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‘Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion’ Directors on Their New Film Exploring “Who Actually Are the Architects of These Looks”


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At a time when discussions around diversity and inclusion, particularly for the Black community, are at an all-time high, Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion adds to the conversation by pulling back the curtain on the unsung creators of culture and fashion from the ’90s music scene until current day. 

The documentary, presented in partnership between Tribeca Studios, Cortés Films and luxury lifestyle brand MCM, explores the numerous Black designers, many of whom were women, who created the signature looks behind Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Lil’ Kim, LL Cool J and more of the biggest rappers from the era — looks that would go on to influence white culture and be adopted by top luxury brands, often without credit. 

Following Remix‘s release on Netflix on July 22, co-directors Lisa Cortés and Farah X spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the film’s timeliness, reveal of hidden history and celebration of the work of Black women. 

Why did you want to explore hip hop and fashion in a documentary?

CORTÉS The genesis of this project really begins with MCM and Tribeca Studios, which really offered us this great platform and opportunity to support the telling of this story. There was actually outreach to the community saying, “Pitch us your ideas on an intersection” and we thought that there was a revelatory story that could be told about some unknown incredible architects of not only fashion but also cultural trends, specifically Misa Hylton and April Walker and we found that intriguing for us as filmmakers.

Why do you think there’s such a strong connection between hip hop and fashion?

CORTÉS I think that what makes the connection between hip hop and fashion strong is it’s really about individuals having a voice. When you look at the origin story of hip hop, it’s coming from the Bronx in the ’70s at a time when the city and the inhabitants are under siege in many ways. Both music and how you could dress were a means of carving out a unique identity and representation, whether it was through your lyrics or about how you made a statement with your style of clothing.

What was the process like of doing all of these interviews and going through the timeline?

FARAH X It was really fascinating to hear the stories of all our interviewees because we were actively looking for interviewees who were female. Our subjects of the story are mainly Misa Hylton and April Walker, but we also wanted our experts to be these women who also have unknown stories in the field. You have Bevy Smith, who was key in getting luxury brands to work with the — I hate the word —”urban community.” I did not know her story going into this, I didn’t know her contributions and she’s just one example of many. I was in awe of all the amazing, talented women, and it’s mostly women, that we were able to get to contribute to the film.

Why did you want to focus on women and their struggles as both designers and music artists?

FARAH X I feel like that’s more topical now than ever. We started in 2018, the era of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up and as women of color, Lisa and I were very determined to make sure — now that we were in a position of power — to actually hire people and focus on women’s stories. We’re in the position where we have the lens, because most documentaries and films in mainstream culture are told through one lens, but now that we have this opportunity where we were wanting to focus on things that were important to us, and of course, our story is a woman’s story. We had amazing advocates and behind the scenes our crew was 90 percent women throughout production, which is amazing, and people would come on to that and be shocked. It shouldn’t be that way but it is, it was an anomaly. Our co-producer, Hillary Cutter, she’s a staunch advocate for women so she was hiring all women and people were saying, “How do you find women?” It’s not hard. We’re all here, we’re just never hired.

The documentary also touches on the discrimination against Black designers and how major brands have taken their ideas for their own lines. How was that to explore?

CORTÉS What we’ve heard back is people were not aware of this hidden history; in particular, just the whole concept of appropriation and who actually are the architects of these looks that have had an impact around the world.

FARAH X We had this whole theme throughout the film that we would always throw the edit against and it’s this idea of a snake eating its own tail. Luxury brands did not want people of color to wear those clothes but people of color would wear their clothes and they would wear them in interesting and unique ways that actually elevated the look. Then the luxury brands would look at these people and say, “Hey, we like what’s happening there in the streets and we’re now going to take it and appropriate it and put it on the runway.” It becomes a cyclical thing and the issue arises obviously when the streets and the people who are the innovators, people like Misa Hylton and Dapper Dan and April Walker are not getting the recognition.

The film discusses the impact of social media and blurring gender lines in helping pave a new era. Do you feel like things today have significantly changed?

CORTÉS When we look at the chronological timeline of what’s happened, it’s how social media speaks to not only gender norms, but just basically access and fluidity. One of the people in the film talks about restarting their business and really being able to take advantage of social media and the world that it opens up for their business so that they’re no longer having to go the typical route of being in the showroom, showing things within the season. The fluidity and access to social media afford one to be able to have a shot that can be heard around the world — you can have tremendous impact and not just be limited to your own kind of constraints. Your outreach can be dynamic and international.

What’s it like to have this come out during this moment? 

FARAH X I think our hope as filmmakers and storytellers is that we don’t have to keep fighting the same battle. When we were started this film in 2018, as we were making the film and as we were editing, there were new things happening in the industry — one brand came out with something that was a racist product and then another brand came out with something. As we were cutting, we had to keep adding these new examples and it was mind boggling that here we are in the 21st century and these issues are still occurring. By the time the film came out on Netflix now, it’s like, “Okay great, we’re beyond that.” And now you have the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and it’s a bigger movement than it’s ever been before. So it’s very timely to have the film come out and I’m very pleased that we’re able to spread this message now and really celebrate Black brilliance when Black is still under attack, but it’s very disheartening that this still has to be said over and over again. The quote we have at the beginning of our film is a Coretta Scott King quote and culture keeps proving that this quote is necessary. The quote is “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” And here we are again in 2020 with Black Lives Matter and it’s so important, it’s so timely to have this film come out now.

At a time when more people are trying to educate themselves, what do you people to learn and take away?

CORTÉS Our intention going into this was always to elevate this culture and and to give these creatives a platform for recognition that’s so due to them. I think we want to educate people on their fashion history in a time when a lot of fashion is very disposable but these are great creatives that have created iconic looks that not only were a part of the styling of the artists they work with, but crossed over to the rest of the world in terms of disruptive cultural trends. We walk down the street now and think nothing of having pink hair, a pink jacket, everything pink — there was a time when Misa really had to fight for that idea to use in the Lil’ Kim “Crush on You” video. There’s education in this film, but it’s not spinach. Also to have great empathy for the humans who were behind these great creations and what they had to go through to sustain themselves in an industry that is quite difficult for people of color to have an entree into and to have their voice recognized.

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