It's the latest example of the trickle-up theory. It started on inner-city streets where rap musicians converted everything from alarm clocks and hood ornaments into pendants to hang on heavy gold chains. This unconventional jewelry went well with the track suits, athletic shoes, T-shirts and logo-laden caps that were their wardrobe basics.
Designers in fashion's stratosphere are calling rap the strongest influence on style today. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Isaac Mizrahi and Donna Karan were among those with rap-inspired fall '91 collections.
And several California jewelry designers are watching the same bold, witty sources. Melina Crisostomo, Deanna Hamro and Michael Morrison are leading proponents of the rage for rap accessories.
"This is not a serious look; it's funky," Crisostomo says. "It can be worn with everything from suits to overalls."
Huge medallions on heavy chains are the cornerstone of rap jewelry, accompanied by more layers of chains, bold-scale rings, earrings and bracelets. There's no such thing as too much and no such thing as vulgar. In fact, gaudy excess is exactly the point.
Morrison, who has accessorized outfits for Michael Jackson and LL Cool J, notes that protest is the message behind the alarm-clock pendants, rock-size rhinestones and garish chains.
"Street kids who wear them are saying we're going to make you think about reality by exaggerating the false symbols to make you see how ridiculous they are. It's a parody; it's both serious and . . . a laugh," Morrison says.
Hamro believes designer clothes by Chanel and Gianni Versace can be gooped up with overstatements of jewelry and accessories as a way to tweak the status syndrome.
"Fashion has to be real," Hamro says. "It not only has to reflect the person wearing it, but--even more so today--it has to deal with the issues of life. It's unacceptable to be unconscious. Rap fashion is kind of a big wake-up call."