Fashion Pioneers Dapper Dan And April Walker Want To Use Fashion To Connect The African Diaspora

"What is the most powerful element of African culture that’s still here in America?"

A cursory Google search of pioneering female hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa immediately produces a spread of images from the trio’s most iconic look: spandex paired with 8-ball jackets, kente-coated kufis and heavy gold dookie chains. 

Said images are by British photographer Janette Beckman, now on display at 10 Corso Como New York as part of a new exhibition that explores the origins of hip-hop culture from 1981 to 1993. 

The West African element of Salt-N-Pepa’s (don’t forget Spinderella!) 1987 look was at the heart of a panel discussion that took place at the concept fashion store, Friday (Dec. 13). 

“What is the most powerful element of African culture that’s still here in America? You find it in South Americans, Colombians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, people from the [rural] South,” said legendary Harlem fashion designer and haberdasher Dapper Dan, who sat in the company of Beckman, urban fashion pioneer April Walker and Renaissance woman Vashtie to discuss fashion’s role in the development of hip-hop. 

“What I’ve discovered is that one thing that we never lost that we came with from Africa is the elements of the Yoruba religion that’s manifested in a lot of different ways.”

(Photo © Janette Beckman / Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles)

Photo �� Janette Beckman / Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery

(Photo © Janette Beckman / Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles)

For Dap, the future of fashion is in Africa. “I went back to Lagos, Nigeria, back to Cross River to the museum, and I bought $500 worth of African fabric and $500 worth of African books, and I had them teach me all the symbols and the dances associated with [Yoruba].”

Situated adjacent to a maze of walls largely scaled with black-and-white images evoking the thrill of hip-hop’s yesteryears – portraits of MC Lyte, Run DMC, Keith Haring and the very Afrocentric Queen Latifah – Walker shared sentiments of the same vein.

(Photo ? Janette Beckman / Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles)
(Photo © Janette Beckman / Courtesy of Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles)

“I’ve long used kente cloth in hip-hop," she told an intimate crowd of New Yorkers and industry shakers. "I used to do the kufis, the hats, the denim—mixing denim with kente and all of that. So for me, right now, it’s more about bridging the gap with Africa and here, and linking tribes.”

Where Dap’s humble beginnings concerned reflecting messages of Black culture through luxury brand symbols, he wants to now further that narrative by making African art and imagery appeal to the masses.

(Photo by Jelani Day @jelaniday)

Photo by Jelani Day @jelaniday

(Photo by Jelani Day @jelaniday)

“Once we have a reflection of aestheticism coming out of Africa on a modern luxury level, if our culture is respected in the aesthetic world, globally, then that shines a light on who we are,” he explained. “My dream is to have this global connection happen.”

Beat Positive, a photography collection now on display through February 2, 2020, is in collaboration with Getty Images Gallery and Fahey/ Klein Gallery and also features works by fellow Londoner David Corio.

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