Hip-Hop Fashion: Poppin' Tags
lack fashion – from the zoot suit to the afro to cross-colors – is by its very nature subversive. It calls attention to that which mainstream society does not wish to acknowledge; furthermore, it turns the traditionally exploited black body into an empowering form of artistic expression.
Black fashion, in the form of hip hop couture, is in vogue as never before, which may appear to threaten its dissidence that makes it relevant. But with new styles cropping up at street level, this is a moot argument. While the logos of labels like Roc-A-Wear, Enyce, and Ecko become coveted totems, independent urban fashion has interpolated trends yet again. Leather jackets emblazoned with patches from every NFL team, jeans with logos from a variety of record labels: the cutting edge of black fashion sees not a particular brand as signifier, but branding itself.
Superficially, giving up one's body to a multitude of corporate sponsors may not seem exceedingly revolutionary. But forcing a logo to share space with its competitors thwarts the ability of the corporation to turn the wearer into a mascot. The independent designer has agency over the image construction, which is passed on to the wearer; the corporation's coveted image has been appropriated. And, unlike bootleg brand-name items, this appropriation is fully and consciously acknowledged.
This reference to the appropriation serves to further demystify the logo. A singular logo suggests an allegiance, a significance behind the image. When the logo is no longer monolithic, it is aestheticized, neutralized. It simply looks cool; its placement among other brands implies that it isn't even special. It merely made the cut.
This is a far more powerful form of expression than parody logos or brands worn ironically. The latter still recognize the power of the image. Parodies (think stonerwear like "Enjoy Toca-Cola") appropriate logos to new ends, but their entire power rests on that of the original image. Parodies cannot be true iconoclasts without destroying their own power. Sporting images ironically is less of an attack on the creator of the image than on those that would wear it with any degree of genuineness – ironized fashionistas believe that only a chosen few can remain above corporate mass-brainwashing, and use logos to identify their stance – insurrection is seen as impossible, or at least a lost cause.
But when logos become part of a collage, they lose their supposed monolithic grip. In a collage, the link between signifier and signified is severed: the only context is that of other images. Brands become undifferentiated faces in the crowd – masscult turns on its creators. This is the kind of consumer savviness that gives marketing execs night terrors.
By: Gavin Mueller
Published on: 2004-02-18