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Son of Hip-Hop : Fashion: The in-your-face style isn't dead; it's just evolving into something generic and kinda drab. Baggy styles and loud colors are out. Work clothes and gray, brown and black are in.

March 18, 1994|GAILE ROBINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We have it on good authority that hip-hop is dead.

A funeral notice appeared in the October '93 issue of GQ magazine (prompted by the appearance of hip-hop fashion in Sears). What's more, Cross Colours, the Commerce-based clothing line that went from $15 million in sales in 1990 to $89 million in 1992 with colorful denim clothes inscribed with anti-gang messages, has faltered. And Merry-Go-Round stores, a shopping haven for young men looking for cutting-edge clothing, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

But hip-hop--both the fashion and the music--has evolved into another, equally powerful social statement. We'll call it PH--post-hip hop.

Much of the music is now gangsta rap, a hybrid that makes headlines for its often brutal lyrics and headliners, namely Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur, known as much for their arrest records as for their musical recordings.

The original hip-hop fashions--bright, graphic, exaggerated jeans and T-shirts--have faded. The preferred dress of post-hip-hoppers is generic and drab. Rarely do you see labels, logos or graphics to denote the manufacturer. The colors of the street--concrete gray, asphalt black and sandlot brown--prevail.

Yet this notice-me-not-my-clothes style is being reinterpreted by the world's most scrutinized designers. The kids from Los Angeles are influencing Karl Lagerfeld, Calvin Klein and Christian Lacroix.

Streetwear has often been a catalyst for high fashion, particularly in the last several years. We've seen neon-bright surfwear and bicycle gear rip through the fashion Zeitgeist. Now, a subtle urban warrior style is doing the driving.

Low PH (low-priced post hip-hop) men's clothes are the stuff of blue-collar catalogues and civil-servant issue--firefighters coats, camouflage-print pants, washed-out plaid shirts, big ol' black jeans, heavy storm-trooper boots and the requisite knitted skullcap, called a skully. All of it is tinged with a thrift-shop pallor.

When Los Angeles stylist Lynn Bugaii dresses rap groups, she goes shopping in the Compton flea markets. "You don't want it to look like you got it at the Beverly Center, even though now you probably could get it at the Beverly Center," she says.

"What people want is hard-core industrial clothes," says Los Angeles clothing designer Ron Wash, who produces custom-made tour jackets. Wash's firefighters jacket (modeled on the real thing) has been outselling the traditional bomber styles. It has been bought by the casts of TV's "Living Single" and "Martin," and by such Motown Musical groups as El Dogg, Tha Mexakinz and Trends of Culture.

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Not since Cross Colours' rapid ascendancy two years ago has there been a label that young men and women have worn head to toe. Urban teens want their attitude, not their clothes, to do the talking. Which is its own special kind of fashion statement.

"Not looking trendy is the trend," says Craig Bohman, president of Jay Jacob stores, a national chain, with 22 stores in Southern California. "There isn't a (popular) label that people are after."

Glitter rap star Hammer has adopted the style, trashing the harem pants, bare pecs and sundial-size medallions. The new, PH Hammer wears a skully, boots, black denim pants, tank top and a take-me-seriously expression, although it's hard to see with the blinding glare from his downsized-but-still-enormous gold jewelry.

Michelle Cole, a costumer for "South Central," a new television show from Fox scheduled to air in April, has been researching the post-hip-hop look among teens at Dorsey High School. She found the "baggy, baggy look is over and guys are wearing much slimmer pants--not as skinny as Levi's but not hanging off their hips. They wear a lot of work clothes."

The low-PH look for women is equally anti-label. It might include, starting from the top: a skully or braided extensions, small cropped top (the bra-top replacement), short skirt wrapped with a flannel shirt or denim jacket, black tights or leggings and heavy black boots or Pumas. Cole says many of the teen-age girls she's seen are wearing baby doll dresses, bobby socks and short shorts.

Large manufacturers that are trying to reach a fashion customer have made note of the patina that accompanies a lot of the post-hip-hop styles. Diesel, one of the most forward denim companies, shows its jeans and jackets in an aged state--as if they've been worn hard and laundered only occasionally--in ads for such trendy publications as Vibe.

Dickies also roughs up clothes before they go in front of the camera, and it mixes Dickies bib overalls, striped coveralls, denim jackets and jeans with other labels. "It's the way people dress," says Dickies' representative Dee Shoup.

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