Baby Phat Is Back, so Let's Finally Give Kimora the Credit She Deserves
At a UN Women and Gender Innovation Coalition for Change on International Women’s Day, model/mogul Kimora Lee (formerly Simmons) Leissner announced the triumphant return of her fashion label Baby Phat, twenty-one years after its initial release in 1998.
Leissner launched the brand under then-husband Russell’s Phat Farm Fashions. Baby Phat brought in upwards of $1 billion during Leissner’s tenure as creative director from 2000-2010. Before Baby Phat, hip hop’s style—reflective of the medium itself—was overwhelmingly determined by male designers, such as Rocawear and FUBU. Leissner encapsulated an entire cultural expression and made it accessible to women, particularly women of color.
Most everything now hailed as classically 2000’s, from furs to huge logos to embroidered denim, was flooded into pop culture consciousness by Baby Phat. The daughter of black and Japanese parents, Leissner catered especially to women of color and channeled the “urban” (read: Black) aesthetic and labeled it chic. Her runways showed that “urban” brands were just as artistically valid as any other, and could be just as high end. She brought fashion to those consistently excluded from the conversation in a multitude of ways, including being the first label to stream a runway on a Times Square jumbotron.
I feel l like they never would authentically credit “urban” streetwear or certainly never credit black culture or minority culture for these trends. Now, they’re doing the baggy silhouettes, the layering of pieces, all of the Afrocentric hairstyles like a real afro. Now you’re seeing it on the runway. You’ll see dreads, big braids, and on and on with the make-up trends. You’ll see braids on some celebrity and it’s like, “Oh, they started that trend.” No, they really didn’t.
- Kimora Lee Leissner, quote via
FUBU, another early 00’s “urban” label by entrepreneur and Shark Tank judge Daymond John is also coming back for a limited collection release. Streetwear has become one of the most popular styles of our time, but there is still a disconnect in the fashion world between respecting not just streetwear but also the cultures that propagated it.
Racial iconography is still prevalent in an absurd amount of high end labels, à la Gucci, Prada, and Burberry. The bombastic return of black streetwear brands is clearly necessary (besides the obvious fact that black creatives are severely underrepresented in fashion). Kimora Lee Simmons and Baby Phat/Phat Farm defined ‘cool’ for an entire generation, so let’s stop pretending streetwear belongs to white guys like James Jebbia.
I, for one, can’t wait till its cool to whip out my 2008 hot pink Baby Phat purse again. Maybe I’ll pair it with a velour tracksuit, cropped puffer jacket, and a brand new Motorola Razr? Rhinestoned, of course. 2000’s forever.
Feature image via.