the Phat Farm men’s label under Mr Russell Simmons’ Phat Fashions company. Like I mentioned in my Pastry post, at the time women’s streetwear brands hardly existed and the ones that did were just feminized version of the men’s and their ads all seemed to cater to the male gaze – in literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer, however, what was different about Baby Phat was the fact that they centred women. It was created and designed by a woman who was fiercely independent and strong! Like I said before Kimora Lee was the BOSS ASS BITCH of the 2000s and no one can ever tell me different! Women’s empowerment was at the core of the Baby Phat from the start. Ads presented Kimora living the Fab life, whilst men catered to her! In the world of Baby Phat, Kimora was THE President.
But the one thing that I loved the most about this brand growing up was simply the fact that they brought so much empowerment to black women in a time where we were not represented in the industry. Baby Phat runway shows were a celebration of black fashion, before the rest of the industry deemed it “cool”. Kimora hired black models, black designers and she even tapped rappers like Lil Kim to walk in the fashion show, she invited black magazine editors to sit front row, and she even hired a black publicist. Let’s also not forget just how innovative Baby Phat was, Kimora released a signature pink Baby Phat Prepaid Rush Visa Card which offered a 10% discount on online Baby Phat purchases, she was the first designer to show at Radio City Music Hall in 2006 and became the first designer to livestream her show via Jumbotron in Times Square in 2009, giving spectators an “in” on a typically exclusive event (and a now-common practice for brands reaching audiences online). I will keep repeating it so you can all get it into your heads, Kimora Lee was the BOSS ASS BITCH of the 2000s and no one can ever tell me different! A TRUE QUEEN!
Unlike Pastry, Baby Phat is now well and truly back in business. Last year in 2019 it made it’s comeback with Kimora’s daughters Aoki and Ming being the stars of the campaign. Since its initial partnership and launch with Forever 21 in December of 2019, the brand has released solo collections, and now, it has partnered with Footlocker for its first-ever women’s collection.
So as you all know, last week I did a blog post entitled ‘Throwback Thursday’, here I gave you guys a number of urban wear brands from the late 90s and 2000s that dominated black culture, however, I didn’t give you any background information on those brands so this is where this series comes in. I am going to educate you on these brands and show you why they should never be forgotten starting with pastry shoes!
Launched in March 2007 Pastry came at a time when sneakers weren’t a big thing among girls/ women. Pastry Shoes was founded by Vanessa and Angela Simmons in order to allow young girls to create unique looks in order to express themselves. Pastry Shoes were designed to be “sweet, chic, and unique”.
At the time of their launch, people were dressing like Serena and Blair from Gossip girl and our favourite 90210 characters. Sneakers were a thing for boys/men, they were not worn for fashion but for sport and dancing hence why Pastry marketed themselves as the number one dancing shoe in the US at the time. Sisters Vanessa and Angela Simmons were the faces and designers of the brand which is one of the reasons why the brand excelled so much in its time – having two famous founders gave the brand the kind of built-in marketing engine no amount of advertising could buy. In a way, they opened the way for influencer marketing, these two started their brand on their father’s reality TV show – runs house and fans were able to follow their entire journey, from the initial idea to their actual shoe launch garnering a huge fan base. In addition to this, the brand utilised social networking sites like Facebook and myspace to push their brand, here they would post video blogs of the sisters and new ads/ promotions. This brand was clearly ahead of its time and it breaks my heart to know that pastry is no longer what it used to be, it hardly even exists.
As mentioned before, the brand launched when customers wanted something loud and fresh. “From the bold colours to the fresh silhouettes, Pastry is right where it needs to be,”. The shoes came into the market at a good time because no other brands were doing what they brought to the market. People recognised this and that’s why fashion enthusiasts like myself fell in love with the brand. I remember these were all that I ever used to talk about and then my brother got me them in 2011 (literally just before they died out) and I wore them everywhere I went, from that point no other shoe mattered, even if it didn’t go with my outfit I still wore them. These were the first pair of trainers I adored and probably the start of my sneaker addiction! But now looking back on these shoes I cringe a little because I could never imagine my ever wearing these with my sense of style now, they’re what you call a true ugly sneaker, however at the time I was a child so if they were ever to come back into fashion I think they’d be great as a children’s shoe. The bright colours and patterns just make sense for children.
I think you can all agree with me when I say Hip hop and fashion have always been intertwined, I mean where do you think streetwear came from? In my opinion, Black Hip Hop artists invented streetwear! No one can ever tell me they didn’t. The Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy literally put Versace on the map for so many black youths back in the day. Then we have Aaliyah who pretty much made Tommy Hilfiger a household name after posing in heavily rotated commercials and advertisements for the brand in the ‘90s and let’s not forget the fact that whenever anyone ever dresses like Aaliyah they always incorporate Tommy Hilfiger. However, many of these signs of affection often went unreciprocated and to be fair today, still do. Look at the number of black artists that wear/ rap about these brands yet how many of them cast black models for their shows/ invite rappers to their shows. These brands don’t appreciate us as much as we appreciate them which is why we see rappers like Jhus and singers like Rihanna starting their own luxury brands. Just like back then these lines are our answer to the corporate white world that wants so desperately to shut us out.
As of now streetwear is at its peak and stronger than ever which is why I thought why not do a Throwback Thursday. In today’s blog post we’re going back down memory lane and checking out some of the Urban brands that defined the late 90s/ early 2000s because before the Migos rapped about “Versace” or Lil Yachty linked up with Nautica, hip hop fashion looked a lot different! LL Cool J was always seen in FUBU, Jay-Z had a closet filled with RocaWear, and everyone wore Sean John. Anyone who grew up in that era knows that those were the brands to be seen in!! Fuck Gucci belts and LV bags, it was all about AUTHENTIC URBAN WEAR. Think Phat Farm polos and apple bottom jeans (yes that was an actual brand, not just a catchy song). Sadly, more than 20 years these clothing lines have all but vanished from the public consciousness.
If you’re wondering where I got this inspiration from, I was basically cleaning our attic (or loft) the other day when I came across a bunch of my brothers’ old clothes and I just instantly felt so nostalgic. I know I was too young to apart of that culture, however, I remember being 5 and I used to take pictures of my brother in these brands, he would literally wear them from head to toe. If I could show you the pictures I would because he was honestly the epitome of a 90s black child – he had it all – the baggy jeans, sweatshirts etc but I’m 100% he’d kill me ahaha. Back then never could I have imagined me writing a blog post about how much I miss those brands and how I would be stealing them to wear for myself as part of my summer wardrobe.
The 90s and early 2000s witnessed the rise of the “for us, by us” mentality, an era of innovation and entrepreneurship within the hip-hop community. By staking a claim in the fashion world and turning their labels into multi-million dollar companies, black business owners and rappers rivalled the Ralph Laurens and Tommy Hilfigers of the world by creating label-based clothing we could relate to. But somewhere down the line the baggy jeans, oversized sweatshirts, and label-ridden clothing fell off the fashion radar, rappers stopped sporting FUBU hats and started looking back to Paris and Milan, to a legacy that was not created with them in mind.
Billionaire Boys Club